Five Nonobvious Remote Work Techniques

virtual conference call, illustration- Credit: Getty Images

Five Nonobvious Remote Work Techniques
Communications of the ACM, November 2020, Vol. 63 No. 11, Pages 108-110
By Thomas A. Limoncelli

This article reveals five nonobvious techniques that make remote work successful at Stack Overflow.


Remote work has been part of the engineering culture at Stack Overflow from the outset. Some 80% of the engineering department works remotely. This enables the company to hire top engineers from around the world, not just from the New York City area (40% of the company worked remotely prior to the COVID-19 lockdown; 100% during the lockdown). Even employees who do not work remotely must work in ways that are remote-friendly.


For some companies, working remotely was a new thing when the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns began. At first the problems were technical: IT departments had to ramp up VPN (virtual private network) capacity, human resources and infosec departments had to adjust policies, and everyone struggled with microphones, cameras, and videoconferencing software.


Once those technical issues are resolved, the social issues become more apparent. How do you strike up a conversation as you used to do in the office? How do you know when it is appropriate to reach out to someone? How do you prevent loneliness and isolation?


Here are my top five favorite techniques Stack Overflow uses to make remote work successful on a social level.


Tip #1: If Anyone is Remote, We’re All Remote
Meetings should be either 100% in-person, or 100% remote; no mixed meetings.


Tip #2: Accurate Chat Status
Set your chat status to away when you are away. Set it to available when you are available.


Tip #3: The Quick Chat Protocol
Establish a low-overhead way to start a quick conversation.


Tip #4: Idling in a Videoconference Room
Work silently together in a videoconference room.


Tip #5: Schedule Video-Chat Social Events
Create social events specifically for remote workers.

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About the Author:

Thomas A. Limoncelli is the SRE manager at Stack Overflow Inc. in New York City. His books include The Practice of System and Network Administration, The Practice of Cloud System Administration, and Time Management for System Administrators. He blogs at and tweets at @YesThatTom.