Onboarding: notes from a remote-team newbie, part 6

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.

Benefits of Working Remotely Save Money Time and Focus Working Remotely Remote Work

It’s been over one hundred days since I joined the roster here at Open Door Teams, and the learning curve has been unusually steep. Not because of my work or my role—neither are new to me—but because I’ve never worked on a fully distributed team before. I’ve had some things to learn. Tools, mostly. (Pivotal Tracker, I’m looking at you.) But far more than that were the things I needed to unlearn. Or redirect, anyway. I speak only for myself when I say that with the brick-and-mortar comes some baggage. Only I didn’t recognize it as such until I landed here and felt the weight of it all so keenly. Oof.

Now, one hundred days later, I feel like I’ve crested that initial curve lighter, freer, and sold on working remotely. And though the whys are many, there’s one overarching theme: I get more of what’s mine now that I work from home. More of my time, money, and attention and less cruft between me and what I love to do.

Time: No commute is just the beginning.

It isn’t that time is saved so much as used differently. Breaks, for example. I hated taking breaks when I worked onsite because A) they just prolonged my workday, and B) there wasn’t anything useful to do. Even reading felt like killing valuable time. Why read for fifteen minutes in a noisy office when I can just work straight through and read at home where I’m more comfortable anyway? And if that sounds insufferable, let me lay this on you: I was one of those eat-at-the-desk types too. It’s not workaholism, folks. It’s pragmatism. What practical benefit is there in relocating to a breakroom to stare at a wall while I chew? What about socializing, Holly? Don’t you care about, you know, people? Sure. You betcha. When I waited tables in college, in fact, that was one of my favorite parts of the day. We’d all clock off, take over a corner of the restaurant, and share a meal. It was great. And much harder to make happen in an office environment where everyone’s schedules—complete with appointments and calls and deadlines—are at odds. So I did what made sense. I ate while I worked.

It took about a week to give that habit up, but now that I have? My, but it’s sublime. I’ve taken to using the word ‘luncheon’ like I’m some kind of Downton Abbey-esque pre-war grande dame. I mean, it’s just me in my t-shirt and jeans eating last night’s leftovers but still. There’s something almost luxurious about sitting down at my own kitchen table for a repast. Pass the Grey Poupon won’t you?

And breaks? Love ‘em! Take several each day, in fact. I talk to my son, fold laundry, prep dinner, rake the leaves … all things that still needed doing after I got home from a full workday before. It’s the same twenty-four hours, the same breaks, the same to-dos. It’s just that I get bigger returns on the time spent now.

Which reminds me: money.

Of garb and grub:

In my closet there are two distinct wardrobes. (Some of you may know this story.)

There are the clothes I don’t like and am not comfortable in but own because they’re the best I could do with what I had to meet dress code standards at various workplaces. Blech. Then there are the clothes I’m so comfortable in that they’ve been worn to near tatters in my off hours over the years. Double blech? I don’t know. I’d rather wear tatters than corporate chic, if you want to know the truth. Ideally though, I could stop buying the latter and invest more in the former’s newer, less raggedy counterparts. Why spend money on clothes you don’t want if you don’t have to?

Why indeed, I practically sing as my new remote job’s paycheck hits my bank account where more of it will stay. And not just because of the no-dress-code thing. There’s also food. I mean, look: If I added up the receipts for all the times I bought my lunch or brought take-out home for dinner simply because I was hungry and out of time, I suspect the total would be cringe-inducing. Now that I work right down the hall from my own kitchen, I eat out when I want to. Never because I forgot my lunch or worked late.

It’s like the time thing. I still buy clothes; I still buy food. But these days I get more of what I want from the money I spend on those things. I get more from my own attention too.

No more bruises in the fight for focus.

There may be distributed teams that have found a way to recreate the workplace gossip mill via email or instant message, but either Open Door Teams isn’t one of them or they’ve left me out of the loop. Either way, merci and much obliged. The relief is so intense it makes me wonder—queasily, apprehensively—just how much time and focus I once lost to interruptions that began with, “You’re not going to believe what I just heard.” (I could always believe it. Every time.) Not to mention the occasions when I’d walk into a buzzing room only to hear it suddenly silence at my entrance. Ouch. If nothing else (and there’s plenty else), that kind of nonsense is distracting. It drags my attention, and not toward anything I actually want to spend it on.

Similarly, there’s the far less mean-spirited but tiring nonetheless chit-chat.

Friends, let me be clear: I’m no shy, retiring wallflower. But that doesn’t mean I want every day to be filled with back-to-back social calls. And working onsite kind of felt like that to me. I had to be on all the time. Aware of my tone of voice, my body language, my facial expressions—it’s a lot of emotional labor is what I’m saying. Plus, apparently when I’m thinking deeply about something I look angry. I know this because of the zillion billion times I’ve been asked some version of “What’s got you in a twist?” right when I was good and focused. Now my primary audience is the end user. And they don’t care a whit what my face looks like when I’m thinking.

This is really just the tip of the attention iceberg. Working from home is far and away the least distracting, least exhausting way to earn a living, as far as I’m concerned. Which means a whole lot less of the wearied Now where was I? and a whole lot more getting things done.

But about that learning curve...

All of this took some adjusting for me. And that was challenging largely because I didn’t at first realize there was any other way to work than the way I’d been working my whole life. I felt anxious and weird, but couldn’t pinpoint why. In time, the baggage revealed itself. Oh! I don’t have to:

  • Rush so I don’t miss the last bus home

  • Paste on a smile when I’m thinking to avoid the “What’s your problem?” interruptions

  • Manage other people’s feelings to get needed buy-in on my projects

  • Put on a show, fashion or otherwise

Look, I’m not saying remote work is all roses and delight. I can, for example, go days without leaving my house or having a face-to-face conversation with anyone but my offspring. And something tells me isolation isn’t a reliable path to robust mental health. At least for me, working remotely isn’t the glamour train it sometimes appears to be. But that’s precisely what I like so much about it. Finally, I get to just work.

So there it is: my conversion to remote worker complete and recorded for posterity. Here’s to a long career in sweatpants!


Photo by Grant Ritchie