In November, I made a significant life change. I left an eight-year career in museums and art history to being working remotely in tech. Like many people, I had dreamed of working from home, envisioning luxurious days of sipping coffee in my pajamas in front of my laptop, looking back on my days of commuting to a brick and mortar office with bemusement.
While the coffee sipping has held true, there are a few things that surprised me when I made the jump to remote working, not the least of which is the fact that few people work in their pajamas.
Here are a few things I’ve learned thus far.
1. It’s hard to explain.
One of the challenges of my 30s is explaining what I do for a living, and how I can do it from home. The option of going to work in your basement, or in a coffee shop, didn’t exist in my parents’ work lives.
My dad has wondered “How do they know if anyone’s working if you don’t punch a clock or go into an office? Won’t people take advantage of it and goof off?” As someone who punched a clock or otherwise had their time tracked for their entire working life, I had no idea how it would work.
What I’ve discovered is that my work product is my time card. It’s less about being physically in a seat and more about producing. If I’m not working, things will break, and people will notice, likely more so than if I was phoning it in by being physically in an office.
2. First days are still awkward.
You’d think that joining a remote team would be straightforward- just open up your laptop and start cranking away. By and large, that’s true, but there’s still that “first day of school” feeling that can be terrifying.
You’re going to be missing a password. You’re going to have to ask a bunch of HR questions. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have no context for the inside jokes on Slack. Except when you’re remote, there aren’t many chances for casual interaction that might clue you into the joke or help you discover which person has the right login credentials.
You have to initiate those conversations actively, and as a somewhat shy person who is also the new kid on the block, that can be hard.
3. Stress is a thing.
When I started working remotely, I thought my stress levels would magically decline, given my lack of commute and access to all of the comforts of home. Largely, that’s true. Being able to make my coffee, cuddle the dog, go to the gym in the middle of the day, and not have to fight the absurdity of Pittsburgh traffic has done wonders for my mental and physical health.
However, work is work, and stress is still a thing. Working remotely has required developing new strategies for managing stress. At first, I was nervous about completing work and if I was producing enough through the day. I was constantly watching my phone for Slack notifications and responding to every email buzz, no matter what time. I was a stressed out wreck.
I have also set distinct boundaries for work and home. I use my office as an office and do nothing else there. My laptop stays plugged in on my desk and doesn’t creep upstairs unless it is a sunny day and I am working on the porch. I try to log out and stay logged out until the next morning. While I am at work, I limit personal calls or errands to designated breaks and attempt to stay focused on the task at hand.
To help manage the workload, I try to calendar and schedule projects and deadlines, including mundane weekly tasks. I use Slack’s /reminder feature religiously. I also vigorously protect time to walk my dog in the afternoon, forcing myself to get out of my office and to focus on a different task for a half hour.
4.Text is (mentally) expensive.
In my office job, communication tended towards the verbose. Meetings, planning, extensive documentation, and lengthy emails ruled the day.
When I transitioned to working remotely, this was my default setting. Multi-paragraph emails, lengthy Slack messages, etc. Until a fellow remote worker (not a coworker) kindly told me to cut it out.
As a lover of words, I was offended.
Then it dawned on me that my team is bombarded with text all day long. Our default tool is text, and deriving meaning from text takes time and brain power. My Moby Dick emails were slowing them down. I am actively working to reform my text firehose habits to lessen their stress and communicate more clearly.
I am actively working to reform my text firehose habits to communicate more clearly. Recently I’ve started using Grammarly to check for sentence length and overused words, and I’m also trying to cut 25% of the words in a draft. It’s ruthless, but effective!
5. I’ve learned to be more assertive.
In my previous jobs, there were strict hierarchies and rules about meeting and communicating with people higher up in the organization.
When I began working remotely, the physical barriers of executive assistants, office doors, and officemates disappeared. I now have direct access to my CEO, my supervisor, and my coworkers, but the years of working in a traditional office setting plus a healthy dose of shyness mean that I have to hype myself up before barging into their DMs.
I’ve had to learn to be assertive and to ask for things because there isn’t the casual coffee-pot conversations or random hallway chats to surface issues. It’s not easy or comfortable to push past some of my introvert tendencies and start the conversation myself, but it has been necessary to get things done.
6. Know thyself.
In my past jobs, everyone had a set time to punch in and out, with no variation. With a globally distributed company, those rules are a bit amorphous. Like Dave recommended in his post on productivity, we schedule hours to overlap and largely synch on Eastern Standard Time. However, people are highly variable. Some of my colleagues crank out amazing work late at night.
And then there’s me, one of those annoying cheery morning people.
I know myself, and I know that my most productive hours are 6:30 AM and 8:30 AM, and so I work on tasks that take focus then. I might take a longer lunch or go for a late-day workout so that I have overlapping hours with my other teammates during their productive hours, but this strategy has been a way for me to use my strengths and still accommodate the working styles of my team.
6.333. It’s just as awesome as everyone said it would be.
Hey, I said 6ish.
For all of the bumps of starting a new job, in a new industry, and doing a new style of work, I have to say that working remotely has been life changing.
I love the freedom, responsibility, and relaxation that has come from working at home. I’ve rediscovered joy in hobbies that my commuter life had killed. I’m able to be more present before and after work.
If you’re considering making the jump from a traditional office setting, acknowledge that there is an adjustment period, give yourself room to learn, and embrace your newfound freedom.
Trust me. It’s awesome.