It’s not really my first time working from home. I used to work remotely for a total of almost 2 years and what can I say, that was not a pleasant experience. Yes, I was privileged enough to somehow have a setup conducive for working from home, but unfortunately it was the working culture that made it really toxic. It was so bad that I developed an anxiety trigger for the notification sound of WhatsApp Web (I turned that off ever since and never heard it again). Thinking about it now, I think the main problem was applying the culture that lacks trust and ‘thrives’ in micromanagement to a remote setup where you have to assume the best intentions. Unfortunately, this is very common in the Asian corporate culture, so I thought that whew, probably never again.
On the other hand however, I frequently collaborated remotely as a volunteer in the open source space. I had to collaborate async with other volunteers, not just abroad, but also with those living in the same region as I do. (Context: traffic is really bad in Manila, we would rather collaborate async) I thrived in documenting stuff for later review of my colleagues, attending meetings over video conferences, leaving messages on our messaging apps (fun fact: our community was a Slack early adopter! :p).
Fast forward to now. I’m working in an organization with a great tech startup culture, we’re pretty great with a physical office setup and what’s even better is that we barely struggled with the remote setup. I can even say I’m thriving in this setup. Here are the things that helped me cope with the home office situation:
1. My team is awesome
But no seriously. I feel that our team has great chemistry and I feel that everyone is pretty resilient. Maybe it’s a marketing team thing, but we have a very fun vibe in the team and our creativity extends to our non-work-related wit.
From the beginning, our manager established some pretty solid guidelines on how we can collaborate better/feel still connected in this setup. We overcommunicate. We say our good mornings and goodbyes. We do our daily standups. We talk about our weekends. These little things matter, and if your team members are the type who think these stuff are too cheesy or they’re too cool to be this cute, you’ll instantly feel the disconnect. (I would know, the lack of these only exacerbated the feeling of disconnect in my previous employers.)
2. I keep my morning routine as if I’m going out to work
It’s not like I write in a gratitude journal, do yoga or anything. I actually just wake up, eat and take a bath at the same schedule as I would have when I have a bus to catch to go to work. I wear clothes I would wear in the office (heh, because I would wear t-shirt and jeans in there anyway) and make sure my workspace feels like I’m gonna have a fresh start, the same way when I approach my desk in the office. And yeah, having a set workspace. That’s an important keyword there.
3. I maintain the office hours
I work 9-6 (-ish). I notice that for many people, with this home office setup, it’s just too tempting to suddenly bake bread or watch an entire season of a show in the middle of the day. Maybe that works for some, and that’s good for them. What I don’t like is to see you tweeting about how you’re struggling with work and working overtime because you watched a new episode of whatever. As for me, I want work to be done in the set office hours and have my free time. I follow my 12nn lunch break. I also like people I work with to follow the same, so that we don’t have to bother each other in ungodly times of the day (ungodly for me is from 7 pm, mind you). I think it’s important to stand your ground on a fixed schedule if you don’t want to be burnt out from being contacted anytime during the day (or probably night). Trust me, I learned it the hard way. I say yes to 11:30 pm online meetings back in the days, did it get me more money? Hell no. Maybe a big career boost? Nah. What I got was a freaking anxiety over the WhatsApp notification sound.
4. I simply thrive in setups where written communication is a norm
This one I would really attribute to my volunteer work. I love to write! I would choose that than speaking face-to-face (in-person) with another person anytime. I actually felt more connected to the company as a whole when everyone started being on Slack. I see what they are doing/talking about and I can have some peek at what they are working on via our wiki. I feel more updated and I feel that this wouldn’t be ever possible in the physical setup where you are divided by walls (and buildings). Also hey, it’s difficult to share memes and use the reaction GIFs you have in stock in real life.