looking back at my first year of working remotely
Fears, doubts, and insecurities
I always try to keep my expectations low: if you expect too much, dreaming about all the good things that will undoubtedly come your way, perhaps, you are designing your future for disappointment. If all goes according to plan, there is nothing to be happy about: you have lived through that pleasant — though imaginary — excitement before good things happened. If not, then, well, you are in trouble.
No squealing, remember that it’s all in your head
— Gorillaz (Clint Eastwood)
That said, here is a list of fears, doubts, and insecurities I faced before diving into the “working remotely” world, in order of severity.
#1. The company won’t keep its promises.
More often than not a company pledges all sorts of things when hiring, and then its promises just evaporate under the label of “priorities have changed”, “oh, it doesn’t work this way”, “let’s talk about it later” or anything similar, usually preceded by yes-buts.
I was also concerned that the company might practice the “sink or swim” technique. I knew how to “swim” alright, but with this approach, swimming usually happens in circles, so it takes a great deal of time to fit in.
No company ever said “We are a mess, dude, you won’t be happy here…”
Looking back at my onboarding process and any requests I made throughout the year there is no doubt Litmus keeps its word. There were no hiccups with sponsoring my home office, paying invoices, approving expenses, letting me go on vacation. My brand new laptop was delivered a week before my official start date. And in summer 2018 I attended the “Mind the Product” conference in San Francisco without any pushback.
#2. Coworkers will suck.
Sometimes it happens that your immediate team is comprised of well-versed, nice people, but when it comes to cross-team collaboration or dealing with other departments, colleagues may not be as nice as you could have hoped for. They might have their own rules and ways of doing things and might not share your enthusiasm.
On top of that, there is usually a certain degree of skepticism towards the “new guy” ideas, who doesn’t know anything (phew, glad I found a proper word) about how things work here.
It also happens that during the interview process people are on their best behavior, and when it’s time to work together, they suddenly are not as friendly and supportive as advertised.
I was surprised how helpful, knowledgeable and humble everyone at Litmus was. It is easy to discuss matters when people are pumped to do their best for the greater good, not necessarily sharing the same perspective. Listening to others while collaborating is a rare commodity that the company possesses.
#3. I will become an errand boy.
Another potential problem was running errands for my family during my working hours. And since this problem involves family, it automatically turns into a delicate and difficult one. It’s so tempting to ask a family member who is always at home (albeit working) to do an it-will-only-take-you-10-minutes favor. Of course, I don’t mind to help if help is really needed, but silently encouraging this behavior might turn asking for a favor into a habit, which would be way harder to break later.
My family and I had a serious conversation about running errands and how it will interfere with my work. Luckily, they accepted without much resistance. I suspected it could be a ruse, and, indeed, after a week or so a harmless request was made. I refused firmly, maybe to a degree of being unreasonable, but now we all are in agreement that my job isn’t any different than a “normal” one.
To be fair to my family, they bought me a sign which reads “Office”. This sign sits on my desk and when it faces the outside it means I am working, please don’t interrupt. It’s funny how sometimes they ask if I have come from work yet when I am at my desk after my regular working hours.
I still help out dealing with doctor appointments, school bus cancellations, PA days and what else life holds, but household chores and random shopping are excluded from that list.
#4. My physical shape will give up on me.
If you work from home you aren’t really able to move around a lot: there is no commuting, going out for lunch, walking to meeting rooms, randomly visiting coworkers’ desks or getting a cup of coffee from the kitchen located on the opposite side of the office.
The very thought that the amount of my physical activity will get drastically decreased, pushed me to signing up for ping-pong, basketball, and a swimming pool. I started to run more. Every single day, regardless of the weather, I “walk to work” for 45 minutes. Within this year I gave up on my morning ritual twice, both times due to harsh weather conditions. Recently I even started to think that I should “run to work” instead of just walking. As a bonus (I know people who work out just to be able to eat more), within 4 months since I started to work remotely I had lost 20 pounds.
If you don’t feel like exercising — force yourself, there is a 100% chance you won’t regret it afterwards.
My relationship with the fridge (I was really worried about its proximity to my desk) haven’t changed either: we are nothing more than acquaintances.
Another great perk that rarely is available if you work from the office is that occasionally I can take a power nap if I feel tired or I’m stuck on a problem. It helps to quickly “reboot the system”, and instead of sluggishly struggling through the day recuperate your strengths and move forward.
I don’t know if this is related, but for the first time in my life, I had reported zero sick days within last year.
#5. Out of sight, out of mind.
My biggest question in regards to team collaboration was “How do I approach someone with an urgent matter?”. There is always a chance that the person I need to get a hold of will be busy or won’t be able to respond within the timeframe I need. Working with clients — as a freelancer or at an agency — is easier in this sense, as you just account for some buffer or idle time. If it’s a time-sensitive issue, you just call them or email with a note “until it’s resolved, the project won’t move forward”. Sometimes, when a handful of projects are being worked on simultaneously, delays on the client side are even preferable. But on a distributed team, often times working in different timezones, with lots of dependencies, it’s so easy to let down others “with good reason”. What, eventually, may end up with a blame game.
It’s scary to think that if you are not in the office you become a second-class citizen: conversations will be held without you, decisions will be made, and you’ll find out after the fact.
All of the above melted away after a few weeks. I was stunned by how quickly people respond to my messages, and I am doing my best to do the same. The core idea of working remotely is to trust the process and the team. This requires a whole new level of maturity from the company, and so far Litmus handles it perfectly.
#6. My social skills will deteriorate
When I saw that cartoon by Oatmeal, I was like “Yeah, this”. Not being able to talk to human beings for an extended period of time will definitely leave a mark on the way you communicate. What I found entertaining is that my social skills have improved (perhaps, it’s just the first symptom of the disease).
In the office environment, I had to interact with everyone whether I liked it or not, regardless of my mood or schedule. That sometimes led to not always following the conversation or showing my interlocutors lack of involvement. They could sense my absence and even be offended by it.
Working remotely helps me to reflect more, formulate my thoughts, questions, and ideas clearer and convey them in a more comprehensive way, to speak more freely and to the point. As English is not my first language, the ability to type/edit my Slack messages is pure gold.
There are no meetings for the sake of meetings, which the corporate office environment is so notorious for. Working remotely makes you be mindful of using other people’s time. Occasionally it backfires, so reaching the right balance between being an annoyance and keeping radio silence is important and, for the most part, is a matter of time.
I was afraid video chat will not be a proper replacement for talking to someone face to face. Thankfully, it’s virtually the same thing. And the best way to make video chat more natural is to meet your colleagues in person once in a while.
Litmus organizes an annual get-together event called “All Hands”. Everyone flies to the office in Boston for a week of socializing, volunteering, collaboration and getting aligned with the company’s goals and objectives. During this week lots of hugging happens, lots of new connections are made. I’ve attended All Hands twice, and every time I feel recharged after the event and look forward to the next one.