It was 2011. I had just finished reading Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It – a book focused on delivering results from anywhere versus sitting in an office chair for eight hours a day. This book changed my perspective about work. I wanted my future to be focused on delivering results. If I could do this while working remotely and being location agnostic, even better.
Working from home looked great from the outside, but I knew there would be challenges, just like there are working from an office. I needed to create a plan. A plan to expand my skill set, so I would be qualified for more positions. A plan to research the best remote companies out there. Most importantly, I needed a plan to make sure a very extroverted individual like myself would flourish in a remote environment.
Creating an Actionable Plan
Over the next four years, I took positions that gave me opportunities to work with team members across the country, advance my skills, and telecommute at least part-time. I knew I could get a taste of remote work if I was able to at least try it part-time. And I fell in love. The positions were not always what I desired to do, but I took the time to make sure this was something I could do and do well. I did not want to accept a position with a company that supported remote work only to let them down because I was not actually cut out for it.
But What About the Extrovert in Me?
Even after solidifying that I could be productive in a remote environment, and being hired at Modus Create, I still had fears. I love building relationships, but would this happen organically when I only see my team members on video and maybe a couple times a year face to face? Not to mention, I had worked with developers for the past 10 years and knew it was not uncommon for them to fit the “introverted” stereotype.
Over the last six months, I have had my original pre-conceptions proven wrong. I was lucky and attribute it to many things:
Find a company whose culture meets your needs
No matter how many great perks a company has, if their culture doesn’t fit your needs and wants, chances are, things will end poorly. For me, I highly value being surrounded by co-workers who are intelligent thought leaders and the ability to constantly learn while helping the company succeed. I was not willing to stifle my personal happiness just to work from home. When I interviewed with Modus Create, all five people I spoke with mentioned how much they loved to learn and how the company valued employees who took initiative to solve problems and make themselves better. No one spoke about free beer. Or the free t-shirts. While I love both of those perks, culture is so much more than shirts and happy hours; it is how a company treats and values its employees. When an employee feels they are valuable, they want to make the company succeed. And when a company spends the time upfront to ensure a potential hire is a good culture fit, it pays off.
For me, personal relationships with co-workers is something I value. Having relationships with co-workers builds trust, allows easier knowledge transfer, and makes my work day more enjoyable having people to converse with. Just because we don’t sit next to each other in an office doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, right? With all the technological advances in video conferencing and team chat tools, it is actually pretty easy. It just takes having the courage to reach out and ask about their weekend or how their current project is going. At Modus Create, we value relationships, and each person who works here knows this from the first interview. If working in a dungeon, throwing code over the wall, and being invisible are what make you productive, this probably is not a perfect match for you. And that is ok. For me, I am happy I work with friends…even though I have not met a majority of them.
“What would come from the cultural differences?”
Be a creative problem solver
Often times, while working in an office environment full of co-workers, I would find myself having questions and constantly seeking answers from other people. I loved the face to face interactions of going and asking someone. I stopped taking the time to research solutions. I would just ask someone for an answer. In hindsight, I realized this stifled my growth. I forgot how much I enjoyed solving problems, and became dependent on others doing it for me. Don’t get me wrong — I still ask a lot of questions to my team members. They are always happy and willing to help, but now, I first attempt to find answers for myself. This has been rewarding and has helped me use a side of my brain that I had neglected.
Build and adapt your communication skills
While this sounds cliche, it is incredibly important when working remotely. Being able to communicate well goes beyond the ability to speak proficiently. Good communication requires a lot of effort and practice. Understanding your audience and what works best for each team member and project becomes immensely important. Working with a team spread across the world added complexity factors of different time zones, cultures, and team member roles, but these were overcome by determining how we needed to communicate to be successful and constantly adapting as issues were presented. Using video for our daily standups and retrospectives instead of dialing into a conference call made a world of difference. By seeing everyone’s faces and being able to read their body language, we were able to create a bond and build our team’s trust. It also spurred side conversations about hair cuts, black eyes, and the ever changing scenery, which helped the team feel at ease with one another.
“What about the fact that most of my team members are on the other side of the world, spread across timezones, and work different hours than me?”
Determine what makes you feel connected
Some days, I still miss having an office environment full of distractions and friendly faces. On the contrary, I also love the fact that I can deliver my results in a much more timely manner without the distractions. I had never been a person to listen to music while working in an office, but I now have it on all day. It makes me feel connected. I have made friendships with co-workers virtually and I try to reach out to them a couple times a week just to say hi and see how life is. Lastly, I am vocal about my needs. The Modus Create leadership team knows I value face to face time with my co-workers. I enjoy traveling to the physical office. It is an added bonus when other co-workers from around the world are there and I am given the chance to build on our virtual relationship. While video helps the connection, there is something to be said for normal banter and office fun that cannot be replicated on video. Physical meetups for teams or employees that are not in a central location and who are or will be working closely together is a great idea. While this earth is quite large, it shrinks quickly when a group of individuals who share commonality are put together.
Working remotely is challenging and is not the best option for everyone. If you only thrive being around people, do not have the ability to manage your time well, or have a difficult time communicating, it could be a recipe for disaster. Luckily for me, working remotely was the best decision I could have made. I fully attribute this to finding a company where I can do what I love every day, feel valued, be surrounded by phenomenal co-workers, and constantly learn and be challenged while helping deliver stellar products to our clients day in and day out.
A nice surprise that can also come from working remotely is the larger community you become a part of. Instead of only being a part of the “Product Manager” or “QA” or “Developer” sphere, you are now part of the “Remote Worker” sector. It’s fun finding others via Twitter/Slack/etc that make up the remote workforce. Technology has made it easy to share ideas and create friendships with those who I would not have had a chance to previously.
What are your experiences with remote work? Do you have any tips that have made it enjoyable (or disastrous)? Comment with suggestions and questions and share with others who are looking to go remote or are already mastering it!