10 Things I've Learned About Remote Work

Poor internet ruins everything: There really is no getting past this. If someone has poor internet, they can't contribute to the meeting, period. It's too disruptive. The pixelated image, the audio clipping in and out—it ruins the meeting and is a waste of time for everyone.

Working too much, not too little, is the worry: Having your office at home is convenient. No more morning commutes, dress code is...flexible, and the kitchen is steps away. But it makes it hard to truly step away. The evening commute is an opportunity to decompress that goes away when you're home. And you can always jump back on the computer. Working too much is a much bigger worry than working too little.

Lighting, audio, and eye contact compound in groups: Poor lighting in a 1-on-1 meeting is noticeable, but not a huge deal. Poor lighting, or the opposite—great lighting—makes a big difference in large calls. The same is true of audio quality and camera positioning, which is the biggest contributor to eye contact.

Your Bluetooth earphones are causing that buzz: Bluetooth earphones and headphones—particularly noise-cancelling ones—often give off the high-pitched hum that drives people nuts. Check with a friend on each different platform before using them, or use wired headphones.

Zoom fatigue is real: meetings on Zoom are more mentally exhausting than those in person. I suspect the variation of in-person meetings—whiteboarding work sessions and being able to tune out in some—makes them less taxing. On Zoom, there is an expectation that you're staring at the screen non-stop. You're often also attempting to read some small type in a presentation or screen share, which is exhausting.

Companies should invest more in home work setups: A standing desk, a large monitor, good lighting, a well-positioned webcam, and great internet are critical for optimal productivity. Companies should invest accordingly.

Writing skill becomes much more important: More asynchronous communication is a natural by-product of remote work. Writing becomes much more important as a result. Poor word choice, tone, and lack of clarity cause far more problems when there aren't other feedback mechanisms. Written communication is becoming a much more important skill.

It's hard to shake non-remote habits: When the switch to remote work happened, there were some growing pains and adaptation. New tools were introduced and tools like Miro became more important. But for the most part, the innovation stopped there. Matt Mullenweg's framework for distributed work is useful here: most companies have stagnated at Level 2.

Relationships are more transactional: In a normal work environment, there are all kinds of social interactions and cues that say "I like you, I'm interested in you, I care about you." In remote work, those happen far less often. Coffee chats can be scheduled and social events can be planned, but it's hard to integrate those cues. Most interactions happen when someone wants or needs something from the other person. As a result, relationships feel far more transactional.

Morning routines matter more: The natural increase in screen and working time means that the end of the work day tends to slip. What that means is that your morning routine grows in importance. If you want to get a workout in, you'd better prioritize it. If you want to read, start your day with that. If you need to get some focused work time in, carve out time in your schedule. The beginning of the day seems to take on some extra importance when you're working from home. It sets the tone for the day, and the trip to the office no longer serves as a reset.

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