Onboarding: Notes from a remote-team newbie, part 5

Hi, I’m Holly. I just started at Open Door Teams, and this is my first full-time remote position. I’m keeping a journal of impressions, frustrations, victories, failures, and general observations as I progress through the phases of Onboarding Newbie to Remote Team Wonderworker. I have permission to be both blunt and truthful. Please follow along. I welcome your comments and insights.

Remote Work Flexibility Vs Routine

I like routine. I get up at the same time every weekday, eat brunch at the same cozy restaurant every Sunday, and work from the same quiet café on Tuesday afternoons. I’m a creature of habit by nature. And because routine increases my productivity, I cultivate it too. But word on the internet is that flexibility is one of the hottest benefits of working remotely. Work in Cabo! Work at 4am! Forget pants! It scared me a little. I thought a flexible work environment might be one without parameters at all. Nooooo, thank you.

Fortunately, I was way off the mark. Routine fans, hear me: remote is your habit-loving-heart’s best friend. Because—and this is probably something yogis everywhere already know—flexibility supports routines. And makes them more sustainable to boot.

Well I’ll be.

Work anywhere ≠ work everywhere.

I read a remote-is-the-best article written by a guy who insisted that if you don’t work from coffee shops and baseball fields and all manner of public spaces then you don’t deserve the remote position you’ve somehow been lucky enough to land. It kind of bugged my eyes out a little. I’d already started at Open Door Teams by then and I remember thinking piteously, But I like working from home. Since then I’ve decided that his point was A) remote work doesn’t chain you to any one particular site, and therefore B) that kind of freedom’s worth taking advantage of. 

Now that I agree with.

Because I can work anywhere, I can work wherever suits my routine best. Most days, that happens to be my house. But I have a standing meeting every Tuesday at 5:30pm and getting there on time without sacrificing work hours is easier if I head downtown at lunch and work the afternoon from there. Boom. Flexibility undergirding routine, live and in person.

When I worked onsite I missed that meeting regularly. I couldn’t get to the bus station from my office on time and I didn’t have the flexibility to change locations for the afternoon. Talk about a routine killer—planning to go somewhere, trying to get there, and just barely missing the mark. Repeatedly. It frustrated me and infused every Tuesday afternoon with an aura of stress. Will I make it this time? Can I avoid the closing-time goodbyes and get out the door? Happily, all I question these days is if I want to grab a tea to-go before catching the bus.

And speaking of tea …

Flex allows for better self-care.

This week, for example, I’ve been sick. Not call-the-doctor sick, but certainly sore throat and coughing sick—that in-between level of unwell that precludes business as usual but doesn’t knock you off your feet either. I can work. I want to work. But make myself presentable, trudge off to some corporate jungle, and go the whole day without a single nap? Golly. I just don’t have the energy. That’s the sort of stunt I tried when I worked onsite though. Loathe to abandon my precious routine, I’d get a few good hours in, run out of steam, and head home to rest. Then lo, the vitality! The vigor! It returneth! What to do? Get dressed and head back to work? Smile sheepishly at my coworkers’ incredulity? 

“What are you doing here? I thought you’d gone home.”
“Yeah, I did. I don’t know. I feel better now.”

That exact scenario played out more than once, in fact. My default became just powering through the day in order to avoid it. (For the record, I realize that’s a beastly thing to do. So if you’re reading this and thinking Wow, Holly, way to spread your germs, yeah. You’re not wrong. I’m one of those people. Does it help that I kept a bottle of Purell® at my desk? No? Fair enough.)

But now, thanks to blessed flexibility, I don’t have to power through anything or abandon my routine. Not entirely anyway. I can drink copious amounts of tea without anybody looking at me funny, take nap breaks as needed, and get things done without depleting myself (or contaminating others). I have more options, in other words, than just Go To Work or Don’t Go To Work.

I also have more options about when I work.

Having my routine and eating it too...

When I started at Open Door Teams, I also started a new morning routine: I go for a walk before sitting down to work. Around the second week in October, I hit a snag in the form of a total lack of daylight during that early AM constitutional. At first, I was undeterred. I donned my headlamp and swanned out into the dark on schedule. Then I nearly face-planted tripping on a rock. (Alas, headlamps have their limits.) The obvious solution was to delay my walk, but I really didn’t want to do that. Pushing it back would push back my start time for work too, and by gosh that was taking things too far. Where would it end? Pantsless in Cabo?

Here’s the thing about routine-lovers: we can, on occasion—just now and then, mind you—get a wee bit unreasonable about our schedules.

But hang on. I work remotely. Which means my choices weren’t confined to either Go For A Walk And Get To Work Late or Don’t Go For A Walk And Get To Work On Time. I could have it both ways by starting at the usual time and then, once the sun had poked its head over the horizon, stop for a hike break. Easy peasy. It worked out beautifully because the first item in my day plan is always the same, get-the-ball-rolling task.

Startup: What I call that mish-mash comprised of logging on, checking and replying to email/messages, reading articles related to my work, and updating my plan for the day as needed. It can take as few as five minutes or as many as forty, but mostly it comes in at around fifteen.

And what do you know? About fifteen minutes was all the time necessary for the world outside my front door to get more pedestrian-friendly. I got to start work on time and take my walk. Without ending up in a ditch. Hallelujah.

A little flexibility goes a long way.

Such a small thing, that minor tweak to my schedule. And for only a short time. Once daylight saving time ended I was free to walk before work as usual. Whew. It doesn’t take much for me to feel like I’m really mixing things up, is what I’m saying. Freedom is one thing—I’ll take all the freedom I can possibly carry, thank you. But flexibility is something else. It’s a wall that dips when you lean on it, a fence line made out of rubber bands. Some people really dig that give. So maybe they want to work from a baseball field at 4am. They want to feel the wall stretch beneath them like a trampoline. Cool. To each his own. Me, I need just enough flexibility to allow me my routines.

It turns out that with remote, I’ve got it.


Next up: part six | Photo by Vignette Agency, courtesy of Things Organized Neatly