Onboarding: notes from a remote-team newbie, part 1

Hi, I’m Holly. I just started at Open Door Teams, and this is my first full-time remote position. ODT is a remote (or, a better word, I think, is ‘dispersed’ - more on that later) team. 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 No Commute

They asked me if I felt prepared for remote work. It was the second interview. I was feeling hopeful. Also fairly certain that I knew what working from home was like. After all, I’d done it. I averaged ten hours per week from home at my last onsite job and revelled in that glorious, distraction-free time. I proudly reported that gosh, yes, I was prepared. “Two hours at home is like four in the office,” I quipped. 

Then I got the job.

Turns out, there are some pretty significant differences between working from home with a base of operations elsewhere and working remotely, where home is your base of operations. So as I ease into this new position, I’ll take a moment to jot down my thoughts on some of the obvious (and maybe not so obvious) adjustments I’ve had to make. Let’s start with the poster child of remote work advantages: no commute.

Remote, the commuteless wonder?

Much has been made of the splendor of a commute-free workday. Namely, that it saves money, stress, and time. Three weeks into full-time remote work, I’m not so sure about that.

Before I landed at Open Door Teams my mornings consisted of dressing, making breakfast to-go, and climbing the hill to the bus stop where I’d catch a ride to the office. I was almost always the first to arrive and my routine was largely predicated on that. I’d unlock, turn on the lights, start a pot of coffee in the break room, then head to my office to boot up.

My first few days of remote mornings? I ate breakfast.

Look, I didn’t come into this remote thing completely blind. I googled. And prevailing opinion said working from home is great because there’s no commute and you can work in pajamas. So I didn’t commute and I worked in my pj’s. For me, that’s not so great. At all. That first week on the job was spent in a kind of wide-eyed, oh-this-is-my-life-now haze. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that living at my job site—actually sleeping and showering and doing my laundry in the same space that I execute work in exchange for pay—would draw back the curtain between my professional and personal lives in a way that made me feel exposed and always on the clock. Those ten glorious hours at home before? They were glorious because they were an escape from an interrupt-driven workplace. When my home became my workplace, escape was no longer possible.

At first, anyway.

A commute is more than A to B.

It’s not as if my bus ride to work every morning constituted sacred, meditative time during which I’d plot my workday and get in the zone. I’d daydream. Sip coffee. Even so, my body was moving through space and time from the place I called home to the place I called work. That movement, it turns out, matters for me. And not so much because it allows me to get into work mode, but because it prevents me from getting stuck there.

So, believe it or not, after about a week of commute-less existence, I started commuting again. Now my mornings look like this: breakfast, dress, walk out my front door. Keep walking. After fifteen minutes, I turn around and walk back. Then I sit down to work. This creates the sense that I’m going somewhere. Which, as it happens, is all I need to trick my mind into believing that the place I live and work is actually two places. Two places that I can transition between easily. I find that the key is to move my body and to do it right before I start work. By making that movement part of a larger routine, I end up commuting anyway, albeit in a different way.

Commute 2.0

Commute 2.0 is really just a set of signals that communicate to my body and mind that there’s a path to work. Which means there’s a path back out. Each signal acts as a guidance light on a runway, without which the plane (aka me) will have a very hard time landing. Mine consists of:

remote work no commute benefits of working remotely
  • A set start time
    My alarm goes off at 6am every morning, no exceptions. After all, when I worked onsite I didn’t show up at 9am one day and 12pm the next. I know, I know. Part of the beauty of remote work is flexibility. Give me time. I’ll find that coveted flexibility elsewhere. For me, Commute 2.0 requires the same level of consistency that a physical commute does. Otherwise the signal flickers and I get confused.

  • Breakfast
    I’ve always been a breakfast fan for reasons that have nothing to do with working remotely, but these days that morning meal also serves as a signal. A signal that says, “You’re about to do stuff. Have some calories.”

  • Real clothes
    I’m not talking corporate chic here. I spent all day yesterday in yoga pants and a hoodie so tattered (and comfy) that the brewery it advertises would probably prefer I not be seen in public in it. So take the word “real” with a grain. As long as I remove what I was sleeping in and replace it with something else, it seems the signal is received.

  • A walk
    I’m guessing just about any form of movement would do, but I haven’t tested that theory. On my list to try are yoga and yard work. (I wonder if part of the magic is getting away from my house, which neither would accomplish. We’ll see.)

All of that takes me about an hour and a half. Which is the same amount of time—from rising to arriving—that it took me to get to my desk when I worked onsite. So, no time saved. And while Commute 2.0 costs me exactly zero dollars, I’m not saving any money either. Public transportation is my preferred mode of travel, and because I don’t do everything at home, I’m buying the same bus pass no matter where I work.

That just leaves stress.

If I go truly commute-free, my day is more stressful, not less. With Commute 2.0, though? Definitely less stress. This morning alone I watched three different species of birds flit in and out of the trees along my path, felt the crunch of early fall leaves beneath my feet, and heard the rooster that lives down the road crow as I walked by. That beats a bus ride any day.


Next up: part two | Photos by Scott Webb and Yours Truly