Going Remote – Day 5

This post is part of a 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.

So I went to work every day this week without leaving my house. That was interesting…

I’ve discovered that I still have my usual morning routine: wake up, take a shower, have some coffee, head to the office – only now “the office” is ten feet away from bed. My new team is doing Agile Scrum, so we start every day with a 15 minute check-in meeting. Seems familiar enough, but now “going to a meeting” means putting on a headset and logging into Hangouts instead of grabbing the laptop and heading down the hall, and some of the participants in my “morning meeting” are just finishing their lunches.

In all, so far I’d say it’s business as usual, though I’ve already discovered some key differences in working this way:

“Working” Time

As part of the onboarding process, I was introduced to Harvest, where I’d be expected to enter my hours (I’m salaried, but we’re a contracting agency, so timekeeping is important). At some point I was made aware that I should be entering time for internal activities like meetings as well as any client-facing work I was doing. This threw me off at first – think about your typical workweek, do you really have 40 productive hours? Of course not, even if your only real “downtime” comes from talking to co-workers about work-ish subjects like how to best organize your CSS files, the merits of a particular text editor, or reading articles about organizing CSS files with your favorite text editor.

On my first day, I quickly realized I was putting in way more hours at the desk than I would expect from my office jobs. I was online and available from around 8am to 6:30pm or so, a good 9.5 hours, while only “billing” 7 hours or so. Eventually it was explained to me that the company doesn’t really expect 40 hours of “billable” time per week, and by Friday things were feeling pretty normal – I was on from around 9 to 5 and “productive” (billed) 6-ish hours, not too bad.

Breaks

My next realization was that, left to my own devices, apparently I won’t really take breaks. During the first couple of days working remote, I was all too happy to drink my coffee, eat lunch, and otherwise spend all day in front of the computer with no real breaks. Eventually, 3pm would roll around and I’d wonder why I had a headache.

Working in an office, I had reasons to get out: Take a walk to go get a coffee, go out get to lunch, go visit with a colleague in a different office on campus. Now, again, coffee and lunch is in my kitchen down the hallway and co-workers are available at the computer, so it’s far too easy to spend all day in one place. I’m not very good at it yet, but I can tell I’ll have to work in some time every day to take walks, go have lunch in a different room at least, and generally find time to get away from the screen for a while here and there.

Independence

Last time, I talked about the weirdness of not having an HR office to report to on the first day of work, of not having a boss to get handed off to. That was true, but it turns out that not having a “boss” in the traditional sense is probably the most interesting part of this whole concept.

My “boss” (I use that word very hesitatingly) doesn’t exist in my space. My “boss” is a face on the other end of a webcam, a friendly, helpful voice giving me suggestions on how I might spend my time and what things I might do with it. Ultimately, it’s up to me when I show up, when I take lunch, when I call it a day.

Really, I think that’s what this whole “remote” concept is about. I’m a developer, I’m talented, I know what I’m doing and how to deliver value to my clients (at least that’s what I tell myself late at night). After a week, I think that’s what my employer is saying as well, and that’s what’s so radical here. I put the word “boss” in scare quotes because I don’t feel like anyone’s looking over my shoulder waiting for me to make a mistake. My new employer knows that I know what I’m doing, and they’re trusting me to do it. That idea is simultaneously empowering and terrifying, but I’ll try to focus on the empowering part and hope the rest works itself out.

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