I worked at a tech company in downtown Austin, Texas for five years. My office had every cliche start-up perk you can think of: beer kegs, catered lunches, open office format, dogs running around the office, and a casual dress code.
My job was great but the commute sucked, an hour each way by bus.
I’ve endured many negative experiences on that bus. A guy showed me his phone with a text that read “You’re beautiful, can I have your number?”.
I’ve been called a homophobic slur for putting my long hair up in a bun.
I’ve had to sit there while someone yells at the top of their lungs for 10 minutes.
Taking the bus home from work in the Texas summer is brutal. The A/C doesn’t always work and if you get a window seat in the sun it’s a truly miserable experience.
I left that job last year for a fully remote position with another company. Now my commute is a couple of steps from my bedroom to my office.
I’ve been working remotely for almost a year and I’ve come to love most things about working remotely, but these 3 things surprised me the most.
Group video calls suck
Imagine dialing in to a meeting only to find out the room ordered salads and decided to work through lunch.
This is a meeting between two teams about a major project that’s rolling out next week. It can’t be rescheduled and you have to be there.
Their microphone picks up everything. It’s not kind to the sounds of human biological processes.
You’re forced to endure all the sounds of crunching, chewing, and drinking for 30 minutes straight.
You’re sitting alone in your room hundreds of miles away trying to decipher words between the sounds of salad crunching, translated through a shitty microphone over the internet.
That was me, a month ago, as the only remote person dialed into that meeting.
My company, like 50,000 others with more than 10 employees, use Zoom for every video call. Zoom tries to intelligently figure out what participant the sound is coming from, typically the person who’s talking and mutes everyone else until they’re done talking.
Except sometimes the ambient noises in the conference room are the loudest thing on the call, so when someone else is talking they inadvertently get muted by Zoom. Then that person has to repeat themselves.
It’s annoying and not a problem unique to Zoom.
All video conferencing is terrible if you’re the only remote person. Your team has no concept of what video conferences are like for you because they don’t have to deal with any of the bullshit.
Luckily my team has become conscious of this after I’ve repeatedly brought it up. If this happens to you, give direct feedback. Tell your team what’s wrong and what you think could improve video calls.
Trust me, your sanity depends on it.
Virtual 1x1s Are Not The Same
I spent 5 years at my previous job doing face-to-face 1x1s almost every week. When I became a manager, I’d take my direct report out for coffee once a month. During those coffee trips, we’d put work aside for 30 minutes and just catch up as regular people.
I listened each month as he went through the steps of proposing to his girlfriend. Shopping for a ring, planning the proposal and eventually the wedding when she said yes. Sharing those small but personal moments are what make us human.
When I changed jobs my 1x1s were all online. No more coffee trips or downtown lunches.
I watched my new boss on a computer screen and tried to read her body language as we got to know each other.
It was an unexpected challenge to working remotely which caught me off guard.
That personal connection of sharing a room and sitting across from each other was something I didn’t even know I valued until I lost it.
You’re not top of mind
I was the only remote person on my team at first, so I purposely over-communicated to my boss what I was working on and what I needed help with. I was very conscious about making my work presence known.
I felt like I had to work harder to prove myself because I wasn’t in the office from 9 to 5.
Without that physical presence, you miss out on little conversations that happen organically. You may miss an important bit of info that your boss says out loud to your team between meetings.
Your team has to actively try to include you in discussions but it adds friction to an otherwise easy conversation. If you want to loop me into a conversation you have to book a conference room and dial me in. Assuming we’ve set aside a specific time to talk.
My company uses Slack to communicate and I’ve been forced to become very active there. I message my team often, sometimes just checking in to see how they’re doing. I use slack as a replacement for the water cooler talk that I miss out on.
I grew up in the days of AOL instant messenger so I’m comfortable communicating in text over the internet, but I’ve seen some people struggle with it. Writing clearly and concisely online, either over email or Slack, is a crucial skill for remote workers.
Working remote is still great
There are downsides to everything, even working remotely in your sweatpants.
The pros still outweigh the cons I’ve talked about here. I’m a productivity machine, I can work at my own schedule, and I don’t fall asleep exhausted after a shitty bus ride.
I was surprised by these things because I hadn’t considered them. Hating virtual 1x1s was the biggest surprise for me.
If you’re considering accepting a remote position I hope my experiences can help inform your decision.