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Finding a New Normal

There’s a lot of uncertainty these days. At Manolin, while we don’t know what the next few months will bring, we do know how to thrive with remote offices.

As a completely remote team spread between Bergen and Denver, we hired Emily and Ben and launched our new platform over the last five months. Because of the pandemic, we still haven’t been able to physically meet as a team — but it’s not slowing us down!

Here’s how we keep on building tools for farmers across 7,200 kilometers and, at times, three or four time zones.

Emily (Head of Product & Content, Denver)

Before joining the Manolin team in January, I worked in agriculture. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years traveling throughout the U.S. to talk with small farmers about their challenges, needs, and innovations, and how they’re building regional food economies and local food systems. It’s been really interesting to find both the similarities and differences in the Norwegian salmon industry, where family farmers fuel so much of the regional economies.

I’m a writer and editor, so I’m definitely no stranger to this remote work situation. But having moved from New York City to Denver just as the pandemic was picking up in the U.S., I haven’t quite figured out furniture for the new apartment. After working a few days from a cardboard box on the floor, Tony kindly lent me a folding table and chair, which has become my new home office. Instead of sorting a new bed frame, car, or any of the other home essentials, I bought myself a new endurance road bike (proudly pictured here) — because biking is what keeps me sane these days!

Remote work tip: My typical workday involves bouncing from my living room to a coffee shop to a coworking space, and sometimes even to the public library. Now, I mitigate all that excess energy by taking short but frequent breaks to get active, whether it’s practicing my headstand on the yoga mat behind my desk or taking a quick, five-minute walk in the sun. Structured breaks help to keep the energy levels up and prevent burnout. Creativity thrives with downtime!

Ben (Software Engineer, Denver)

I started working remotely with Manolin back in December before everything got closed down. When I got to Denver in early February, I joined a coworking space with Tony for a couple of months. Now that I’m working completely from home, I’ve been trying to keep a structured schedule throughout the day that includes early morning sun on my balcony (very very important for vitamin D!) while enjoying coffee, exercise, or some ashtanga yoga.

Coming from a slightly more corporate background, I’ve really enjoyed the amount of flexibility and trust in my judgment that comes from working with such a small group of people.

Remote work tip: I almost always write a prioritized list of discrete tasks that I want to get done for the day. This helps me resist the siren song of The Sopranos until after all of those tasks are accomplished. Also, make sure to get out of your living space for at least a half-hour every day! If you don’t, you will go crazy. Call or text your family and friends and play online board games together, or bet irresponsible amounts of money together on online poker. Drink too much coffee to keep your caffeine at level insane, it will help you do all of your bodyweight exercises.

Tony (CEO, Denver)

A lot of family and friends have been coming to me lately and saying they now understand my work life for the past few years. Manolin has been ahead of this curve in adjusting to completely remote, because these are challenges we’ve already addressed: over the last six months, we hired and onboarded new people, got working, and launched our new platform as a completely remote team. We have still yet to meet as a team, five months later, but we’ve learned how our personal working styles fit together. Communicating well is key! We also try to designate some time for virtual team happy hours, so we can get to know each other outside of the context of work.

As for my working style, I typically use a change of scenery throughout the workday, whether it’s going into the office or a coffee shop. So now that I’m home 24/7, I’ve been trying to learn how to step away from work a healthy amount. My wife and I take a daily walk when she’s home from working as a doctor in the hospitals here in Denver.

The stay-at-home order also means we’re cooking more meals and trying to add variety to our usual go-to dishes. Now that I only grocery shop once per week, I’m learning to use food better and minimizing my waste in the kitchen.

Remote work tip: Audio is the most important thing for meetings. Video can often be spotty, but as long as you have a clear voice, you’ll have a good meeting. A quality microphone and headphones are super important.

John (CTO, Bergen)

The new normal isn’t all that new for me. I no longer go into the office to work with Nat, but I’m already used to working many hours from home, so I have a good set-up. Not much has changed in my daily life aside from the inconvenience of stores and shops being closed, but since there is no going out and doing things, there isn’t much that I actually need to buy.

Of course, it’s a challenge having my family and friends living in New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. crisis, but luckily most are healthy and safe. Aside from that, life has actually gotten simpler. I no longer have to put on pants. Shaving has become optional. And from a Manolin perspective, it is business as usual — I have spent the last six years of my life burying myself in work and this virus still hasn’t changed that mentality just yet.

Remote work tip: Just buckle down and get things done. Reading a self-help blog on how to be more productive does not make you more productive. Right now, people are living in a world where there is very little structure: no commuting to an office (or unfortunately without work), no taking the kids to school, no making dinner plans with friends. Set a schedule and get in a good rhythm. It doesn’t matter if you are working or not, just focus on doing things. Try new hobbies, garden, exercise, grow a terrible mustache like me, build a tower wizard staff with all those beer cans you have been drinking. Whatever it is, just keep busy. When the mind is being used, there is no time to worry about the state of the world, so continue to stay active and stimulated throughout the day.

Nat (COO, Bergen)

I’ve transitioned from working in the office with John to working from my kitchen, where I’ve built a makeshift stand-up desk on the kitchen bench. It’s a little bit low, but by practicing the splits a bit you get a good height! Now that I can’t write all over the office walls, I have a small whiteboard sheet going on the counter for those really tough problems. Behind the new workspace is my favorite lunch spot: the corner bench with a window looking out at the mountains.

I’m learning to appreciate some positive shake-ups this pandemic has provided. I’ve been connecting with family and friends across the world who are now all in the same situation.

I’ve also made calls around the industry and connected with folks about how they’re adjusting to this sudden shift in different ways: those who snuck back into the office, like me, to collect their dearly missed second or even third monitor; those superheroes who have young kids now at home and still need to work; and those who are also pining over missed skiing days.

I’ve been treating this as a curious adventure that is, well, different and interesting to experience at the end of the day. And with those few sunny days we had in Bergen, I’ve been enjoying breakfast on the balcony with my partner. I actually got a tan!

Remote work tip: Before I dive into the day, I try to get some exercise in and then make a plan, which keeps me on track — otherwise, that afternoon procrastination/distraction will strike hard! I recommend focusing on those small joys that you can look forward to throughout the day. For me, it’s a cup of tea in my favorite cup in the morning, and then for lunch, sitting on my bench in the window with caviar, egg, and cheese on toast.



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