Lessons Learned: What 23 Years of Remote Working Have Taught Me
I’ve been working remote for over 23 years – since 1997 when I convinced a company that it was unnecessary for me to relocate considering how much travel I would be doing. Thankfully they agreed.
But for the millions of people that are now working remote – let me tell you how GREAT you have it – because it is a very different experience from 1997. And I think I can safely speak from experience.
In 1997 – dial up internet was still the primary way you connected. I was lucky enough to get ISDN (2B+D) that enabled somewhat faster connectivity – but I had to pay BY THE MINUTE for data and when I engaged both B channels for faster speeds (128kbps) I had to pay by the minute for EACH B channel. Needless to say I had to be disciplined to disengage the data when not in use but it still did nothing to reduce my $300-$400 per month bills.
Today, broadband connectivity is readily available to a very large portion of the population and connection speeds are super fast for many.
Imagine trying to send large files over 128Kbps and forget about video.
But I got lucky when Cox Communications chose my small market for its early launch of cable broadband…in 1999.
Skype, DropBox, Zoom, Webex – to name a very small few- and any type of collaboration apps DID NOT EXIST. So that meant expensive long distance calls both domestic and international, and lots of conference calls – without the visuals or collaboration. Email was my absolute lifeline to EVERYTHING because even chat applications were few and far between.
My office consisted of a fax machine, an ISDN modem, a laptop and a landline phone (which BTW – I still have). For travel, I got to carry a mobile phone AND a pager – because yes, those were still widely used.
Quality of Life
In today’s corporate world – quality of life is highly valued – 20 years ago…not so much. There was little respect for working hours and since I lived on the east coast and worked for a west coast company – I regularly had to participate on conference calls late in my evening. And it was not unusual for people to call my office or send me a fax at 2am. Eventually, I learned to turn the ringer off. But the late evenings did not go away. That is the price you pay sometimes when you are remote and in different time zones.
This may not sound like much – but trust me – the fact that there are so many people working from home now makes a HUGE difference.
If someone saw me at the gym at 9am – they assumed I wasn’t working or I was slacking or I got the “must be nice” snide comment. What they did not realize, was that I was already working at 5am. They also did not know that my lunch was usually about 15 minutes. My breaks consisted of doing the laundry or some other mundane task and that my day ended around 6pm. In general I worked about a 10-11 hour day on a regular basis with a few extra hours on the weekend.
My co-workers were also a mixed bag of support. Those in the office seem to deliberately exclude me from meetings or activities – taking an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. I had to work extra hard to stay in the loop on certain activities and had to made sure I had a few allies physically present in the office to keep me up to date. In today’s environment – that is less likely to happen.
I missed out on the office free lunches and dinners; unlimited free snacks and drinks; the mobile coffee cart; the afternoon ice cream socials; the onsite car-detailing services, massage services or dry cleaning services, etc. Yes, I worked in high tech.
Home Office Must Haves
Here is where the experience comes in.
Dedicated Office Space. Non-negotiable. The kitchen table is good for temporary WFH scenarios – but anything more than 1 day per week or for longer than 10 days straight requires some dedicated space – with a door.
There is nothing worse than being on a conference call with dogs barking or kids screaming in the background. Your home office needs to reflect a workplace environment as much as possible. Have a dedicated computer – hopefully provided by your company. Get a printer. A monitor. And a dedicated phone number for your home office. A headset. And by all means pick up an external hard drive to back up your computer.
Office Hours: Set your hours and keep them. If you are normally in the office from 8:30-4:30 – keep the same hours at home. Put it in your email signature. Take a lunch break. This does not mean that you go play golf for 4 hours or go for a 100 mile bike ride during the middle of the day. But take more than 10 minutes and DO NOT EAT AT YOUR DESK. Maintain accessibility to your co-workers.
Engagement: Make sure to have regular dedicated engagement with your supervisor, team and colleagues. Zoom or other collaborative conference applications makes this significantly easier. Utilize Dropbox or other company authorized file distribution software for document sharing/collaboration. Make use of instant messaging.
Manage your time: This is harder than you realize. You might find that you are actually working longer hours from home than the office due to the lack of interruptions or impromptu visits. Set up a schedule for when you respond to emails or set up calls. Unless you are required to work on the weekends. Shut your office down on Friday. Close the door and don’t come back until Monday morning.
Take A Shower and Wear Normal Clothes: This might sound silly – but if you live in sweatpants – you might find those business clothes do not fit at a later date. No – you don’t need to wear a suit but get out of your PJs. And take a shower. There is nothing worse that an unexpected video call to remind you that you haven’t combed your hair.
Undoubtedly, the hardest part of working full time remotely is not having the daily engagement with your co-workers. This can lead to a feeling of isolation and perhaps even bitterness if you feel that you are being overlooked for opportunities. Hence the need for regular engagement with your team. This is where instant messaging can be a lifesaver and Zoom team calls as well. And they don’t have to be all business either. Maybe a Zoom happy hour or Zoom coffee break or even a Zoom yoga session would work and with remote team building.
I have been a dedicated remote worker for many years and for multiple companies. Despite perhaps some initial hesitation on the part of management, I’ve been lucky to have had these opportunities. But I’ve also proven that I could make it work. Yes, there are some sacrifices of not being a part of the office and getting to participate in the office bowling league or attend the office picnics, etc.
But when I did visit the office – I made it my job to get to know my co-workers beyond the conference calls.
The office work environment will be very different for the next few years and working for home will take on a much bigger role. Consider yourself lucky that so many tools and applications are available to help re-create the office in ways that were not available 5 years ago, let alone 20+ years ago.
It might take some time for your to find your groove – but you will and it will make the time you get to be face to face with your colleagues that much better (of course, unless you are glad not to see certain people – but that’s another subject).
“In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.” — Mark Sanborn, Author