About six weeks ago, I started the third job I’ve had as a full time remote employee. (I don’t count the job that I had when I moved to Vermont, because although I did work remotely, I was in offices for six years first.)
Starting a new job is hard. You’re a stranger and you have to find your place both professionally and socially. I’ve never met a person who enjoys the “walk around the office being introduced” portion of that first day. Or the “tell us a little about yourself” item on the agenda. It’s just awkward.
As you can probably guess, doing it remotely is harder. Everything you’d want to do in an office – making friends, building trust, figuring out how things get done – you have to do on the phone or online. You basically have to insert your electronic self into an operation that may well have been running perfectly well without you.
Having now been remote for almost 13 years, I thought I knew just about all I needed to know about telecommuting, but I’ve actually learned a lot in the past few weeks. After six weeks at this job, I feel more connected than I did after a year at my last one. I think this is why:
1) Skype. We all know about it, it’s free, and almost everyone has a camera on the desk or in hand at all times. But I’d never used video very much before this job. I thought it wouldn’t make much difference – you’re having the same conversation whether you can see each other or not, right? Nope. I was completely wrong about this. It makes all the difference in the world to regularly lay eyes on the people you work with. It’s awkward at first, but that passes.
2) Chat. What makes a difference to a telecommuter is the offhand joke in an email, the first “how was your weekend” minutes of a conference call, and the photo of someone’s cat snuggling the new baby. It’s the human part of the professional interaction that makes you feel like you aren’t adrift. My company is made up of people who are fun and funny, and they seem to like each other a lot. That means there’s a lot of the chatty part, and some of it happens online, so I can see it, too. That’s a win for me, even as I’m just getting to know them.
3) Support. My first day of work (while I was trying to get over the awkwardness of being the only one on a screen at a staff meeting) the people who lead my company said, “Katie is working remotely and we’re going to make it work.” They explicitly acknowledged that it takes effort, and asked people to make the effort. This has never happened before! My sense is that it has helped. People seem open to working with me, even though I’m the first and (so far) only person who’s not in the office.
I’m only half the story, of course. If my colleagues are in Baltimore bitching about having to deal with me being in Vermont, I wouldn’t know it, obviously. And I’m sure that this is a bit adjustment to them. But to me, it feels like a good start.