Working remotely has tons of advantages, and it’s one of the best features of being a Happiness Engineer at Automattic.
(In fairness, all positions at Automattic are fully remote!)
I’ve worked remotely for over two years, and I’ve learned a few tricks, a few tactics to do battle with the parts of working from home that can be challenging.
Before I shifted careers, I was working in what’s called Specialty Coffee. A coffee is called Specialty if it’s been graded over 80 (out of 100) on an internationally recognized scale, taking into account aroma, body, acidity, complexity, etc. It can get kind of complicated. If you think of high end coffee companies – Intelligentsia, Blue Bottle, Stumptown? That’s Specialty.
My last job in coffee was this catch-all, you’re-the-guy-on-the-ground position opening cafes. I’d guide the construction, hire the staff, train the staff, and maintain profitability. This was a very social job. I was constantly context switching, from negotiating produce pricing to giving employee reviews to pitching catering services to local event companies.
I was around lots and lots of people, from minute one until I headed home. Here’s an example:
One of the features of working from home, from having a remote job, is that you’re able to communicate with your colleagues and clients entirely via the internet. Between Slack and Skype and Telegram and the huge assortment of other communication tools, we’re able to keep up with one another better than we have ever before.
Better, maybe, but for sure different.
One piece of the remote work experience that has become more and more apparent to me, is that there are little pieces of serendipity in the inefficiencies of a traditional workplace. Not being 100% focused all the time gives the mind time to wander, time to put interesting things together in new ways.
Sharing a physical space with your colleagues also means you learn a lot about them from passing moments; if they’re feeling well, if they have a haircut or even just seem different. Even as someone who is horribly bad at small talk, I recognize that it’s the way you really get to know people in some way, is through the little stuff.
In a shared physical space, these things happen automatically, in virtue of sharing four walls. When working remotely, you can only really cultivate those moments intentionally, which means you have to really try more, you have to schedule it, which feels a bit artificial – but, we’re on the leading edge of how work Works, so not everything will feel natural right away.
So, I started having lunch with some colleagues in similar time zones. It’s a really great source of information diffusion, of learning more about my colleagues and their lives and the way they work.
Mostly, it’s via text, or voice, since folks aren’t always so keen on video chat in a general sense, and much less so when they’re eating – out of politeness I figure.
My friend and colleague Daryl, however, must be as much of a base savage as I am, since we do regularly enjoy our shared lunches on video – and it’s really quite nice. We talk about our kids, we talk about how things are going with our teams, we have some laughs. It feels different from even voice chat, and it’s a really nice way to step away from work, and really eat lunch, and spend some time with a colleague.
If you work remotely, I really recommend reaching out to your friends at work, or the folks you’d like to know better, or the new folks, or really anyone – a lunch is not a big commitment, and everyone has to eat.