Nearly three years ago my wife and I packed up our apartment in New York City and moved west, to Colorado. I had spent 10 years working in NYC; in offices both large and small; for corporations and start-ups.
Prior to moving I had always worked in an office. I learned a lot in office environments. I was challenged, given opportunities to grow, and fortunate to make some friends along the way. Office life can be great! For me, it was the right environment to be in after graduating from college.
Fast forward to today and I work remotely, from home.
Remote work takes time, patience and focus. I’d like to share what I’ve learned over the past few years of working remotely. If you are thinking of making the transition from an office to the remote workforce, then I hope my learnings can provide some guidance.
But before I begin, I must say that it is my belief that both remote work and office jobs have their own pros and cons. Personally, I really enjoy working from home. I enjoy it because my team has set me up for success. Your milage may vary. Remote work may, or may not, be for you.
That said, here is what I've learned as a remote employee.
Clear communication is critical for remote teams
TL;DR: Develop a cadence with your team. Communicate clearly and consistently for a healthy remote environment.
Communication is critical for both distributed organizations and brick-and-mortar shops. Luckily, we build video calling software so we’re always dog-fooding and chatting over video. While we talk consistently, we also have a culture of making our priorities visible.
How do we do this? Well as you’d imagine we use many of the de facto tools, like: Slack, Daily.co (😏), Notion, Trello, and so on. These tools are great, and we love building Daily.co! But what I find is more important is putting everyone on the same page. We accomplish this in a few ways:
- Kanban boards help give us a 10,000 foot few of our projects
- Slack allow us to communicate asynchronously
- Daily.co video calls help us meet in person and chat with ease. I tend to prefer web calls myself, but many of our customers use our Always-On portals for connecting over video
- EOD check-ins with Standuply and a recurring video call allow us to sync on the day
- Prioritization meetings every quarter help us target new goals
As you can see, we use a lot of different tools and mediums as a distributed team. It may seem like a lot, but in practice, it's quite simple.
Be happy in your remote office environment
TL;DR: Find a workspace that makes you comfortable while you work.
For myself, having a dedicated work space in our home has been critical to setting myself up for success. My home office is a place that I’ve dedicated to work. I strongly encourage new remote workers to spend time designing a workspace for themselves.
For myself, this meant splurging on a Herman Miller chair, filling my office with accent lighting and lamps (I hate overhead lighting), installing a ceiling fan and filling the room with things that inspire me. Next up, I’d like to fill my office with art.
Having a space that you feel engaged in is fantastic and encourages good work. If this isn’t possible for you a co-working space, coffee shop or stand alone structure could make great alternatives. Personally, I’d love to have a backyard office one day. A place that is completely disconnected from our home and the distractions that come with it — more on that below.
Get a good internet connection
TL;DR: Get a good internet connection for yourself.
This might sound silly. But be sure to have a good internet connection! I'm spoiled, we have fiber in our home and average around 600mbps over WiFi, which is out of this world fast! A quick connection doesn’t only make streaming Netflix better, but it will improve your working environment.
Communicating over video calls becomes easier, file transfers are faster and life is just simpler when you aren't hassling with a router. Your colleagues will be grateful that your calls aren’t dropping, too. Bonus: if you can setup wired ethernet, even better!
Get out of the house!
TL;DR: Get out of the house from time to time.
Second to my office, I tend to work from a coffee shop or collective co-working space from time to time. I've found that I eventually go stir-crazy at home. When the weather is nicer I actually feel the need to get out of the house more often.
Walking to our local coffee shop for an hour or two, or pedaling to a new coffee shop to get some work done really helps me stay motivated and refreshed. Even as an introvert, I find that I want to surround myself with people and ambient noise here and there.
When you do work away from home, try to focus on tasks that you can accomplish with your head down. Video meetings or phone calls in these spaces become tougher due to background noise and — most likely — poor internet connections.
Self start, self manage and get it done
TL;DR: Be confident in your work and manage your projects.
Being a self-starter may be a required skill in order to work for a distributed team. Of course, taking the reins of your work — for any team — is a valuable asset. Yet, I have found that working remotely asks me focus on both prioritizing tasks, and accomplishing them.
Self starting may take some time to harness. It involves a level of confidence in your decision making processes. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy owning projects and putting my head down. This mentality has made working from home less of a chore, for me.
Managing your work is also very helpful in a remote culture due to time-zone differences and the lack of in-person meetings. Being able to manage and see projects through will help build trust with your team.
Flexibility in your schedule
TL;DR: With great responsibility comes more flexibility.
Not having to commute to an office has really given me much more flexibility with my days.
Personally, I tend to feel more creative for a few hours early in the morning and after lunch. I try and block out this time to focus on tasks that I can complete in my bubble. The time I save on commuting gives me the ability to exercise more frequently. Regular exercise really makes me feel healthier, happier and more energized. I'll generally ride my bike early in the morning or after work. Being able to burn off some physical energy makes me feel more focused on my design work.
Remote work will most likely grant you more flexibility with your days. But be careful here, you will need to design a schedule to keep both your work and life on track. This takes time.
Dealing with distractions
TL;DR: There are different distractions at home. Find ways of dealing with them.
We have two cats, a puppy and my wife works in the evenings. There's always something to clean or do around the house, and so on. When you move from an office space to working-from-home it's easy to find new distractions.
I'm a bit of a neat freak. The kitchen being my pet peeve. If the sink is full of dishes I have to clean it. So after each meal I clean and put everything away to help scratch that itch. I organize my office at the end of the day and put loose items, strewn around the house, away before bed. Find what works for you.
I've also made it clear to my wife that when my office door is shut that means I'm locked down and not to bother me. Waking up early, and starting work around 6:30–7:00am gives me uninterrupted alone time.
In retrospect, I honestly find offices to be more distracting. The interruptions seemed more constant: wanna get a coffee, have a sec, that looks cool, etc. Just be aware that you will find new distractions at home.
TL;DR: Get some regular face time with your colleagues.
Every few months we will schedule some time to meet and hang out in person, as a team. This time is invaluable to forming stronger bonds and connections with your teammates. Especially over the first few months of a new job.
Being able to get lunch, drinks and hangout with your team in a social (real world) scenario helps develop strong bonds. If you aren't a fan of traveling, working remotely might be tough.
Rhythm, heartbeats and structure
TL;DR: Have a consistent rhythm with your team.
At Daily.co, we have developed some regularity that brings structure to our distributed team. Each evening we have a video call where we all give a recap of our day and talk casually. We used to have morning check-ins but found that EOD meetings happened more consistently and worked better for us. We also use Standuply.io to share end-of-day and morning check-in notes — read about how we use Standuply.
It's developing patterns like these that help provide structure to our team. We worked to tweak and establish these over the years and are constantly refining. Whether you're joining a small or large remote team I'd look to develop a good cadence in your workflow(s).
I could go on and on, yet these are some of the main themes that I have recognized after joining Daily.co as a remote employee.
When asked I often say that it took me about 3-months to find my groove as a remote worker. Working remotely is much like designing a product, you need to keep iterating, discovering patterns and adjusting along the way. For instance, just last week I rearranged my office space to feel more cozy. I'm also working on writing more regularly and focusing on our marketing efforts. Trying new things — in a remote company — can be a helpful way to keep from getting lonely.
Remote work is not for everyone. It takes patience and self management. I believe in the future of remote work and what it means for my overall happiness. Just note that working remotely does introduce new challenges, be mindful of them. Watch for patterns if you are new to remote work, and be sure to acknowledge them. Often, for me, I can feel patterns forming — both positive and negative.