Remote Work: Two Years and Counting
My Transition from Office Culture to Remote Work
I worked in a traditional office setting for 16 years both at the office and onsite at clients’ offices. I took a gamble on a job where I work remotely 100% of the time. I was concerned about my transition away from an office setting because I am a social person. Plus, office culture is all I knew. I was excited about what was ahead of me in terms of major shifts in how I get work done. I want to share a little about my story to help those going through or considering a similar transition.
Not having to drive two hours a day to and from work was the most exciting part when I abandoned the office life. The hardest part I expected to figure out was the social elements of collaborating with teams when everyone was working remotely. I love to talk and have fun at work, could I still be “me” even if I am working from home all the time by myself?
My office history is tied to physical spaces and team memories.
Starting my career as a software engineer and climbing thru engineering leadership roles over time my office setup evolved as much as I did. Cube, shared mega cube, private office with a door (doubled as my own mother’s room when I was a new mom), private shared office with other leaders, private office with two whiteboards, through the open office grab-a-chair-at-the-high-top-table and use a whiteboard on wheels. Shifting to a home office that I get to decorate and make my own I found exciting, but the missed social interactions and collaboration space would be strange. At the very least in the scope of work environments, I could get away from old government owned furniture, oil stained carpets, and drab walls.
Break rooms hosted lunch with coworkers, coffee chats, birthday cupcake celebrations, baby showers, bring your kid to work day, and 3pm snack breaks. Lunch outings were often to welcome new team members, celebrate promotions together, birthday lunches, or just to get a sanity break from a wild morning. Conference rooms hosted release planning sessions, sprint planning, retrospectives, tech talks, career development sessions, elaborate requirement elicitation workshops, high energy design debates, celebration pizza parties, temporary WAR rooms, client presentations, or my favorite: “Chelsea booked the conference room on a slow day to project her code on the wall and sync her head around a challenge through seeing the code differently” session.
I expected I would try a lot of new techniques out to figure out what worked best for me. I expected there have been others who have done remote work before I could learn from. I expected remote work was a better way of getting work done.
Two Years Now of Working Remotely
My first day at my remote job was weird. 9AM with my coffee at my desk… in a quiet house. Alone. Birds chirping outside. Peaceful but lonely. I had not built out a social network at work yet. I set out to do my technical bootcamp assignments pinging random names in a slack room with questions. Over the next weeks, I bonded with my bootcamp buddies and learned how to use Slack effectively and Blue Jeans Network for video chat. I met my team I was leading remotely and had my own BBC guy moment with my kiddo bursting in the video chat unexpectedly. Over time, I introduced new ways of getting more casual social things into my work life. One example, on our weekly team meetings we spend the first 10 minutes on an ice breaker question just to chat. I still have my moments where I have to brag on someone doing something amazing or celebrate a team win — and those used to be in public forums IRL and are now virtualized to other mediums and echoed for in person retreats.
Remote work has super charged how I get work done and how thoughtful I am with communications in all settings.
Things I Love About Remote Working
- No commute. No more commute time means I reinvest that time to life balance. I calculated that I have spent about 2.8 working years of my life driving to and from the office in Atlanta rush hours. Now I can focus on me more. Reading, journaling, building, exercising, writing, or even sleeping another hour after kiddo goes to school. Morning calls to past colleagues to say hello. I have found myself more centered. Also… my driving skills have declined significantly.
- Amped productivity. Heads Down time has super charged my productivity. No more “knock knock do you have a minute?” non-urgent disruptive drama drive bys at the office. Solid chunks of time on my calendar go towards thinking, writing, deck building, and planning. Context switching is kept to a minimum. In a remote workplace, meetings are setup with explicit purpose (even if that purpose is “coffee chat”). There are fewer emergency fires as folks have more focus to think up front and do the right thing out of the gate. I still protect time to make sure I am supporting my team members and am available. I do my best to keep my Slack status up to date so folks know if I am on a call, heads down, or available to chat. For my work routine, I try to schedule all my meetings in my morning so I can be heads down in the afternoon to maximize head down chunks of time on my calendar. Leaders also have to deliver work outputs in addition to coordination activities.
- Variety of work areas. In my home, I have a variety of areas to work from depending on my task at hand. I enjoy having areas where I can work with a focused mind and a clear spirit. Summer weather is where I take my morning coffee on the porch and may do a 1:1 overlooking my neighborhood. Or maybe I will set up shop in my covered back patio and work listening to the birds singing. I have my home office, a spare bedroom converted into my office, which I use my standing desk, regular desk, or bean bag chair as work areas. I also use my guest room to sprawl out papers and doodled diagrams out on the bed to work in a creative frenzy.
- No more high heels. No more short feeling. Most of the time I have been one of the shortest members of each team I worked with over the years. Partly, I work with mostly men and partly I am not a tall woman. I wore high heels at work to avoid craning my neck up to co-workers to talk. In a remote world, I live in video chats when I collaborate and folks see my face and not my shoes or stature. My feet are comfortable and I am able to focus on work more easily. I see coworkers at onsite retreats and trainings, and I may still choose to wear heels then, but it is not part of my everyday habits anymore. You may find this silly for me to bring up — but it is powerful for those who can relate.
Not All is Rainbows and Butterflies
- Workplace social events like birthdays and baby showers are just not the same remotely. We slack announce big events and celebrate with a plethora of emojis and mentions. There is still happiness and joy, but no punch or cupcakes.
- Communication tools like Slack and BJN have their moments but can’t replace in person interactions. I can still debate virtually with the best of them, but it’s much harder for me to share great news or apologize virtually. Slack announcements lack tone and excitement in voice for great news and limited body language reading adds to the difficulty of apologizing on a video call. They close the gap a lot more than simple audio conference calls and 1:1 direct message apps that is for sure.
- Online whiteboarding with a team is just not the same as in a conference room with a mega whiteboard and lots of markers.
How Remote Work Changed Me
I did not anticipate such a big change in myself from just switching my work style from office life to remote life. I have always been a high performer in part because I constantly try new techniques to time management, priority management, team coaching, and life balance. There is a real impact of a flexible schedule, flexible dress code, flexible work areas, and flexible virtual collaboration. I am more creative. I am more productive. I am more laser focused. I am more available for my team. I am more balanced for my work team and my family.
Chelsea Navo current leads a high performance architecture team solving major data management challenges for large enterprises worldwide. She loves decorating and hates driving. She enjoys collaborative work efforts. Chelsea excels in whiteboarding concepts and carries whiteboard markers with her when she travels. She is a fan of birthdays and cupcakes as well. She also uses the phrase “life balance” instead of “work/life balance” as she sees her career as a part of her life.
Thoughts in this post are her own and are not her employer’s (even though this post fits our majority remote culture which every one of us adores).