Remote Work, Rochester, and You by Brandon Vulaj
Make sure you shower and get dressed in the morning! Have a set schedule! It takes a certain type of person! It’s just like you’re always working! It’s great! It’s terrible! You’ll love it! You’ll hate it!
Chances are, these are some of the things you’ve heard parroted about remote working, whether you’re in Rochester or not. They’re simultaneously all entirely true and not true. The stereotype of remote work is that it’s a lonely endeavor fraught with communication pit-falls. This can easily be true if you don’t take the necessary steps to realize how remote work is different.
One of the most obvious differences between remote and non-remote work is the frequency in which you interact with co-workers face to face. You should try to increase that face time whenever possible. Too much is lost in translation when we can’t read each other.
It’s easy to just sit with your headphones on and listen to someone talk, but go one step further and make sure your camera’s on. If your co-workers’ cameras aren’t on, suggest that everyone start doing so. If there are people in office, ask them to start using conference rooms with video hookups; you’re much less likely to feel left out, and they’re much more likely to remember you’re there. Remote work is a two-way street, especially when co-workers are in an office. Though I don’t think the cliche ”get dressed!” is a very helpful suggestion, you should probably at least put a shirt on.
On top of work-place face time, remote workers tend to miss out on the usual hallway conversation or water cooler talk. While those tend to be social in nature, it’s an essential part of building relationships with our co-workers and in turn working more effectively with them. My preferred approach for tackling this is to schedule peer one-on-ones, but without the usual agenda of talking about performance and development like you might do with a manager. Ask your peers what they’re doing this weekend, tell them what’s currently grinding your gears, and get to know them as humans rather than email addresses or usernames.
Social time aside, it’s a little too easy to keep your head down for days and get tunnel vision on your work. Whether you’re programming, writing blog content, or reviewing medical records, pairing up for work while distributed helps build working relationships with your peers.
Co-working spaces are great, especially in major-metro areas where space is at a minimum and not everyone has a home office. But, even if you have a comfy home office, you’re still missing out on many of the social aspects people have come to associate with an office job. Happy hour? Grabbing lunch? Getting lunch by yourself can get boring, and I suggest solo happy hours be kept to a reasonable minimum. Even if you’re generally not a very social person, working without human interaction can take a toll that you might not expect at first. Outside of joining a co-working space for your social needs, you can find some other remote workers, join a meetup group, or just make friends with one of our great local baristas. That said, I’ve found successful remote workers tend to be more social by nature, as a bit of extroversion helps with communication.
Rochester has a healthy, increasing number of remote workers. I know of at least 100 remote software professionals just in my immediate network. On the flip-side, Rochester itself has yet to buck the stigma of remote work. Very few Rochester based companies are remote-first. Most see remote work as a risk and a case-by-case accommodation for employees, rather than a boon to their culture, productivity, and hiring ability. In order to grow, companies need to be able to hire the right people, and we’re in a place to be able to hire people from all over the world.
Before you go there, these aren’t necessarily jobs that would have gone to a local worker instead. These are jobs that usually have little to no local candidates. This is particularly true in the software field where most people are already gainfully employed, and companies need more employees to grow. In turn, the growth of these companies help grow the local economy, creating more local jobs than would have existed without a remote-first approach. That said, remote work doesn’t always mean working from a different city. Plenty of people even work “remote” for companies where they live. The office is dead. Long live remote.
My advice to every local company looking to grow faster is to evaluate how adopting a remote-first mentality might help with that. For anyone interested in remote work, my advice to you is to find a remote-first company that will support you and your personal growth.
Brandon Vulaj is a software engineer at Red Hat and the CEO of local startup, Phrankly (www.phrankly.com). He moved to Rochester in 2013 and lives with his wife, Diana, and their two dogs.