At some point or another, people ask. Usually for me it’s, “How do you get anything done with your children in the house?!” (For my spouse it’s, “Are you independently wealthy or something?” Sexism knows no bounds).
Since going remote I’ve realized that Austin is home to a ton of folks who work this way too. Even my neighbors work remotely. Next door is a music producer. The other one is a fabric designer. The other-other one spent a year abroad. Remote work has led me to get to know places and people that I, an urban hermit, would not, if I was still going into an office or a studio. The barista at the coffee shop around the corner, for example, speaks fluent Italian. I can tell you which shops in town have the best wi-fi and and best tech chisme.
It’s definitely not perfect, and if there’s anything that I’ve learned from running into so many people who work remotely, it’s that there is no single right way to do it, but it really is an acquired taste. As more workplaces go remote or more people work for themselves, the more options we’ll have to find a good fit or grow our careers.
I’ll keep updating this post when I run into a question that I haven’t heard covered several times already, or if I happen to have a very different point of view on.
Do I have a lot more free time?
No. But this is mostly because I have two small children and childcare schedules put back a lot of the constraints of a “regular job” schedule-wise. I have a lot more flexibility, though.
When I’m not careful, I actually work a lot longer than I did in an office. Since I built up the ability to focus (over two screaming creatures whose shrieks have the power to penetrate through two floors, a door, and loud music), it also makes it very easy for me to work late into the night, or without food, or in a closet…you get the idea.
How can you focus at home? Don’t your children, housework, or cat distract you?
I just do. I can focus from a coffee shop or from my home office better than an open office layout. I do miss working in a studio, but mostly for the IRL collaboration.
Interestingly enough, I don’t listen to music the same way anymore, since I have to read so much. The genres I listen to are different, the BPM is slower. I avoid the punk mornings at the coffee shop when I have to get on calls.
Don’t you get lonely?
Yes, but I was already lonely in an office. (Yep, I went there). I am still relatively new to Austin, I’m definitely not from Texas, and only about 2% of the people in my entire industry look like me. Did I mention I have two small children? Next.
I do belong to some private Slack communities and there’s a Basecamp team from a side gig that checks in with each other. We are not co-workers, but we are in the same line of work, so this would be the closest I have to a professional community. It is easier to set and adjust boundaries, even if it is much harder to start friendships. A studio culture can come with “built-in” friendships and shared hobbies, but often at the cost of a tad more navel-gazing or cultural isolation.
Have you lost your social skills?
Yes, but not all of them, thankfully. This one is not funny, particularly as an introvert. As a designer, I don’t like this, presenting work and oral communication is an important soft skill to us. Luckily, like most of the challenges and thrills of working remotely, they come and go. But for a while, it got really bad, and I even started stammering. Interestingly enough, standing at my desk and going to yoga more helped. It’s been fascinating to note how “non-output” things do affect the quality of my work and growth. Wear pants.
Friends have noted that I text differently, and that my communication has become more curt. This is fine.
How can you collaborate as a designer if you’re not in person?
This is an excellent question and all I can say is tradeoffs, and that it’s a spectrum. No remote design team I’ve met looks the same, and you can tell what people ultimately value based on their answer to this question. I’ve worked with folks who refuse to get on a video call in the name of remote, asynchronous culture. I’ve also worked with others who pull of intense silent sketching sessions together with IPEVO cameras. Collaboration is possible, but no, I don’t think it will never beat the quality of that eureka feeling you get in person.
And for quality design to happen, I don’t think it absolutely has to.
The intangibles are more powerful on a remote design team, good or bad. That’s why I think the most important thing for successful remote>distributed>asynchronous design is for leadership to be clear and confident in what the mission of their design organization is, be incredibly thoughtful about who they hire, and take great care in their development. I should probably spinoff this section into its own post…
The relative flexibility I have in my schedule does let me fit in regular workouts or yoga, and some of my health markers got “better” when I went remote.
That being said, I do eat a lot more pastries and breakfast tacos now >.>
That was a side effect of working from coffee shops every day, and while I am very food-motivated, I got tired of it. I won’t be doing that anymore, and will be able to use my company stipend to join a co-working space in my neighborhood soon.
Update 3/2020: I didn’t think I’d update this section this way, but things happen. The flexibility of working from home means I can take straightforward preventative measures, but also niche ones, like homeopathic remedies some Mexican people use 😆.
Could you actually do this for the rest of your career?
Sure, why not?
Update: Recently I ended up moving on from Automattic and joining Loom, a 60-ish company based in SF that’s almost fully-distributed as well. I was open-minded about going back into an office, but the opportunity was a good one. I’m curious to see if any of the answers to the questions above end up changing….
One more thing