The video above was recorded at RailsConf 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Remote work is just like working in an office—minus the soul-crushing commute. How hard could it be?

Spoiler: it's actually pretty hard.

When I went remote, I was so excited to not pack a lunch that I didn't consider the implications of a quasi-reliable Internet connection or the psychological impact of spending so much time at home.

As it turns out, going remote isn't just trading a highway commute for a hallway one. It requires new skills and a mindset shift. In this talk, you'll learn how to assess your needs as a remote worker and gain a set of tools to help you succeed for the long term.

If you liked this talk, please share it! And if you know an organization that could benefit from additional developers who can help make the whole team better, we'd love to hear from you.

Transcript

The transcript of the presentation follows:

[00:00] (upbeat music)
[00:21] - Cool, so I expect that we'll have some more people
[00:24] trickle in, which is fine,
[00:26] but we'll go ahead and get started.
[00:29] DHH is certainly a tough act to follow,
[00:33] but I'm going to do my best here.
[00:37] This is Things I Wish I Knew Before Going Remote.
[00:41] I know there are a lot of other awesome sessions
[00:43] going on right now so I do appreciate you
[00:45] choosing to join me here today.
[00:50] So just want to introduce myself.
[00:52] My name is Marla Zeschin.
[00:54] I use she pronouns,
[00:57] and some of you may know me as Marla Brizel.
[01:01] I recently changed my last name,
[01:03] and in the words of one of the many government officials
[01:07] that I had to interact with as part of this,
[01:10] going from Brizel to Zeschin was really a lateral move,
[01:15] (audience laughs)
[01:16] and I don't expect you to be able to pronounce
[01:19] either of those, so you're off the hook.
[01:21] Just don't call me Maria, please.
[01:25] I live in Colorado, so my idea of fun
[01:29] may not be your idea of fun.
[01:32] I like to back country ski in the wintertime
[01:35] and run in the summer,
[01:38] and when I'm not doing these things,
[01:40] I work for a company called Test Double.
[01:44] For those of you who aren't familiar,
[01:46] Test Double is a remote distributed consultancy
[01:50] dedicated to improving the way the world writes software.
[01:54] If this is something that you think,
[01:56] "Hm, my company could use some help with this,"
[01:58] come chat with me afterwards.
[02:01] And likewise, if you're thinking,
[02:02] "Hm, I would like to do this all day
[02:05] "instead of work for my company,"
[02:06] also come talk to me afterwards because we are hiring, too.
[02:11] So being fully remote and distributed,
[02:14] we actually have folks in 23 U.S. states
[02:17] and Canadian provinces, which is pretty cool.
[02:20] We are all across North America.
[02:22] And much to Justin's disappointment,
[02:25] even though I'm not here today to plug Test Double,
[02:28] I am here to talk to you today about remote work.
[02:32] We'll talk about the good, the bad, the ugly,
[02:35] and kind of all of the feelings that go along with that.
[02:39] And specifically, I'm going to tell you
[02:41] my story of going remote.
[02:43] It is you classic hero's journey, if you will.
[02:47] It has a buildup and then of course, it has a let down,
[02:51] and then finally there is this redemption at the end.
[02:55] And it has a heroine.
[02:57] That is me in this story.
[02:59] And given that it is a talk about remote work,
[03:02] we will start off by exploring how that arrangement
[03:06] actually came to be.
[03:09] And we'll talk about how at first, things were really great.
[03:13] I loved remote and I was just thrilled
[03:16] that I could pull on a pair of leggings in the morning
[03:19] and not have to worry about whether
[03:21] I was dressed appropriately.
[03:24] And everything was awesome, but as they say,
[03:27] all good things must eventually
[03:29] come to an end at some point.
[03:31] And it's no different in this story either.
[03:34] So next, we will talk about how eventually
[03:38] I began to struggle with things
[03:40] like not having left my house in a week,
[03:43] or not seeing many other people on a daily basis,
[03:47] and communication problems, and all of the challenges
[03:51] that can kind of accompany that.
[03:54] So for me, this eventually ended with a breaking point,
[03:57] and it forced me to get it together.
[03:59] And so the redemption arc in this story
[04:02] comes with finding balance and figuring out
[04:05] how to make the less glamorous parts of remote work
[04:08] into an opportunity to discover a little bit more
[04:12] about myself and my own needs.
[04:15] So without further ado, let's take it from the beginning.
[04:20] Our story today starts in 2016, where I took a job
[04:24] at an election tech company based out of Brooklyn, New York,
[04:28] and that company had a partial development team in Denver.
[04:32] That team shrunk over time.
[04:35] A few people moved on to the next opportunity.
[04:37] A couple more people decided to leave Denver
[04:39] for reasons that honestly escape me.
[04:42] (audience laughing)
[04:42] But at the end, it was just me and one other person
[04:46] sharing a tiny WeWork office in downtown Denver,
[04:49] and I was also starting to work out of my home
[04:52] one to two days per week.
[04:54] Eventually, it was time for me to move on
[04:56] to my next opportunity, and so at the end of 2017,
[05:00] I joined Test Double fully remote
[05:03] and also the only person in the state of Colorado.
[05:07] So we've had a few others join us
[05:09] in the Denver area since then, but we all still work
[05:12] out of our respective homes, and occasionally,
[05:14] we'll try to get together to catch up.
[05:17] And because I made that transition gradually,
[05:20] from part time remote to full time,
[05:22] my attitude upon going full time was basically,
[05:26] whoops, how hard can this be?
[05:29] I've already done this remote thing.
[05:31] It's not going to be that hard, and you know,
[05:33] now I don't have to worry about all the things
[05:35] I hated about WeWork.
[05:36] (audience laughing)
[05:38] And at first, it really wasn't actually that bad.
[05:41] I was in honeymoon period of sorts.
[05:43] And I was loving that I was no longer bound
[05:46] by a lot of the constraints that I had
[05:48] working from an office.
[05:50] Like for example, I no longer had to wait
[05:53] for the bus in the morning.
[05:55] And the bus in Denver is super unreliable,
[05:57] so this was really great.
[05:59] And I also got back all of the time
[06:02] that I had previously devoted to my commute.
[06:05] I no longer had to worry about packing a lunch
[06:08] in the morning and then leaving it on the counter
[06:10] as I ran for said bus,
[06:11] (audience laughing)
[06:12] and I got to eat instead every day
[06:14] at the cheapest restaurant in the world, my own kitchen.
[06:19] I could even privately and comfortably some health issues
[06:23] without my coworkers being any the wiser.
[06:26] And for anyone else in here who also manages
[06:28] a chronic health condition, you know this by itself
[06:31] is really the Holy Grail, to not have to talk about it
[06:35] with anybody else and just deal with it yourself.
[06:39] I had this amazing flexibility to get life things done
[06:43] with little to no impact on my day.
[06:46] Before, if I had a contractor coming over to the house,
[06:49] I'd have to take off half a day of work to deal with them,
[06:53] and now I could let them in and be back at my desk
[06:56] in the time that it would take me
[06:57] just for a normal bathroom break.
[07:00] I won't lie, there is a lot of upside to working remotely,
[07:04] and that's part of why we're all here, right?
[07:08] I was finding that in many ways, a flexible work schedule
[07:11] really is all that it's cracked up to be.
[07:14] But of course, eventually, I started to get used
[07:17] to the shininess, it's not quite as shiny as it once was,
[07:22] and the lure of leggings wears off.
[07:25] And so I found myself at this point a little bit
[07:28] caught off guard as reality actually started to take hold.
[07:33] So I'm curious here, show of hands,
[07:36] how many of you have some kind of morning routine?
[07:41] Right, okay.
[07:42] Just about everybody.
[07:43] Well, chances are, it probably goes something like this:
[07:47] you wake up, maybe you get a little exercise,
[07:50] or you hop straight in the shower,
[07:52] then you make some breakfast,
[07:53] or you get kids ready for their day,
[07:56] and then you're out the door as well shortly thereafter.
[08:00] Mine's pretty similar, except instead of putting shoes on
[08:04] at the end of the day, I throw on a pair of slippers
[08:07] and I head back upstairs to my office.
[08:10] And this is where I tend to stay once I get settled in.
[08:14] I'm guessing I might be a lot like a lot of you here,
[08:17] where once I get into the groove,
[08:19] I start coding and solving a problem,
[08:21] time goes by and I've stayed there for most of the day.
[08:26] And because now I was now just going down the hall
[08:29] instead of out the door for a commute,
[08:32] I found that it was really easy for this
[08:34] to turn into being home for days on end.
[08:37] And because I no longer had to go outside to get
[08:40] from the place that I slept to the place that I worked,
[08:45] some interesting things were starting to happen.
[08:49] First, I found that work and home were beginning
[08:52] to blend together to the point where the distinction
[08:55] was no longer as clear as it should have been.
[09:00] And similarly, because there was no physical separation
[09:04] between work and the rest of my life, I was also finding
[09:08] that there wasn't really as much conceptual separation
[09:10] as there should be either.
[09:13] The temptation to grab my phone and check my email
[09:16] before I'd even sat up in bed or said good morning
[09:19] to my husband or get sucked into something
[09:22] shortly after waking was really high
[09:24] and something that I was not really able to resist.
[09:29] Likewise, because I didn't have an office
[09:32] to leave behind at the end of the day,
[09:34] I also was having trouble knowing when to cut it off.
[09:38] If you're a high achiever like me,
[09:40] or dare I say maybe an overachiever,
[09:43] you might even feel a little bit of guilt
[09:46] with leaving some work unfinished for the next day.
[09:50] After all, how hard is it really to refactor one more method
[09:54] or write one more test?
[09:58] And because there was no difference
[10:00] between my work environments and my not work
[10:03] or my life environments,
[10:05] time was really starting to really slip by.
[10:08] And then one day I realized that I had no idea
[10:11] where my house keys were.
[10:13] And I was able to figure out that I had last seen them
[10:17] somewhere between Monday and Thursday.
[10:19] (audience laughing)
[10:21] But I wasn't really sure, more specifically than that
[10:24] because, much as I was loathe to admit it,
[10:28] I also wasn't sure when I last left the house
[10:31] in a way that required me to actually lock the door.
[10:34] This development here was extra surprising to me
[10:38] because one touted benefit of remote work
[10:41] is that you should be able to work from anywhere.
[10:44] If you need a change of scenery, just pick up your stuff
[10:47] and hit the local coffee shop.
[10:48] No big deal.
[10:50] But sometimes my local coffee shop had sketchy wifi,
[10:55] and it also had that regular who liked to shout loudly
[10:58] about politics in the corner,
[11:00] and I needed to be on an important client call
[11:03] where I couldn't have that going on in the background.
[11:06] I was finding that even though I expected this,
[11:09] you know, from time to time, these kinds of situations
[11:12] were actually cropping up a lot more frequently
[11:15] than I expected.
[11:17] And while work from anywhere is certainly a nice trope,
[11:21] in reality, I was finding that there were far fewer places
[11:24] that I could work that were conducive to the type of things
[11:28] that I needed to get done during the day.
[11:32] And because I felt limited in the places
[11:35] where I could effectively work,
[11:37] I also found that my interactions with other people
[11:40] were also becoming more limited.
[11:43] When I worked in an office or a coworking space,
[11:46] this wasn't an issue.
[11:47] I bumped into people all the time.
[11:49] I saw coworkers and friends in the hallway,
[11:53] and since my office was typically downtown
[11:56] and near my friends' offices,
[11:58] it was really easy to get together with people for lunch
[12:01] or make last minute plans to catch up after work.
[12:06] But because my office was now my home,
[12:09] I was finding that the friend and the coworker
[12:12] that I saw far and away the most often was Pearl the dog.
[12:16] (audience sighing)
[12:18] She's great.
[12:19] (audience laughing)
[12:19] There was no getting around it.
[12:21] The social interaction that comes from working from home
[12:25] was starting to get really intense for me,
[12:28] or the social isolation I should say.
[12:31] And that was getting extra intense,
[12:33] especially on the days where I wasn't pairing much
[12:36] or I didn't have a lot of other opportunity
[12:38] for collaboration with other people.
[12:42] And even though I was finding myself a little starved
[12:44] for social interaction, I was also feeling a lot of guilt
[12:49] over making some time for it.
[12:52] I found myself wondering if it was okay to get up
[12:55] from my desk and take time away from work for a few
[12:59] because this meant leaving my house.
[13:03] If you're like me, sometimes you can feel like
[13:06] you need to ask permission to do these kinds of things
[13:10] and that is also nerve wracking
[13:12] because if you have to ask for something,
[13:14] it feels like there is a chance
[13:16] that maybe you're not supposed to have it.
[13:19] Theoretically, remote work is supposed to liberate people
[13:22] from needing to ask permission to go about the minutiae
[13:26] of their day in a way that they choose.
[13:29] Because it does away with this idea of butts in seats
[13:33] as a measure of output or productivity.
[13:36] And now, perhaps that's true, but I think in reality,
[13:39] it's a little bit more nuanced than that.
[13:43] We've all had days where we're not 100% on our game.
[13:46] Maybe you're fighting all day with Docker
[13:49] and you don't get to writing any meaningful code
[13:51] until the last 90 minutes of your day,
[13:54] or maybe you just had a terrible night's sleep
[13:56] and you're not able to get into it for whatever reason.
[14:01] Well, when I worked in an office and I had days like these,
[14:04] like we all do, I still felt okay about the day
[14:08] because after all, I was still at work all day
[14:11] and people could see that my butt
[14:12] was in a chair doing something.
[14:15] But at home, I felt this immense guilt and anxiety
[14:19] on days like this, when I didn't necessarily
[14:21] have the world to show for my efforts.
[14:24] I didn't know how to make it known either
[14:27] that I was still doing things of value
[14:29] and still being productive.
[14:31] And so, that leads me to the last thing
[14:34] that I struggled with when I went remote
[14:37] and that's communication.
[14:39] Good communication is obviously important in every job.
[14:43] I think that's something that we actually talk about a lot
[14:46] at Developers is how communication can aid us in our work.
[14:50] But it becomes extra critical
[14:52] when nobody can see you or your person.
[14:56] In fact, it's sometimes even easy to wonder,
[14:59] if you can't see me, do I even work here at all?
[15:03] Or do I even exist in the world?
[15:07] And furthermore, because face to face interaction
[15:10] is often lacking in remote jobs,
[15:12] this means that good written communication
[15:14] suddenly becomes a lot more critical.
[15:18] The constant high volume, high quality communication
[15:21] that's required by a remote job,
[15:24] is mentally taxing, even for those of us
[15:27] who don't have to practice at it a lot.
[15:29] And tired people eventually start to make mistakes.
[15:34] If you've ever had anything that you've written into Slack
[15:37] or an email be misinterpreted because maybe your wording
[15:40] was off and you didn't have the accompanying nonverbal
[15:44] communication to either clear the air or correct things,
[15:48] then you know how high the stakes can be
[15:50] in this sort of situation.
[15:53] So needless to say, I was starting
[15:55] to feel the pressure a bit,
[15:57] and between the lack of work life balance,
[16:00] the social isolation and the communication challenges,
[16:04] that honeymoon period that we talked about earlier,
[16:06] that had worn off.
[16:09] I hit a spot where I was really unhappy with my day to day,
[16:14] to the point where others were starting
[16:15] to actually comment on my demeanor,
[16:18] and I was being asked far more often than felt appropriate
[16:22] if everything was actually okay.
[16:25] And you see, I knew in my gut that remote work
[16:29] had a lot to do with my growing unhappiness,
[16:32] but I wasn't really sure how I was supposed
[16:35] to feel about this.
[16:37] After all, remote work had been sold as this magic elixir,
[16:41] and that's something that I had bought into
[16:43] that I was really nervous to admit
[16:46] that instead it was starting to turn into
[16:48] a poison pill.
[16:51] And that left me wondering what was wrong with me
[16:55] given that my feelings didn't seem to match up
[16:57] at all with what I thought remote work
[17:00] was supposed to be like.
[17:02] I couldn't figure out at all how I was supposed
[17:05] to reconcile these feelings of loneliness
[17:08] and guilt and anxiety,
[17:11] because whenever I would tell people that I worked remotely,
[17:15] it seemed like the responses were always ones
[17:18] of jealousy or longing.
[17:20] People would say things like,
[17:22] "Oh, I would love to be able to have that some day.
[17:25] "You must be so happy."
[17:27] Or, "I'm really jealous, you're living my dream."
[17:31] And so I started to wonder
[17:33] if I was living somebody else's dream,
[17:36] and yet I was feeling this other way instead.
[17:40] Well, maybe I just wasn't cut out for remote work.
[17:46] And so this spiraled for a little bit,
[17:49] and at a certain point, I finally got over myself
[17:52] a little bit and remembered that I'm fortunate enough
[17:56] to have some really empathetic, wonderful,
[17:59] understanding coworkers, and so I decided to confide
[18:03] in a few that I trusted the most.
[18:05] I told them about how I was feeling,
[18:07] and I was actually kind of surprised to hear their responses
[18:12] that a lot of them struggled with some of the same things.
[18:16] Okay, not what I expected and also kind of interesting.
[18:21] So this got my wheels turning a little bit more.
[18:24] How was it that for most of us we could agree
[18:27] that this was actually the best job we'd ever had,
[18:31] we work on, you know, difficult technical problems,
[18:34] we work with wonderful people, we're growing a lot,
[18:37] and yet at the same time, we're still struggling
[18:41] with varying degrees of anxiety over being by ourselves.
[18:47] And so at this point,
[18:48] I had the light bulb moment, if you will.
[18:51] What I realized at that point
[18:53] is that in all of my other jobs,
[18:55] there was a structure that was provided to me
[18:58] by the physical environment that gave me cues
[19:02] on how I was supposed to work.
[19:05] And while I'm the kind of person that's always known
[19:07] some superficial things about their work style,
[19:10] like how I like to take notes in meetings
[19:13] or how I prefer for my desk to be set up,
[19:17] I had never evaluated work
[19:19] on a more deeper, fundamental level.
[19:23] And that's exactly what I needed to do.
[19:25] What I needed to do was examine the things
[19:28] that had previously been provided to me
[19:30] in a physical environment
[19:32] and assess what worked well from there, what I liked,
[19:36] and figure out how to bring that into my life
[19:39] now that I was in charge of setting up my own environment.
[19:43] This was a big epiphany,
[19:45] but as usually follows with epiphanies,
[19:47] the next, more immediate question is
[19:50] "Okay, well, what do I do now?"
[19:54] So let's revisit some of the things that I struggled with
[19:56] and see if we can answer that question.
[20:00] So if you recall, that first challenge of working remotely
[20:05] was when work and non-work life
[20:06] take place in the same space,
[20:09] how do you separate the two?
[20:11] For me, figuring out how to create
[20:13] strong, deliberate barriers between those was the key.
[20:18] So I actually created a dedicated physical workspace,
[20:22] enforced strong boundaries around it.
[20:25] For me, I live in a house,
[20:26] so this was a room in my house that is now the office,
[20:30] and I work exclusively from there during the day.
[20:33] And when the work day is over, I shut the door
[20:35] and I don't go in.
[20:37] Now obviously, not everybody lives in a house.
[20:40] So maybe this is a corner of your apartment,
[20:43] or it could even be a symbolic walk around the block
[20:46] at the beginning and end of your day
[20:48] just to symbolize the transition
[20:50] between work and everything else.
[20:54] The second challenge was similar,
[20:56] setting appropriate temporal boundaries around work,
[20:59] not starting too early and not ending too late.
[21:03] In other words, I needed to figure out how I create
[21:05] the nonphysical barriers that were also required
[21:08] to create that work life separation.
[21:12] For me, this means that every morning before work,
[21:15] I get dressed and I put on a little bit of make up
[21:19] because this is what I would do
[21:20] if I was going out the door to a physical office.
[21:24] Now obviously, I'm not saying that everyone
[21:26] should start wearing lipstick,
[21:27] though I think that would be fun,
[21:29] (audience laughing)
[21:30] But chances are, you may hold yourself to some
[21:32] sort of expectation of presentation.
[21:35] I don't think anyone here would show up
[21:37] to their office in their underpants,
[21:39] so maybe that's not the way to dress for your job at home.
[21:45] I also know that if I worked in an office,
[21:48] I wouldn't roll in without brushing my teeth
[21:50] or having breakfast in the morning.
[21:52] I am a hangry person as my pair can attest.
[21:56] So I need to take care of these things at home, too,
[21:59] before I can get started on my work tasks.
[22:02] So for me, just having a habit or routine
[22:06] that I can rely on, that's just as strong
[22:09] as a physical barrier.
[22:12] Now, temporal challenges can be extra difficult
[22:15] when you're working across time zones.
[22:18] This is the distributed part of remote and distributed.
[22:22] And I realized that I needed to,
[22:24] instead of stretching the day
[22:26] to match coworkers' availability,
[22:29] I needed to instead accept that part of the day
[22:32] was going to overlap with folks on either coast
[22:34] and part of it just wasn't.
[22:37] So I communicated my availability pretty strongly
[22:40] to clients and coworkers and also set a very aggressive
[22:44] Do Not Disturb schedule on Slack
[22:46] so that I wouldn't be tempted to respond to things
[22:49] at inappropriate times.
[22:51] You might need to be as assertive
[22:53] in setting your own boundaries at home
[22:56] as you might in a physical office.
[22:59] If your boss asked you to be in the office every day
[23:02] from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., you'd probably say "Sayonara"
[23:06] and start looking for a new job.
[23:09] So this isn't an appropriate expectation
[23:12] to hold yourself to at home
[23:14] just because your kitchen happens to be 20 feet away.
[23:20] Now the third challenge was around social isolation.
[23:24] Working from home meant that there were far fewer
[23:26] serendipitous encounters with other people.
[23:29] And while Pearl does give wonderful dog hugs,
[23:33] she's also not much of a conversationalist.
[23:36] And she's certainly not a replacement
[23:39] for other human beings.
[23:42] So I set a goal to have at least one event
[23:45] scheduled per week where I would get to interact
[23:48] with other human beings.
[23:50] Sometimes this was a meet up,
[23:52] other times it was scheduling happy hour with friends,
[23:56] and yet, other times is was just getting a manicure
[23:59] during lunch so that I could get out of the house
[24:01] and have some interaction.
[24:03] I also set this as a goal with my manager
[24:06] for a little bit of extra accountability.
[24:09] And to make sure I actually followed through,
[24:13] I did schedule these things.
[24:14] I would put my credit card down at the nail salon
[24:17] or I would make the reservation in my name
[24:19] so that I would actually have to show up.
[24:22] I would also be intentional about scheduling.
[24:25] I would try to schedule happy hour near the coffee shop
[24:28] that actually did have the good wifi
[24:30] so that I could make it an afternoon
[24:32] out of the house, interacting with more people.
[24:37] Now, to talk about the guilt side of this,
[24:41] I also had to tell myself that these are things
[24:44] that I would do on a lunch break or after work
[24:47] if I was working in an office.
[24:49] And so the only difference was that my office
[24:53] was now my house,
[24:54] it was still okay to go outside and do these things.
[24:58] I'm guessing that nobody here feels any guilt
[25:01] when a coworker grabs you and says, you know,
[25:03] "Hey, let's go run to Starbucks for ten minutes."
[25:06] I know I certainly didn't.
[25:08] And there's also no requirement,
[25:11] despite our efforts to convince ourselves to the contrary,
[25:14] that we be chained to our desks all day
[25:17] when we're working from home.
[25:19] You're likely not going to be
[25:21] at your most productive anyways
[25:23] if that is the strategy you choose to approach,
[25:26] so taking breaks is not only acceptable,
[25:29] it's also healthy.
[25:33] So let's talk about that last challenge, communication.
[25:37] Without face to face interaction,
[25:39] communication with other people can be really difficult.
[25:43] I needed to find a way to get really good
[25:46] at both casual and formal communication
[25:49] with coworkers and my clients.
[25:53] On the casual side, one thing that helped a lot
[25:56] was setting up times for water cooler chat
[25:59] with other coworkers.
[26:01] This is something that Test Double actually endorses.
[26:03] We have something called Coffee Time
[26:05] where every week, you're randomly matched up
[26:08] through the computer with another person
[26:11] and you schedule about 30 minutes
[26:13] to talk about whatever you'd like.
[26:15] I've talked about gardening, pets, programming,
[26:18] anything, it doesn't matter.
[26:20] But you can also do this yourself
[26:22] if your company doesn't have a formal structure.
[26:25] Just reach out to someone and see if you can chitchat
[26:28] at the beginning or the end of the day, maybe.
[26:30] This helps a lot.
[26:32] It helps not only with getting to know people,
[26:35] which is certainly nice,
[26:37] but you come to understand your coworkers' styles
[26:40] and how they communicate,
[26:41] and that in turn is super helpful when it comes time
[26:44] for more formal professional communication.
[26:50] There's this concept in communication
[26:52] of high bandwidth and low bandwidth communication.
[26:56] High bandwidth is maybe what you expect.
[26:58] It's when there are a lot of senses involved
[27:01] in communicating with somebody.
[27:03] Low bandwidth, on the other hand,
[27:05] is much more unidimensional.
[27:08] I realize that colocated environments have a lot
[27:11] of high bandwidth communication.
[27:13] That's kind of the default.
[27:14] We have a conversation with somebody,
[27:17] but we also get to see at the same time
[27:19] their gestures and their body language.
[27:22] We hear their intonation, maybe we hear them sigh,
[27:25] and we can figure out how they're feeling that day
[27:28] and maybe what it is that they're actually
[27:29] trying to tell us.
[27:32] Remote bandwidth, on the other hand,
[27:34] we don't have any of that.
[27:36] We see what somebody else types into Slack,
[27:39] and for the most part, you know, that's it.
[27:41] Maybe we get an emoji if we're lucky.
[27:44] So, you have to transmit a lot more
[27:47] on low bandwidth communication
[27:50] because it's a lower frequency
[27:52] just to achieve the same means
[27:54] as if you were on a high bandwidth frequency instead.
[27:59] And so what this meant for me was that I had to change
[28:02] my habits to be more explicit and overcommunicate things
[28:06] that might simply be observable or taken for granted
[28:10] if I was in the same physical proximity as somebody else.
[28:14] This was everything from project status
[28:16] to what I was up to, to even how I was feeling that day
[28:21] so that people could understand that I wasn't angry at them,
[28:24] you know, my stomach just hurt.
[28:27] More generally, I had to be a lot more thoughtful
[28:30] about my communication patterns
[28:33] so that everything I said had value
[28:35] and I was demonstrating the output
[28:38] and what I had to show for my day
[28:40] versus just relying on somebody to see me typing
[28:43] at my computer and assume
[28:44] that I was doing something worthwhile.
[28:49] Part of this renewed focus on communication
[28:51] also involved communicating issues to my employer.
[28:55] So, I would be remiss if I didn't stop here at this point
[28:58] and mention that a lot of this has been possible
[29:01] because I have been lucky enough to collaborate
[29:03] with a wonderful manager and be at a company
[29:06] that does put remote first and puts due emphasis
[29:10] on making sure that folks are well supported.
[29:14] But what if you don't work in that kind of place?
[29:17] What if your work place doesn't have
[29:19] a strong remote culture?
[29:21] Remote work is exploding in popularity recently.
[29:24] And that's, obviously part of the hook of this talk,
[29:28] and I'm guessing a good number of you are here today
[29:31] because you're pioneers in your company's remote journey.
[29:35] If your company is still finding the way
[29:37] and finding the way across the river,
[29:39] there are still some things you can do
[29:41] to make sure that you don't drown in the process.
[29:44] First of all, you may make sense to evaluate
[29:48] what kind of culture it is that you're actually working in.
[29:52] One thing that remote work does tend to expose
[29:55] is whether a culture prizes busyness or outcomes.
[29:59] Now, ideally, we should all prize outcomes.
[30:02] We get paid to produce things, not just hack away
[30:05] at our computers all day.
[30:07] But that's obviously not always the case.
[30:10] So if your work place's culture maybe
[30:11] isn't that enlightened yet, you might have to work
[30:14] a little bit harder now to bridge that gap.
[30:18] Overcommunicate where you are
[30:20] and what you have to show for it.
[30:23] Now, I know that feels a little bit weird
[30:25] or uncomfortable sometimes
[30:26] to trumpet your own accomplishments,
[30:29] but relative isolation does require some degree
[30:32] of self advocacy.
[30:34] And though it ought not to be the case,
[30:37] out of sight, out of mind is a real thing,
[30:40] especially if you don't yet have that strong remote culture,
[30:43] or maybe you're just one of a few remote employees.
[30:48] Secondly, you may want to make establishing your new
[30:52] remote work habits a part of whatever broader
[30:55] goal setting process you do have in place at work.
[30:58] You are setting goals, right?
[31:00] This allows you to hold yourself accountable
[31:03] and also allows you to build up a support structure
[31:06] around yourself if that happens to be
[31:08] a little bit lacking at work.
[31:11] It also allows you to demonstrate that remote work itself
[31:15] is also work and worthy of time and attention.
[31:20] Finally, don't be afraid to confide in other people.
[31:24] Remote work can often feel isolating,
[31:27] and these feelings can spiral out of control
[31:30] pretty quickly if we do manage to convince ourselves
[31:33] that we are truly alone.
[31:36] This is something that I regret not doing sooner.
[31:39] I do really regret holding my feelings in for so long
[31:41] because I think if I said something sooner,
[31:45] maybe things wouldn't have gone down
[31:47] quite as far as they did.
[31:49] Talking about it to a couple people really helped.
[31:53] Sharing with a trusted coworker or maybe a friend
[31:56] if you don't trust any of your coworkers,
[31:59] can make you feel less alone,
[32:02] and other people are always great sources
[32:04] of advice and tips.
[32:08] So to recap, we've talked about several challenges
[32:11] of working from home.
[32:13] The lack of work life balance in both
[32:15] the physical and conceptual senses,
[32:18] the social isolation, and communication challenges.
[32:22] And we've also discussed some solutions to these things.
[32:27] Now, I'll interject here,
[32:29] these are just the main problems
[32:31] that I struggled with working remotely.
[32:33] Maybe you're experiencing some different things,
[32:36] or you hate that solution,
[32:39] or you have another one that's awesome to you.
[32:42] That's great.
[32:43] And throughout this talk, you may have noticed
[32:46] that none of these things really do exist in a vacuum.
[32:50] Remote work is a puzzle, and you can really rearrange
[32:53] these pieces to your liking until you find the solution
[32:56] that fits you.
[32:59] But all of these things do have something in common.
[33:02] They all entail a mindset shift pertaining
[33:05] to how we consider work.
[33:08] For me, this mindset shift entailed going from relying
[33:12] on a structure that was implicitly provided to me
[33:15] by a work environment that somebody else set up
[33:18] to defining myself, the things that I needed and valued,
[33:23] and finding out how to provide them to myself
[33:26] now that I was in charge of my work environment.
[33:29] (audience applauding)
[33:30] This, to me, is what's truly liberating about remote work,
[33:34] because once you start to figure this part out,
[33:37] remote gives you the freedom to work on your own terms
[33:41] in a way that makes the most sense for you
[33:43] and whatever life circumstances you have.
[33:47] But we need to stop treating remote work
[33:50] like it's some kind of privilege to be earned by people
[33:53] or a gift that should be reserved
[33:55] for an organization's most senior developers.
[33:59] Doing so only focuses on the upsides of remote work
[34:03] and doesn't give any credence to the difficulties
[34:06] that people face in getting acclimated.
[34:09] It doesn't create a necessary culture of support
[34:11] around something that is inherently difficult,
[34:14] and that leads to inevitable negative feelings
[34:17] when people do hit those stumbling blocks.
[34:21] Instead, we need to acknowledge that remote work is a skill
[34:25] in and of itself, just like anything else at work.
[34:29] Nobody is born knowing how to do rails, for example,
[34:34] and nobody is born knowing how to work remotely.
[34:37] It's a skill that has to be learned over time
[34:40] and then practiced more and more to be refined.
[34:44] Because after all, there's no one right way
[34:47] to work remotely.
[34:48] And I think that's what draws a lot of us to remote anyways,
[34:52] however, because it's something that is deeply individual,
[34:56] it also requires work to figure out what your personal
[35:00] remote working toolset is.
[35:03] I don't think that this is something that I quite realized
[35:05] when I was getting started was that figuring out
[35:08] how to work remotely is also work in and of itself.
[35:14] And while there's no getting around the fact
[35:16] that figuring out how to work remotely can be difficult,
[35:20] just because you're struggling with it doesn't mean
[35:23] that there's something wrong with you,
[35:25] or you're a failure, or that it's a foregone conclusion
[35:29] that remote work is never going to be for you.
[35:33] So if you take only one thing away from this talk
[35:36] and nothing else, I hope it's that if you're
[35:39] currently struggling with remote work, you're not alone.
[35:43] You can do it, and there is a path forward.
[35:46] Thanks.
[35:47] (audience applauding)
[35:50] (Lighthearted music)

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