Staff Engineer Jamie Riedesel teaches us how to connect with coworkers and write a book, all from the comfort of home

In October, we announced that Dropbox would now operate as a Virtual First organization. While this meant a huge shift in work life for many of our team members who, pre-pandemic, commuted to an office every day, it’s also brought major benefits to the lives of Dropboxers worldwide. Staff Engineer and experienced remote worker Jamie Riedesel shared her valuable tips for creating connections, writing books, and cooking ham and cheese melts from our new home offices.

What is your current role at Dropbox?

I’m a staff engineer on the DevOps team for HelloSign.

How long have you been working for Dropbox?

I came with the HelloSign acquisition, so my official Dropbox start date was in February 2019. But I’ve been working for HelloSign for just over five years. It was my first remote job, and I’ve been remote all this time!

Where are you located?

Southern Illinois, outside of St. Louis. It’s four and a half hours to Chicago by high-speed rail.

Left: This area is famous for bike-trails, and is a big part of why I moved here; Middle: Along the Great American Flyway

What is one of the biggest ways you’ve had to adapt to Virtual First work?

When I first started with HelloSign, my team was remote, and I did all of my onboarding remote as well. I had to get used to the lack of socialization with the rest of the office. But they did help with that — they flew me out for a week for that initial social contact. It helps so much to build that mental handshake with each other, so that was an incredibly important thing for me to do early on in my onboarding. Having that experience kick-started my relationships with people off my team, very important for a DevOps team!

Left: Some art to keep me company; Middle: A favorite nap-place for the cats is in the back of my office; Right: Giant-ridiculous-monitor means I don’t need a ring-light

Have you seen change from your experience even a year ago to now?

When COVID-19 hit, instead of seeing 20 people in a conference room, you suddenly saw 20 separate faces on Zoom. That democratized things amazingly. Everyone had to relearn their communication strategies; when you’re in a conference room together, you get into this flow, and you tend to overtalk a bit. And if you’re remote, unless you have a firm sense of self, it’s hard to get your foot in remotely. Now that everybody’s on Zoom, the algorithm cuts people off, and you have to actually listen and wait for pauses before talking.

I’ve also been consulting with coworkers to help them figure out their new workspaces. So many people are at kitchen tables or in the bedroom or on their couch because that’s the only place they have to work. It’s incredibly important to have a designated room, a space that is working, a defined space that if I’m in that room I am working. It’s a mental shutter that switches between work and home, and is incredibly important for that psychological setting of boundaries. If I’m in that space, I’m at work; everyone in my family knows that.

Is there a certain way you approach your calendar or structure your day?

I do a lot of developer support, so I need to be at work when the developers are. They tend to skew a little later, so I have to be here for the end of day stuff. Sometimes it does leak past my stop time, but the biggest thing is knowing the cadences of the groups I am supporting. The team I’m supporting is very solidly in a specific time zone, because HelloSign is very much a Pacific Coast company, so we work from 11 to 7 my time.

Additionally, on my team, we have a lot of people who are parents. Some of my coworkers have children who need extra care, and had to quickly adapt to no longer having professional help. What that meant was that we didn’t see them for about six weeks when everything started, so I stepped into that breach to work longer hours and pick up a lot of the load while they readjusted. Since then we’ve got the flow of things, and we’re moving back to more normal schedules. We have a very empathic and supportive team, and this year really showed that.

Are there any ways that you’ve tried to bring your own personal interests into your day to create more balance?

Outside of work, I signed a contract to write a book in December of last year, so my pandemic hobby is learning how to write a book. It should do good things for my career! It also means learning about professional editing, publishing, making figures, getting reviews, and how SEO affects books. I’m towards the end, and aiming for publishing in mid-2021.

Are there any particular ways you have been able to still connect with your coworkers or team?

Our team channel on Slack is allowed to have social conversations in it, so we do a lot of social touch that way. The George Floyd protests were very important for us, because a lot of us have strong Minnesota ties, so that was a lot of talking and a lot of emotional stuff for our team. I think that really shows the power of our specific team.

We also did a lot of coffee talk zooms in the beginning, and every so often we still have those. HelloSign has done virtual happy hours a couple times now too; there was one where they brought in musicians and we had a one hour private concert. These little touches coming from management are definitely a way to keep connected.

What’s your go-to WFH lunch?

It’s the same thing I’ve been doing for years! Sometimes there are leftovers to eat, but often what I do is make ham and cheese wraps. You start with ham — not the flimsy thin-sliced stuff, but a good thick slice. Dice it up to quarter inch squares or so, and put it in a fry-pan with a touch of butter (not too much, otherwise it’ll drip on my pants later). I also dice a slice of peppered salami in there for flavor. Once that’s beginning to brown, put a slice of Provolone on it (or if I’m feeling even more decadent, Provel — a local cheese, amazing on pizza) and let it melt. Once the cheese is droopy, evacuate onto a soft taco wrap and bring it back to the desk. Working the hours I do means I also do dinner towards the end of my shift, so eating at my desk is a must for my noon-ish meal.

What are you looking forward to about Virtual First work?

What I’m really looking forward to is watching my coworkers adjust their housing to the new reality. A lot of them were living an hour and a half away from the office because that’s where they can afford housing, or were living in 450 square feet in the city. Seeing them decide to make moves or get doors behind them or move out of the kitchen, and find a room where they can really work, is what I’m looking forward to.

Interested in learning more about how you, too, could work from anywhere in the world with Dropbox? You can check out open positions here.

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