So, How's Remote Work Working Out?

July 11th, 2020


In the past, I've been fairly committed to the idea of working an office job. A little bit of flexibility to the idea of working from home would be a benefit, since a little time out is nice sometimes. But my bottom line, since my year in industry, has been to work in the same space as my team. My reasoning was that meetings, coffee breaks, and the like would all foster some great working relationships. So, with all that in mind, you'd think it was quite interesting that my first proper software engineering job is fully remote with a company in the US...

There are a lot of reasons I took up the role, some of which are quite close to me - the excitement of an early-stage startup, and the strong and reputable team I'd be a part of, just to name a couple - but in this post, I'll be talking specifically about how my first couple of weeks of remote work are working out, and how they could work out for you too.

I should start out with a disclaimer - like I've said, my primary fear about remote work was the social side of things. Of course, having only been in my role for a couple of weeks so far, I can't really remedy that fear with my own experience. But what I'll say is that it shows a lot of promise.

Remote work, when done right, tries to create a mindset of parity with the office experience. Just because you're online doesn't mean that the etiquette should be too far removed from communication in person - you should still be able to do the online equivalent of tapping someone on the shoulder and asking for a moment of their time, right? If you're working at a company that's remote-first or has an explicitly outlined policy about what you're supposed to do, the folks you encounter will be more likely to know how to conduct themselves online. Perhaps they'll book out some time for you to talk, or drop to DMs to introduce themselves and chat with you. Those kinds of things help remote work to feel less isolated.

Remote work and asynchronous work are two different things, really, but an asynchronous was of working really enables remote work to come into its own. Looking back at that 'tapping someone on the shoulder' example, I can feel a level of understanding between my team about the fact that someone might be knee-deep in a tricky problem, pulling together an important email, or even just quickly grabbing a coffee. That's a real benefit of remote (async) work that in-person social situations impose too much to prevent.

One thing I enjoyed about my team's dynamic on my year in industry was how discourse naturally came up. One of us would find something interesting and tag someone else in to look at it, and perhaps a few more of us would cluster around and have a chat about what it means. I'm finding that this dynamic isn't lost to remote work. In cases where an interesting topic of conversation comes up, this same clustering happens as a thread develops. Anyone that's interested chips in with reactions or their own responses. Perhaps it's not the same as conversation, but there's a similar and familiar satisfaction in how that kind of thing comes to be.

Support from the team is another thing I'd like to highlight. Right now, since this is an early-stage startup, we're all working on what's effectively a blank slate. Of course, that's not entirely true, as I'll likely go on to detail when I go public about the job, but I digress. I've got a lot of liberty to do what I think is right, and I'm trusted to call myself the expert. It's a bizarre feeling, but it's very comfortable, thanks to prompt feedback from my seniors.

That feedback, and a lot of communication in general, is all written and logged. This helps teamwork immensely since there's a record of discussions, but it's nice to have that record on a personal level too - you can see what you're supposed to be working on and the discussions that led to the creation of that work. It takes the kind of convenience you get from discussions around tickets of work, and extends it to just about everything you do. Of course, you'll still need to scribe for meetings...but communication being centered around your chat platform of choice is a huge benefit.

So, if you're in the position I was in and you're looking for a job, don't be shy to the idea of remote. Unless your idea of shy is staying in your room and sitting behind a screen, of course. In that case, be as shy as you like!


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