My experience being full-time remote in a global team
Note: This post was written right at the start of the pandemic, when a lot of people starting working from home full-time for the first time. At that point, I was already very accustomed to WFH full-time and decided to share my thoughts and best practices for those new to it.
For the past 7 years, I’ve worked full-time remote (from home), being part of various global teams, spanning many different timezones across the world. For multiple of those years, I’ve been a remote engineering manager with direct reports located all over the world.
This means that for work I’m not only location-independent, but also partly time-independent: a significant part of my work happens asynchronously from the rest of the team.
Asynchronous remote work: a clear societal trend
It’s pretty common for knowledge workers to be able to work from home at least a few days a week. Increasingly though, companies are embracing fully-remote asynchronous working - perhaps unsurprisingly, technology companies are leading the way.
Offering fully-remote asynchronous working brings companies a competitive advantage: you can hire the best people from all over the world, independent of time and place and offer them the flexibility they need.
In its extreme form, this allows people to travel or re-locate continuously - so-called digital nomadism - although for the vast majority of people it’s probably more a matter of work-life balance.
I’m willing to bet though that by 2030, offering fully-remote asynchronous jobs is going to become table-stakes to be able to attract good talent.
A few companies and people are leading the way - some call-outs.
Cisco: my own employer. I’ve worked in various different parts of the company and universally I’ve felt very supported in working remotely. It helps that Cisco has an extensive collaboration portfolio of hardware and software - a bunch of which they call out in a blogpost.
Gitlab: Famous for their remote-first work culture, they have an extensive guide on remote work.
Getting more work done, very few distractions and noise. Especially true when you’re in a timezone that grants you a few hours outside of work hours of the rest of the team.
Work life balance: chores, workouts, groceries, haircuts, etc can just happen throughout the day
Always home for package deliveries 📦
No commuting. So much time gained back!
No alarm clock. I go to sleep when I want and wake up when I want. I’m almost always well rested.
Location independence. I can work while traveling or when at a different location.
Because you can’t just ask the person next to you, you are often forced to solve your own problems, which makes you learn much faster and often waste less time (although this cuts two ways: you can waste time too when getting stuck…)
You miss the water-cooler talk and as a result are sometimes the last one to know about something. Building relationships requires active effort.
You have to be a self-starter. When you have an off-day, it can be really tough to get motivated.
Work life separation can be hard as things become intertwined. This is especially true as I use a home-office. Getting out of the house requires effort.
Odd work hours: especially when working in global teams, I’m often working evenings to deal with timezone differences. This can be taxing on family life sometimes.
No commute: Yes, this is a down-side as well! I didn’t realize this until I hadn’t commuted for a while, but especially at the end of the day commuting acts as a ritual to end your work-day and start your personal life. Without it, the transition is sometimes very abrupt, causing your mind to still be at work while e.g. sitting at the dinner table with your family. You’re there but not really.
Occasional travel: meeting people in person makes a huge difference. Difficult working relationships can often be ironed out with a single in-person coffee or dinner. Especially true at the start of a relationship.
Tools are critical: Webconferencing, HD video, persistent team chat, collaborative editing.
Home office: Investing in a dedicated room, good (standing) desk and chair, fast internet, good office peripherals, some decoration.
Dress up: make it a habit to get out of bed, get dressed and washed up before starting your workday. Maybe not every day (we all enjoy starting the day in sweatpants sometimes), but the majority of days. It works as a ritual for your brain that you’re starting your work day. Morning video meetings can act as stimulus to do this 😎