Working from home isn't just doing the same thing in a different location. There are a lot of natural rhythms that happen in an office that just don't happen when you work from home. For example, in an office, you might walk to the kitchen with a coworker to grab a cup of coffee. But if you're working from home, you simply close the Zoom window and get back to whatever it was you were doing.
Aviture is an "office-first" hybrid environment. We have about 120 employees, most of whom work out of our office in Omaha, NE. But about 20 of our employees are remote throughout the US. They've self-identified as the "Castaways". And what is interesting is that about 1/3 of our Castaways have worked at the Omaha office before moving to a new city and working remote.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we transition to a WFH-first environment, we reached out to our Castaways so they could embody one of our core values: Create an Impact. In this case, they're impacting the lives of the 100 or so employees who don't normally work from home. And it highlights one of the things we try to emphasize at Aviture. It's an idea we call "cross pollination." Essentially, what can we learn from people that aren't on our team. In this case, what can the Castaways teach us office workers about working remote?
A lot of their advice can be summed up by another one of our core values: Remain Grounded.
One of the most recent employees to transition from a full-time office worker to a full-time Castaway was one of our UX engineers, Brady Jacobsen. He moved when his fiancee got accepted into medical school. He told us:
I think the most helpful advice I received when I was transitioning was to maintain the same routine. Take a shower, get dressed - everything you'd do if you were to go into the office. I think it's crucial to do this because it causes you to be mindful that it's still a work day and "not a day off".
And Ashley Gregory, who has always been a remote government program manager for Aviture, had similar advice:
It is really easy to roll out of bed and work in your PJs every day, then before you know it you have gone 4 days without showering and look homeless. Get ready for work as if you were leaving the house. A morning routine will make you feel better and get you in a more motivated mindset!
Both Brady and Ashley helped challenge the assumptions some of us office workers had. Specifically, that working from home would be great because we could wake up and get to work in 2 minutes complete with bedhead and pajamas. But as they've found, while that might be fun for a few days, or even a week, it really wears on you.
Remember the Humanity
It also goes against another lesson that a lot of our Castaways have found. And that is, working at home can easily lead to isolation. You don't have distractions of teammates sitting next to you chatting. It can be easier to get into the flow and get super productive, and then realize that you just spent 6-8 hours (or more!) with no human interaction.
It's why Mike Schoch, a software developer, told us:
Stay active with your team, be present in slack discussions and have your video on in team meetings when possible.
In fact the video advice was something we got from a lot of our teammates. It makes those remote meetings much more enjoyable. Even if your background is messy, or your cat sneaks into the video, it engages your teammates on that human level. They're no longer faceless voices on a conference call, they're real humans that you can see.
Shawn Krueger, who's the VP of Product for our restaurant management software company named Decision Logic, likes to emphasize the humanity of everyone. He says
Feelings of isolation can occur as Slack conversations are often void of social banter. And if we're too focused on productivity, meetings will launch straight into the matter at hand. I would suggest that we make sure to remember to add some lighthearted conversation to start meetings to break tension and relax folks.
Another simple tip came from Evan Johnston, who is the application lead for Decision Logic. He "changed my Slack avatar be an actual picture of myself instead of a random image so that people (especially new team members) know what I actually look like."
Little steps like that can go a long way. It makes it easier to remember that Evan is an actual living person when you see his actual photo in Slack.
Protect Your Space
Just like it's easy to get up, roll out of bed, and get to the computer. It's also easy to never leave the computer.
One of our Castaway developers, Chris Kollars, encouraged us all to be active. He said he likes "to take a 20 minute walk over lunch to get out of the house." Of course, it's important to be smart about what you're doing when you leave the house during the pandemic, but the point is definitely important. Without the natural flow of an office, such as coworkers asking if you want to go out to lunch, it's easy to sit at your desk for 8 hours and not even realize it.
Ashley Gregory adds that she'll even set a timer to force herself to take a break, walk to the kitchen, stretch or just generally take a break.
But protecting your space is more than just making sure you get good breaks in. It's also about making sure your set up is good. Stephen Matthai summed up what almost everyone else was thinking when he said "Also, having a designated space has helped". Some of our Castaways, like Mike Schoch, have gone so far as to have 2 desks and 2 chairs. One for work, and one for leisure. They serve as mental triggers. As odd as it might sound, sitting in a different chair to game or surf recreationally can provide a huge boost.
Beware of the Cliff
A lot of the Castaways advice was focused on recommending strategies for new remote workers to adapt, Shawn provided us with some great advice for the leaders of these new remote workers. He said that he expects
Leads will see the same or enhanced productivity over the first few days followed by a drop off as people move from a state of being happy to be working without distractions to a state of looking for, and perhaps even manufacturing them.... We need to be hyper aware of that cliff folks can run off of and that it occurs pretty quickly.
Particularly in this climate with the non-stop news of what is going on with COVID-19. As we, at Aviture, transition from having the majority of people working in the same building to scattered across town, we have to remember it's on our leaders to make sure we're connected...and human.
It's tempting to think that because we're on the same project, working with the same coworkers and the same clients that nothing is going to change. But our Castaways have helped us see that it's not just the location that will be different. But, if we truly want to thrive in this remote environment, we'll have to adjust our approach.