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What I learned from my first month working remote

October 14, 2019 • 4 min read

Earlier this year I determined that consulting wasn't for me and that I needed to look for a new opportunity. I was fortunate to find my way onto the Insights team at Shopify as a remote web developer. While I had never worked remote before, I felt like it was the right move for me.

Before accepting the offer, I did a lot of research and found that the internet is largely divided on the topic: either remote is the future of work, or it's a passing fad that's impossible to maintain. After a month of working remote, I'm here to tell you the answer: it depends.

Remote work isn't all good or all bad

Working remotely or onsite each has tradeoffs, and when it comes down to it, both have their advantages. Meeting people is (obviously) better in person. It's easier to casually chat in person over lunch than it is to "casually" chat over a formally scheduled one on one. But working for long stretches of time without interruption? Remote has serious advantages there.

You'll find lots of articles belaboring the pros and cons of each, so I won't spend my time in that way here. To make a long story short: remote is another style of working that comes with tradeoffs. If the tradeoffs you get are better than the things you give up, maybe a remote opportunity is good for you!

Your lead, teammates, and team culture matter

While working remotely certainly is an adjustment, the people who you interact with as part of your job can directly impact your ability to be successful as a remote worker. My lead worked remote for a few years, and I'm not the only remote person on my team. As a result, I have a strong support system that existed without any effort on my part. If you are considering a remote position, ask yourself:

  • Is anyone on my immediate team remote? Would I be the only one?
  • Does my lead have any experience leading remote workers? Working as a remote worker?
  • Do conversations default to in-person or online? Would it take significant effort to have conversations default to online?

It's an adjustment

No matter how much support you have, it's an adjustment from a typical 9-5 in-person job. It has felt strange to wake up and think "well...I guess I'll do work now?" Some days it feels empowering to wake up and think "I'm the master of my day!" and other days it feels lonely to work by myself. I think both of those feelings are a fundamental part of remote work.

Tips for success

I have been able to leverage the experience of others to make my transition smoother (thank you for the advice and guidance, Andy and Keyfer!). Here are some things I did to help make the transition smoother:

1. Spend time onsite developing relationships, especially with your teammates

It's easier to take a physical relationship online than it is to create a virtual relationship. Developing a friendship with your teammates will make it easier later when you need to bug them to help you find answers to questions you have. While onsite, optimize your time for relationships, not day-to-day work.

Note: I realize that many remote workers don't have the option of going onsite, especially for those in an all-remote company. However, if you get the opportunity to meet teammates face-to-face, take it!

2. Try to work similar hours as those you work with.

My team works eastern time and I live on the west coast. While this means early mornings for me, I have found it useful to try to mostly work the same hours as my team. This facilitates faster communication and helps me become unblocked sooner.

3. Schedule time to meet people when you're not onsite.

While virtual coffee chats aren't as natural as in-person chats, scheduling them still beats not meeting anyone at all! Schedule 20 minute meetings with others who you regularly interact with. Doing so helps to break the ice and makes it easier to collaborate them.

4. Be patient with yourself.

The most valuable thing that my lead said to me in our first 1:1 was this: "I don't care how much code you ship in the next 90 days. I only care that you're meeting people and gaining the context you need to do your job." I think this advice is the best advice for any new remote worker; it's natural to want to "prove" that you are getting work done, but even when joining a company in person, you aren't 100% effective at first. Don't hold yourself accountable to an unrealistic standard, but instead, focus on gaining context and understanding how your team works.

Conclusion

Remote work has been an interesting experience so far that I'm excited to see more of. I am fortunate to have a supportive team to help me as I made the adjustment. Are you considering a remote job, or in one right now? I would love to hear from you! Drop me a line on Twitter and tell me how your experience has been.

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