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Working Remotely

I have been working remotely since 2012, and will never go back to an office. There are a number of reasons:

  • offices are interruption factories
  • I don’t have a soul-crushing commute
  • I can work wherever I want
  • I can set up my work environment however I wish
  • I have a much more flexible schedule

Remote work is becoming increasingly common. In the US, 85% of companies are either fully remote, have a mix of on-site and remote employees, or allow remote work at least sometimes for their on-site employees (source). My company, Trice Imaging, is a fully remote company. Our corporate office is in Del Mar, California, but only four people work there - the CEO, CFO, and a couple of accounting and administration people. My boss, the COO, is in Munich, Germany. Our head of product is in Stockholm, Sweden. My team is scattered across the US, in Chicago, Tacoma, Los Angeles, and Ann Arbor.

There are challenges to working remotely, and to do it succesfully you need to develop strategies to overcome them. These challenges include:

  • separating work time from personal time
  • loneliness
  • isolation from other employees in the company

Without a clear demarcation between work time and personal time, it’s easy to fall into the trap of either working constantly, or getting so distracted by personal items that work gets neglected. To deal with this well, you need to develop an at-work mindset and a not-at-work mindset. People have different strategies for developing these mindsets, but the most common are to have regular work hours, and/or a dedicated work space. It is OK to split up work hours during the day. So you may be at work from 8am - noon, lunch to say 12:30, at the gym from 1-2, then back at work from 2pm to 6pm. However you set up your at-work and not-at-work time is up to you, but it is vital that you do so.

Every remote worker I know has a dedicated work space. It may be a home office, or a coffee shop, or the library, or a coworking community, or a combination of these. I have a home office in my spare bedroom that is set up exactly as I want, but most days I work out of a coworking community. Being in a dedicated work space helps in developing the at-work mindset, and helps to block out the distractions from kids, pets, spouse, laundry, the fridge, and all the other non-work interruptions that can block productive work.

Loneliness can be a big problem for remote work. People who work in an office at least have other people to talk to, have lunch with, bitch about the gaping plot holes in Game of Thrones, etc. But when you work remotely, you need to make your own community to combat loneliness. Some remote employees do it by becoming involved in local community groups, by joining common-interest groups around gaming or other interests, by joining a coworking community, or a combination of these things. My coworking community has been a huge help to me in combatting loneliness.

Isolation from other employees in the company is huge problem for remote work, and one that cannot be solved on your own - you need the commitment from your company and fellow employees to make remote work work. But it can be solved.

Ideally, everyone in your company, or at least everyone on your team, is remote. This puts everyone is on an equal footing. If some people are on-site, and others remote, it is easy for the on-site people to chat among themselves and decide things without any involvement from the remotes. This quickly erodes trust and cohesion among team members. In a situation where some team members are on-site and others remote, the team should be intentional about having all team discussions in whatever on-line communication channels it uses.

Periodic meetings via video chat are essential in building the social cohesion normally found when people work on-site. My team has daily meetings which are a combination of water-cooler chat and business. They last anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour, depending on what we have to do and talk. But they are normally 15-20 minutes.

On-line messaging apps, like Slack, are another way of keeping in touch with other team members and other employees. It is easy for things like Slack to become distractions, so it is best to treat messaging apps as asynchronous communication tools.

Periodic face-to-face gatherings are also essential in building team cohesion. For long-range planning and brainstorming, nothing beats having everyone physically in the same room. In-person gatherings also helps in the building the informal relationships that are vital in building team cohesion and trust.