This post is the first in a planned series about my experiences moving from a traditional Nine to Five office job to a remote job with a distributed team. Disclaimer: These articles are intended to provide my personal perspective on transitioning to what very well could be the future for tech workers and are not endorsed by, nor reflective of the opinions of my employer.
Well, this is it. I’ve been interested in the idea of remote work and distributed teams for a long time now, and ever since I read The Year Without Pants last year I’ve been hooked. I saw what companies like Automattic and Lullabot have been doing – hiring talented programmers wherever they may be and trusting them to get things done without constant oversight – and it made so much sense to me that I had to pursue that kind of working life, if only to try it on for size. Finally, after taking my time and slowly searching out a new job over the last several months, I’m starting my first full-time, 100% remote job tomorrow.
I have to say the whole experience so far, even without having started yet, has been a bit surreal. This is a completely distributed company, so my new co-workers are scattered all over the country. Interviews were done over video chat and the job offer arrived via a phone call. I’ve signed my offer, sent in IRS paperwork, and gotten everything from the employee handbook to my company email account without having yet met anyone at my new company in person – it’s likely I won’t until the annual retreat or the next big conference we happen to attend.
Of course, none of this should be shocking on it’s face: Email, video chats, electronic signatures, etc. are all old news, and people were talking about paperless offices long before I was born, but for a company to embrace all these things 100% is simultaneously strange and refreshing. I’ve wondered before why more companies aren’t embracing remote work, since the tools have all been in place for decades now, if not longer. Now that I’ve started on this journey, I’m slowly coming to realize that it’s not a matter of technology at all, but a matter of perspective. Working remotely (and hiring remote employees) requires a huge amount of trust between my employer and myself, and companies that are willing to look at a brand-new employee and say “Go ahead, do your work, we trust you completely” are, perhaps understandably, rare.
Tomorrow promises to be even stranger. I’ve done the new job routine before – Report to HR first thing Monday morning, fill out paperwork for a few hours, then get handed off to your new manager to get plugged in to the system. This time, there’s no office to report to. Paperwork’s already done, everything’s set up, and I’m not expected anywhere until 10am for a conference call. All indications are that nobody’s particularly concerned with what I do before that, and if I want to sleep in or read the news or have coffee that’s fine, but if I want to go ahead and start having a look around on my own that’s great too. Again, part of that is very strange, but apparently they think I’m smart enough to look after myself and figure things out, which is very refreshing (and sensible, apparently, since I’ve already taken a peek at the wiki and project management software and such already, even though I don’t “officially” start until tomorrow morning).
I expect the next few weeks to be an interesting transition as I get a first-hand look at what could be The Future of Work. I’ll admit I’m a bit worried about getting to know my new team over internet chat and video calls, about knowing when to work and when not to, how I’ll know I’m doing what’s expected without showing up to the office on time and punching a clock. I get a private office (the extra bedroom in my apartment), but it’s also my music studio and my ladyfriend’s office and sometimes the cat’s bedroom. Is it OK if I take a quick piano break? What happens if my cat decides he wants lunch in the middle of an important call? Will the clients politely pretend to ignore the meowing in the background?
In all, I’d say I’m nervously excited, though (I think) more excited than nervous and looking forward to the week ahead. Here’s to tomorrow.