June 5, 2018

Debunking 10 remote work myths

Talking with commuters (1)

I was a remote worker when working remotely was called teleworking. It was a long time ago–by Internet standards–. After years of doing several jobs, from a waitress to a cinema assistant, my first job as a designer was my first remote job. It was my last year studying Journalism and Communication Science and I already knew I didn’t want to be a journalist. At the time, I was living in Italy and the design studio I started working for was based in Spain.

We were the perfect fit. I could live wherever I wanted and they didn’t need to limit their talent search to a city. I thought this situation would become a natural evolution for many jobs.

Remote aversion is also aversion to change

I wasn’t prepared for how every commuter, including my family, saw my new way of living. Here I’ve gathered some of the most common misconceptions people have when they find out I work from wherever I want.

All of the titles below are based on real sentences people have told me over the years.

1. Oh, so you work in your pajamas”

I can, but I don’t. And you shouldn’t. Pajamas are for pros. If you want something done and it’s your second week working from home, don’t do it in your pajamas. You need to let your body know you are out of bed or you’ll start being lazy with more and more things around you. You don’t need to be all dressed up, but a shower and a change of clothes sets your brain in motion for the day.

It also comes in handy in case of a sudden video call.

2. Great! No one can tell if you are working”

When you are in an office everyone assumes you are working, even if you are not. This is not about where you work but how are you as a worker. If someone’s intention is being lazy, location doesn’t matter.

Remote relationships are based on trust. And one of the perks of working with a remote team is sharing that trust, earned through time and communication.

Work spaces in the past were designed for a very vertical leadership, which tends to be counterproductive:

Traditionally, leadership has been conceived around the idea that one person is firmly in charge” while the rest are simply followers […] Research indicates that poor-performing teams tend to be dominated by the team leader, while high-performing teams display more dispersed leadership patterns.

3. I probably couldn’t do it, I’d get distracted”

How many times you get involuntary distractions in an open-office? The main difference when you are at home is those distractions are only your fault. This is something not everyone is comfortable with. I’ve identified some of mine and modified or got rid of them.

For example, I drink one coffee, one tea, and one glass of water throughout the morning. When the glass is empty, I go for the next one. I stretch my legs, look out of the window, and prepare for the next hour-hour and a half. It’s my custom Pomodoro Technique.

4. I couldn’t do this part of my job remotely”

Some things are easier in person because we learnt to do them that way. Sometimes I need to make up a new method of doing something with a coworker just because we are not in the same location.

I adapt my workflow to my context, the same way I do with my designs and their user’s contexts.

5. Do you ever go outside?”

I remember reading this Oatmeal comic about losing social skills and thinking he was exaggerating. He is not. One day you wear your pajamas while working, the next thing you know you are not seeing or talking to anyone during days.

Depends on the time of the year, this one is tricky for me. I must confess I once stayed at my apartment for so long–maybe eight days–I went outside wearing summer clothes and it was already autumn. It was like a crazy dream in which you are naked and everyone else was wearing big coats.

6. I definitely couldn’t stay away from the fridge”

I get it. I sometimes get bored and go to the kitchen just because. I’ve set three rules for my own health:

  • Buy healthy snacks. My favourites are: fresh banana with yogurt, dehydrated mango, and homemade lemon loaf.
  • Set a snack time, and a maximum of snacks. I take one snack every morning, and one snack some afternoons.
  • Follow the outside world eating schedule, so you don’t have to adjust it when you meet your friends and family.

7. I’m sure I’d oversleep every single day”

The thing is there is no oversleeping when you work with a distributed team. If you start your day later, you’ll end it later.

It doesn’t matter that much if you don’t like to get up early, it matters when the rest of the team can count on you.

8. You‘ll never feel part of the team”

This misconception usually comes from people who tried working from home a couple of days a week in a company with no remote culture. They need to use the first half of their next day at the office catching up with coworkers about what happened during their absence.

Feeling part of the team depends on the company’s culture. It’s exactly the same as comparing two physical offices. There is more than one kind of remote teams.

9. Aren’t you tired of working remotely?”

The least thing I miss is the commute.

The last time I started working in an office, my parents told me Finally, we can relax because you have a real job”.

People easily create opinions based on their experiences, stories and context. In my experience, working remotely is what suits me best.

10. Not everyone is shaped to work remotely”

This is kind of true but not really. It takes time, but I’m convinced you can learn what working remotely means for you.

Zapier’s book about remote work list the skills to look for when hiring a remote team member: prone towards action, able to prioritize, proficient written communicator, trustworthy, and with a local support system.

If you want to be a good remoter, trying to improve one or more of those aptitudes is a good starting point for you and your future coworkers.

(1) Commuter vs. Remoter

I use the word commuters to define workers who don’t decide where they work. As opposed to remoters.

I like to think I’m witnessing the evolution of some words and their meaning through time. Teleworker sounds a little old between designers and developers but it’s still common for other not-so-fast-changing industries.

One of my favourite terms to define a remote worker is Road warrior. Or the funnily established Italian term–thanks Luca–: Smart worker.