What I’ve learned after half a year of working remote
Early last year my wife and I got the great news that she had been accepted for a research fellowship at the NIH in Bethesda, MD. Although very excited for the opportunity, that unfortunately meant that we had to move down there and leave Boston. At the time I had been working for Panorama for just a few months, but it was definitely enough time for me to get hooked with the company’s mission, its energy and above all my coworkers who I already called friends.
It has been over half a year now since I went remote, and with the new year I feel it’s time for a little retrospective.
The first weeks
In the beginning I didn’t really put much thought into transitioning to my new remote status. Moving to a different state, buying a house, getting a puppy… so many things to do, to worry about and to figure out left little time for organizing my work routine. I just sat at my desk and worked through the day. I was not moving as much (I have a step counter and went from an average of 10,000 steps a day to under 3,000), I was not enjoying my lunch (microwaving leftovers and eating at my desk), I was not having in-person human interactions throughout the day… after a week or so doing that I already knew that if I wanted to make it work I would have to start changing things around.
Time to make some changes
The first thing I tried to tackle was the sedentarism. The fact that we had just gotten a new pup was the perfect excuse to get up every 1-2 hours and take her out to the backyard. Not that enjoyable now that we are below freezing sometimes, but the reward is worth it: fresh air, stretching your legs and taking a break from work. I also started avoiding having lunch at my desk by going to a different room or even outside while I get some errands done.
The next step was to make up for the lack of in-person human interactions. I started attending local meetings of different interest groups (programming, electronics, ham radio…), making a point of going to at least one meeting every week. With the beginning of the year, as part of my (very cliché) resolution, I’ve also started going to the gym in the mornings, killing two birds with one stone: I exercise and socialize.
Relationship with the office
Moving out of the office was hard. I loved going to the office every day, seeing all my co-workers and enjoying the improvised group coffee runs, the water cooler conversations, the inside jokes… the thing I feared the most about going remote was becoming that “remote guy” who is no longer felt as part of the group.
Luckily, from the very beginning it was clear to me that that was not going to be the case. I felt very supported; everyone was making an effort to make this work. My coworkers set up a tele-presence cart (a computer with a webcam in a cart that was permanently connected to a videochat room) and they would wheel me to different rooms so I could attend meetings. At first people would sometimes forget that I was remote and I missed out on some impromptu meetings, but in no time thinking that we now had a remote employee became second nature.
We do quick one-on-one videoconferences daily, are constantly in touch via chat and are constantly improving the tools we use to make the remote experience better every day. But the thing that makes the most difference is the team’s willingness to adapt to the new situation in a very thoughtful and supportive way. As an example, and even though one could argue the overall effect is not comparable to that of, say, improving the videoconference tools, one of the things that has made me feel cared for and connected to the team was the time we did a “remote lunch.” One of my co-workers suggested some of us took our lunch to our desks and ate it while doing a video conference… it was something unusual but a lot of fun!
Working remotely is more than just not commuting or being able to work in your pajamas (although after half a year I have yet to take advantage of this perk!). It involves a lot of changes and if not done carefully could be a very isolating experience. I would say the two keys to doing this successfully are being in touch with your feelings (as cheesy as it might sound) so that you can adapt and change things before they become a problem, and above all having a supportive and caring team committed to making it work.
Want to be in a team as supportive as ours? We’re hiring!