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I am in USA. I work for a software company which has many offices in USA & the rest of the world. Our company has very flexible work policies in general. Very few teams work from office, and usually not for the whole week. As an aside, there is a high turnover in our company and we have far more ex-employees in the past few years than new ones.

I was recently moved to a team which is in USA, but is in a different time zone than mine. I even did a business trip and worked with the new team in their office for a few days. The application which we are working on is quite mature and we are not adding too many new features to it. So, it seems that there is not too much work.

I can be 100% remote, but I work a few days from the office in my location. Sometimes, my teammates work from home, but they do not send an email or calendar invite to notify us. On such days, I sometimes have to wait for 1 hour or more to get an acknowledgement to my chat messages. My manager also appears "away" on our chat tool for a long time sometimes. I don't want to assume the worst, but it concerns me when I don't get responses for a long time and it hinders my work.

I would like to bring this to my manager's attention without calling out any teammates. But, I am afraid to do so because it will be obvious which particular teammate is responsible for my concern. That person has most of the knowledge about the application and I would not be able to get started without their help. So, I don't want to risk losing their help by antagonizing them.

How do I make my remote teammates accountable without causing any problems ?

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    When they don't respond, is your work stopped until they do respond? In other words, does it affect your work? Or does it just bother you, but you are able to continue working? – thursdaysgeek Aug 13 at 21:10
  • @thursdaysgeek - My work is stopped until they respond. Slow response is a problem for me only when my work is affected. Otherwise, I don't care. – RemoteGuy Aug 13 at 21:23
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    You need to figure out a way to continue your work when people would not respond to you. They could be legitimately busy in the meetings or otherwise. Some people would shutdown/ignore emails/chats when "in the zone". Remember that it takes very long time to get back "in the zone" so while you think it would take somebody only a minute to respond it takes way more to recover: stackoverflow.blog/2018/09/10/… – AlexanderM Aug 14 at 0:44
  • In my office, we communicate over chat mostly, to not stand up, talk and disturb everyone all the time. Sometimes I see team members sitting at their desk at the other end of the room and still they take an hour to respond, that is totally normal, especially for software engineers who tend to work really concentrated for some time. On top of that, there are meetings and stuff that take you away from your PC, making them not answer. If it really hinders your work, rethink your procedure or consider calling them in case of emergency. – Dirk Aug 15 at 6:14
  • Maybe you should be more specific about why you need input from others in order for you to do work. – Andrew Aug 15 at 19:23
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I work for a company with a very similar setup. About 2/3 of the company officially works in one of the office locations (with the remaining 1/3 employees as fully remote), but most people work from home pretty often - Usually without notifying anyone either.

I definitely hear the frustration that you're describing, since I've had that same experience numerous times. If we break this situation into chunks, there are three issues here:

  1. Getting a more rapid response without waiting an hour.

  2. The annoyance/suspicion that someone is slacking off or not working when they should be (since they're offline on Slack or just not responding).

  3. "That person has most of the knowledge about the application and I would not be able to get started without their help." - as you described.

With regards to Issue #1, it's understandable that you want a faster reply since we live in such an instant world. But realistically speaking, this is something you should work on getting more used to. People don't always reply right away... It's just a fact of having remote employees. Often for legitimate reasons, too - Stepping away for a few minutes, or even closing slack on their main device so that they can focus better.

For point #2, this is not your concern. If they're slacking off, their manager should notice that no work is getting done. If there's not enough work, then it's again the manager's responsibility to provide more work. As long as you aren't getting affected negatively by a glaring lack of accountability to the work/task itself, you shouldn't assume that coworkers/managers are slacking off whenever they're offline.

Point #3 is the biggest issue that I see here. If you can't get work done because he's not responding, then you both need to plan more in advance. I'd recommend setting up a recurring meeting with him where you have a designated time to discuss questions, issues, and next steps. Maybe even do it daily, at first. After each meeting, you should have enough work to do that you won't hit a complete stop even if you're blocked on 1 or 2 fronts. And when you do get blocked on some things, you won't feel as pressured to have him reply immediately since you know you already have time setup to discuss.

So overall, to answer your question:

"How do I make my remote teammates accountable without causing any problems ?"

Don't just go straight to the manager. Talk to the main teammate that causes you to get blocked on work, perhaps even explain that you keep getting blocked, and ask if he's comfortable with a daily standup or recurring meeting until you're more independent with the work.

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I sometimes have to wait for 1 hour or more to get an acknowledgement to my chat messages.

Normally, I wouldn't consider a 1 hour delay to be much. You should have other things to work on or do while you wait. If the other person's response is blocking me on my only task/high priority task then it would become a problem after a few hours. Or sooner if there's an ongoing emergency/critical/urgent matter in production.

I would only involve the manager if there's a critical production issue or a pattern of delays makes it clear that I'm going to miss a deadline down the road. I wouldn't phrase it as a complaint but as an observation like, "Waiting for feedback on XYZ item is slowing me down. I don't think I can make the deadline if this continues. I may need an extra X days." Now it's in the manager's court to deal with if he/she doesn't like that. It's not your fault if circumstances outside of your control delay you and you kept your manager in the loop.

The other thing I'd consider is what hours that other person is available. I've worked with people who might be several time zones away and they might not be available during half of my business day yet they are eager to help at weird times like 9PM my time or something. If the company culture allows for that flexibility I'd never hold it against them.

So to summarize, it's not your job to manage the other person. If what they're doing is within norms at your company you only need to make sure your manager is aware of why you're behind schedule. It's up to management to decide if anyone is wrong or needs to modify their behavior. If it's not putting you behind schedule then there's no need to say anything. On the other hand, if they are keeping you from dealing with a critical emergency/production issue then it's also critical for you to involve management.

I would always give a co-worker a head's up whenever possible tho. Involving a manager when you never even communicated the severity of things to your co-worker wouldn't be fair.

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    Just to add. Things happen from time to time but if a colleague not delivering a response in 1 hour is setting back deadlines there is something wrong with the planning. They should know well ahead of the 1 hour what they need to deliver and it isn't really fair to them to have to drop everything to deal with urgent (aka badly planned) tasks with 1 hour deadlines which these messages effectively are. – Keith Loughnane Aug 14 at 10:22
  • @KeithLoughnane Agreed. – HenryM Aug 14 at 13:51

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