WFH: Month 11 Reflections

I am frequently asked, So how do you like working from home (WFH)? My response is, Even more than I anticipated.  I have been reflecting on this quite a bit lately.

JIGSAW FALLING INTO PLACE

How this started. Last August I left an amazing company and a role in which I was generally content, where I happily contributed for a personal record tenure of 6 years.  A former colleague presented me with an opportunity to amp up my face-time and engagement with customers, to leverage my experience with a relatively young team with an exciting mission and big vision, and to learn the ropes of a new role, Product Owner.  I would have to use ALL of my standout strengths: stimulator, connecter, teacher, pioneer. My excitement meter jumped from 20 to 100 and remained pegged there after the interviews.  WFH was a bonus in this unexpected opportunity.  This meant early realization of a long-term goal of being able to work from anywhere. You see, my husband and I aspire to eventually live a migratory snowbird lifestyle and live up north during the summers.

EVERYTHING IN ITS RIGHT PLACE

1. Connections with Colleagues. The team has been “remote” since its 2014 inception. On this powerful little distributed agile team of 17, we all WFH unless we are near a corporate office and choose to go on-site.  1 does this daily, 2 folks occasionally. Here is where we live.

teamdistro

Frequent, clear interpersonal communication feels now even more important than when I was working in a co-located space.  There is still the benefit of body language with Hangouts. And being head-phoned makes me especially attuned to voice, the most emotionally expressive and telling organ we have. I know when I have over-worked myself, because I can hear it in my own voice when my game or self-confidence has taken a little dive.

2. Growth. Everyone is accountable to each other. Hangouts and Slack keep us highly communicative, visible, & transparent. I have been extremely impressed with this team’s ability to deliver, to pivot, and to swarm and expeditiously triage from multiple angles. We have a culture that says, It’s okay to fail. Let’s do it fast & learn from it. I have also been extremely grateful for receiving rapid, candid, practical feedback and learning to practice radical candor.  In my new role, I quickly recognize the impact (helping\hurting) of my actions or inactions on the team and I can course correct rapidly.

3. Same same.  Asking open ended questions is not enough. This yields crickets if working with a quiet set of folks and makes it so that the team might not benefit from an introvert’s expert perspective. Instead of asking, What do you guys think about XYZ?  I engage directly, D, what do you think about XYZ?

4. Toolbelt.  We primarily use these collaborative tools: Slack, GoogleHangouts, Pivotal Tracker, Mural.ly, and also Trello (for team retrospectives).  I use a Verizon JetPack MiFi for backup internet service for those times when my ISP for home internet connection is flaky or in case of temporary power outages in my neighborhood.  I also use the JetPack when I choose to work physically elsewhere.

NO SURPISES

1. I wanna see your face! I am a pretty social person, so I would probably feel depressed and isolated if I never actually saw my co-workers. Just hearing their voices would not be enough for me.  Thank goodness for GoogleHangouts which lets me have early a.m. coffee time, one-on-ones, daily stand-ups, retrospectives twice a month, impromptu face-to-face chats and screenshares with teammates as needed throughout the day.  Daily Hallway conversations happen in Hangouts, too.  I enjoy getting to know some of my teammates cats or if it is late in the day, their kids. Facetime is important in our team culture. It’s essential for me to being all the more attuned with folks.

2. Easy now. Stick to a schedule & regular breaks. Though flexible across the overall team, most of our squads (squad = smaller teams within the overall team) hours are generally 9 – 5 EST.  I am not as productive or at my best when I over work; extra hours are not encouraged. I had this challenge before WFH. My dedication to work and propensity to arrive early and stay late is exacerbated by the convenience and proximity of a home office. Couple that with an initial sense of needing to work extra hard because I was WFH and you have… hogwash. Friends outside of my team who also WFH express this as a common side effect: You get even more out of me because I work from home.  I am forming healthier habits by sticking to office hours and literally wiping my hands when I am done for the day, closing my laptop along with my home office door.This little end-of-day ritual helps me to get into I am off work now mode.  I still think about work after hours. Always have, always will. I love what I do and I enjoy thinking about it.

3. Cabin fever. Going to the grocery store is now something I look forward to! I also take daily walks, go out for lunch, sometimes with a friend every couple of weeks to mitigate cabin fever. Yoga and swimming are not highly social activities, but I still need and enjoy the community vibe in those spaces outside my home.

4. Nope. I do not have these distractions during my workday: laundry, cleaning, cooking, constantly walking into the kitchen and raiding the fridge. Sure I might toss in an early morning load, timing this so it can be hung up to dry – that’s right I am old-school and eco here – just before I checkin to work. I do not work in pajamas. What I wear promotes a sense of I am shifting into work mode now. Although I started out dressing like I was going to an office on casual Friday – nice shirt with nice jeans – I quit that after a couple of months.

RECKONER

1. Quality of life. While this transition was not a calculated decision based solely on $$, after a month, I recognized quantifiable benefits that increase my already high happiness quotient. No purchases to refresh my work wardrobe this year. Putting even fewer miles on my car.  I enjoy more time in the morning for a relaxed breakfast with my husband sans pre-office work prep and commute. I estimate I recover an extra 1.5 hours\day of no-fuss time by not having to pack lunch, get fancied up in office clothes and drive to\from work. I had it good even before this came along. I live where people vacation. I enjoyed amazing views (the bay, sailboats, dolphins) during my 15 minute one-way commute. Way better than my Atlanta days where the commute was 2+ hours roundtrip. Although I don’t have any little ones, I think WFH is especially cool with shuttling kids to\from school & activities and with the fact that the kids get some exposure to their parents in action (work mode) at the end of the day. I like being able to look out a bit for my neighbors & to be available for them by being around.

2. Less is more. This became my motto with this career transition. I realized that WFH simplified my focus and energy in every slice of the pie of my life: Volunteering, Finances, Friendships, Family, Fun, Fitness. Maybe this just happens to coincide with or be in part due to where I am in my life\my age, but the move to WFH seemed to initiate more care, attention, and introspection and adjustments to those slices.

3. Resources. Listen to HanselMinutes Podcast with Karolina Szczur on Building Remote Teams First.   Read 37 Signals Founder’s book, Remote, for employers and employees on how they can work together remotely.

Gratitude. Thank you to my fellow Honeybadgers, Squids, and ATeam teammates, Diego, Nate, David, Rob, Wen, Mitch, Behrooz, Darren, Michal, Tej, Kavinfranco, Nick D., Joel, Brad, Nick V, and Yin for being awesome and for making me feel welcome since Day 1.

How does this compare with your experience?  What were\are your greatest challenges?  What do you appreciate the most? I’d like to hear from you!

Credit Note: the ALL CAPS subheadings of this post are Radiohead song titles.

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