Working remotely

February 19, 2024

I have been working from home for 10 years now. It has worked out well for me and been well suited for my life situation. There are times when I miss the personal interactions that come with working in an office with other people but all and all, remote working has agreed with me.

My career has mostly been outside the norm of most people. My first job out of college was in campus ministry. I spent the first year and a half doing fundraising out of our apartment. Most of the work happened at night when people were available for personal appointments in their homes or they were available to talk on the phone when I would call them to set up times to meet.

Later when we reported to our ministry assignment, we spent our days (and some nights) on campus meeting with students or other members of our staff team. We were given a lot of leadership responsibility that most people only experience after years on the job.

It was during that time that I developed a lot of the skills that have helped make me successful at remote working. I had to develop the skill of being a self-starter and have self-discipline. I was responsible for setting up appointments and determining how to best use my day to meet all the responsibilities that I had such as leading Bible studies, speaking at weekly meetings, meeting with faculty, and of course, meeting with students. I also exercised those skills in ongoing fundraising and maintenance.

Later on, I moved into an office role within the ministry. I had a couple of seasons where I worked from home but not consistently. And then years later, I left the ministry and entered into the marketplace. All of those jobs expected me to work in an office with my co-workers.

When I was working at Bonnier Corporation, I had my first taste of working from home consistently. Our teams were primarily made up of people who worked in our Orlando office. But we also collaborated with co-workers in a New York office and with several developers who worked remotely. I asked my boss if I could try working from home one day a week. It worked out nice for me because I was helping to coach my son’s Little League team and I was able to make practice because I didn’t have to commute from Winter Park to East Orlando.

That worked out for about six months and then my boss decided to discontinue that experiment. My next experience with remote work came after I accepted a job with Easy Designs in Chattanooga. They were gracious to give me time to relocate. I spent the first six months working remotely from Orlando before I moved up to Chattanooga. Unfortunately, that opportunity did not work out well for either party and we parted ways about nine months after the move.

As I looked for a new job, I ended up taking a position as a remote contractor for dboy out of North Carolina. They were the first remote-friendly company that I worked with. They had a lot of tools in place that made it very easy to work with them. I continued to contract with them until their main source of income dried up. I was a reluctant freelancer for about two years before I started contracting with LGND. Eighteen months later, I joined them as a full-time employee.

When I started at LGND, the majority of the team worked out of an office in DC. But all the designers and developers were remote. LGND was a very remote-friendly company. They also had the tools and processes in place that made working with them pretty seamless.

LGND became a remote-first company during the pandemic. But a majority of the production team had already been working remotely so it was a less painful process for us. In a lot of ways, not a lot changed for us in terms of the work. Now we have all the stress of the pandemic and adjusting to the new normal. But from a work perspective, it was very much the same and that was a source of stability in a very uncertain time.

One of the things that did change was that we were all remote. When there were still teammates in an office, we would have All Hands meetings over Zoom. Because many people were in the same room, I felt like I was missing out on some conversations that we happening at the edges. It felt like those of us who were remote had a little bit of a disadvantage. That all changed when we all were remote. And I think we became a better company for it. Since that time, the majority of the company has lived outside of DC and we stretch from coast to coast.

Remote working has fit me well. But I know that it is not for everyone. I was skeptical when people predicted that the pandemic would usher forward the remote revolution that so many had been waiting to bust open. I knew that many people would get a bad taste in their mouth from remote working during the pandemic because it was something that was forced upon them.

And companies had to pivot and figure out how to do remote work. It is hard to judge an experience given all the stress that was involved and the fact that leaders had to figure it out as they went. And the reality is that not everyone is well suited for remote work.

Here are some things that I think lead to a more satisfying remote experience. It is not a comprehensive list but the things I found to be more important.

Being a self-starter and having self-discipline

Being a self-starter and exercising self-discipline is probably the most crucial skill to successful remote working. You don’t have as much accountability working from home as you would in an office. That is not to say that people who work in an office get more done. You can waste just as much time in an office as you can by yourself at home.

But to be successful, you have to be able to get yourself going each day and know what you want to accomplish. Some days are easier than others. It can be a real grind some days to work when you feel tired or unmotivated. The responsibility lies upon you to figure out what the factors for your lack of motivation are and then determine how to best address the situation so you can get the work done.

Maybe it is a lack of energy. Maybe taking a walk around the neighborhood will help you get the blood pumping. Maybe you just need to take a break. Get up and walk around, stretch, and get some more water to drink. Anything to give yourself a mental break away from the screen can help. Maybe you need to turn the TV off sooner at night and get more sleep.

I find that neighborhood walks in the middle of the day can help me get refocused and reenergize me to get work done.

Maybe you are lacking focus. You might have to eliminate mental or physical distractions. That is not always easy depending on the environment you work in at home. You may have kids and spouses that are also at home. Your workspace may be in the middle of all the activity. And it can be hard when the kids are on vacation and you would rather not be working like they are.

It could be that you need to ask your kids to keep it down. Or maybe you need to address something that is on your mind and then get back to work. Maybe you need to give some thought to how to better structure your schedule so you can get into a rhythm each day.

Or maybe you feel a lack of purpose. You may need to remember the “why” behind the work you are doing. Or maybe you just need to take a step back to see the bigger picture and be able to see the progress you are making through a lot of the little things you are doing.

In all of these situations, you have to exercise leadership skills to diagnose and then come up with a solution so that you can fulfill the responsibilities that your employer is entrusting you to do. That is why being a self-starter is important because you don’t have other people around you to help get you going.

Advantages of a remote-first culture

I believe there is a distinct advantage to working for a company that is remote-first or at least remote-friendly. It works better when a good portion of the workforce is also working from home (or remote). There is just a different approach and the remote employees don’t feel like the odd one out or feel like they are missing something but not being in the same location as other teammates. As I mentioned, I worked in an office at Bonnier that was remote-friendly to those who worked in other locations. We had processes and procedures in place that helped foster that collaboration.

As I mentioned earlier, there was a big difference in how meetings felt to me as a remote employee at LGND once the whole company was calling in from different locations instead of having a large group in a room with a webcam. It was hard to hear a lot of my teammates and we never quite solved that issue in passing around the mic in those All Hands meetings.

A remote-first culture is committed to using the tools and developing processes that keep employees from missing out on vital communication. When there is agreement, it makes it much easier to collaborate remotely because everyone knows where to find the information they need or has easy access to ask those who can help. It is a learning process that takes time to perfect.

Dedicated working space

Having a dedicated working space is extremely helpful for the remote employee. It helps to get into the mental space of being at work. It is also helpful to have that space to come back and not have to take time to set up or clean a space before being able to get the work done.

I have been very fortunate that the house we bought in Chattanooga had an extra room that I had already claimed as an office. I had longed for a dedicated office space for many years and as an introvert, I appreciated having a place where I could shut the door and have the quiet I needed to energize. Little did I know that I would be working full-time in that space over the next 10 years.

My desk is not usually this clean. There are usually more papers on it, especially under the monitor.

I know that not everyone has that same privilege. A lot of you might live in apartments or in houses where there is no extra room. When I worked remotely for Easy Designs, I worked from the corner of our bedroom. During the pandemic, I had to set up my desk in our dining room which is right in the middle of all the action. My daughter was taking her college classes from home and my mother-in-law had moved into our house the year before. So I had to give up the office to my daughter and move downstairs. But I was able to make it work.

Even if you live in an apartment or don’t have a room in your house, I am sure you can find a space that can be dedicated to work and that you can come back to consistently. That does not mean you can’t work from the kitchen table or on the couch from time to time as a change of pace. But having that dedicated space helps trigger a context change that will help you be more successful in staying focused on your work.

Find ways to meet your social needs

One of the hardest things for most people working from home is not getting their social needs met. Interacting with people through Slack or Zoom is not quite the same as face-to-face physical contact. Many can struggle with loneliness and feeling isolated. You need to find ways to meet those social needs. You need to get out of the house or apartment and interact with other people.

My social needs are met through my church involvement. I looked forward to Wednesday nights when my church had a more informal Bible study time. I enjoyed that time of getting out and connecting with people. I was also involved in a small group that met every two weeks before the pandemic.

It was difficult when those things got cut off once the pandemic hit. We slowly made it back to a different church that was in our neighborhood just over a year ago. And I joined a small group in September. I was in deep need of meeting my social needs and have enjoyed being in a community again.

I am not sure how you can meet your social needs. Maybe do trivia night at a local bar or restaurant. Find a local meetup of other like-minded people. Join a bowling league. You need to find some way of meeting those social needs with contact with people beyond a screen or Slack app.

Figure out the feedback loops

One challenge of working remotely can be getting feedback or having a sense of how you are doing in the work. You need to figure out what feedback loops exist in your workplace. It might be on Slack. It might be through 1:1s with your manager or other teammates. At LGND, we have reviews twice a year. We fill out a form where we do self-evaluation and then meet with leadership to talk through it. These times are usually a time of getting some positive feedback and kudos along with talking through areas of improvement.

My former manager told me that there should be no surprises during those reviews. Our company does not have a culture where things are not discussed on the way. Reviews are not a place to surprise you with negative feedback or a veil to fire you. They are mostly positive experiences.

All of us need feedback to know how we are doing or if we are meeting expectations. It is even more important in a remote environment when you don’t have the time and space for more casual times of feedback. And communicating through tools like Slack, you don’t get to see facial expressions or other body language that can serve as feedback.

If you are not getting feedback, I encourage you to seek it out. Talk to your manager or leadership. All of us are different and need different levels of feedback. Help out those over you by communicating your needs and helping them to understand what you need to be successful.

Be intentional about building relationships with your teammates

There is a difference between being a teammate and being a team member. I have written a whole other article about that topic. One of the ways that you invest in being a teammate is by building relationships with your teammates. That is much more of a challenge when you work remotely and you have to be more intentional. The water cooler conversations that happen in a physical office don’t translate well to a remote environment.

Here are some of the ways I am intentional to build relationships on my team

  • Schedule virtual coffees with your teammates – Put some time on the calendar to sit down and talk to one of your teammates. Ask them questions about themselves. Find out what other interests they have outside of work. The point is to take time to build a relationship. You may talk about work but try to focus more on them as a person. I don’t do this as regularly as I should. But it has been a great way to feel more connected and enjoy the work more together.
  • Don’t multi-task and work on things during team stand-ups or other team meetings – I have struggled with this recently. But there is a whole lot that I miss out on when my attention is not fully engaged on my teammates. And it is just polite to give others the attention that you would like to have if you are sharing.
  • Be committed to optional meetings that facilitate relationship building – Our team has a weekly Campfire. Some weeks, one of our teammates will lead an interactive discussion about something work-related or share something they are passionate about. One teammate taught us to juggle. Another talked through how to make pizza.

    We also have monthly times that we play a game. We might play Jackbox Games, Gartic Phone, or Codenames. We have also played trivia games or spy games. I am a competitive person and I don’t always do well in these games. And there are times I would rather just keep working on what I am doing. But I came to realize that there is tremendous value in participating in these games. We have fun together and you usually learn new things about your teammates. It fosters building relationships which leads to better collaboration and more fun working together.
  • Participate in water cooler conversations on Slack – There are times when someone will do a poll or mention something that gets a conversation going on Slack. These are not work-related conversations and they can go off in an entirely different direction. These can be easy to ignore but I try to get involved where I can or jump in when it is something that interests me. It is just another way to add joy and fun to your work relationships during the day.
I just played Codenames with my teammates on Friday. I ended up on the losing team both times but I had a ton of fun playing and interacting with my teammates.

Read The Long-Distance Teammate

One of the best resources I have come across is the book, The Long-Distance Teammate. It is chalked full of advice, tips, and practical advice on skills to build to be a successful remote teammate. It even includes a chapter on how to network as a remote worker. There are more ideas in the book on how to build relationships with your teammates. They cover a lot of different soft skills that would benefit anyone, whether they work in an office or remotely.

Remote work has been a great fit for me but it is not for everyone. I hope you have found this article helpful as you consider remote work or think about how to can be more successful in your current situation.


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