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RailsConf 2019 - Things I Wish I Knew Before Going Remote by Marla Brizel Zeschin

Marla Zeschin
Software Developer & Consultant at Test Double
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RailsConf 2019
April 30, 2019, Minneapolis, USA
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About speaker

Marla Zeschin
Software Developer & Consultant at Test Double

Hi! I build software, present at conferences (see more under Projects and Publications), and help organize community events. You can learn more about me at www.marlazeschin.com.Prior to writing software, I led several agile transitions as a scrum master. While the skills I acquired from this experience are tremendous assets to my work as a developer and consultant, I am not interested in any scrum, project management, or product owner roles.

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RailsConf 2019 - Things I Wish I Knew Before Going Remote by Marla Brizel Zeschin


Remote work is just like working in an office - minus the soul-crushing commute. How hard could it be?

Spoiler: it's actually pretty hard.

When I went remote, I was so excited to not pack a lunch that I didn't consider the implications of a quasi-reliable Internet connection or the psychological impact of spending so much time at home.

As it turns out, going remote isn't just trading a highway commute for a hallway one. It requires new skills and a mindset shift. In this talk, you'll learn how to assess your needs as a remote worker and gain a set of tools to help you succeed for the long term.

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Cool, so I expect it will have some more people trickle in which is fine, but we'll go ahead and get started. Dhh is certainly a tough act to follow but I'm going to do my best here. This is things I wish I knew before going remote. I know there are a lot of other awesome sessions going on right now. So I do appreciate you choosing to join me here today. So just want to introduce myself. My name is Marla the sheen I use she pronouns and some of you may know me as

Marla brazell. I recently changed my last name and in the words of one of the many government officials that I had to interact with as part of this going from Brazil to the sheen was really a lateral move, and I don't expect you to be able to pronounce either of those. So if you're off the hook, just don't call me Maria, please. I live in Colorado. So my idea of fun may not be your idea of fun. I like to Backcountry ski in the winter time and run in the summer.

And when I'm not doing these things I work for a company called testable for those of you who aren't familiar is a remote distributed consultancy dedicated to improving the way the world right software is this is something that you think my company could use some help with us come chat with me afterwards and likewise. If you're thinking I would like to do this all day instead of work for my company also come talk to me afterwards because we are hiring to so being fully remote and distributed. We actually have folks in 23 US states

and Canadian provinces, which is pretty cool. We are all across North America and much to Dustin's even though I'm not here today to plug testable. I am here to talk to you today about remote work will talk about the good the bad the ugly and kind of all of the feelings that go along with that. And specifically I'm going to tell you my story of going remote. It is your classic hero's journey, if he will it has a buildup and then of course, it has a let down and then finally there is this Redemption at the end. And it has a

heroin that is me in this story and given that it is a talk about remote work. We will start off by exploring how that Arrangement actually came to be. I will talk about how it first thing if we're really great. I loved remote and I was just thrilled that I could pull on a pair of leggings in the morning and not have to worry about whether I was dressed appropriately and everything was awesome. But as they say all good things must have been chili come to an end at some point and it's no different in this story either. So

next we will talk about how eventually I began to struggle with fitting like not having left my house in a week or not seeing many other people on a daily basis. and communication problems and all of the challenges that can kind of a company that super mutants eventually ended with a Breaking Point and it forced me to get it together. And so the Redemption Arc in this story comes with finding ballads and figuring out how to make the less glamorous parts of remote work into an opportunity to discover a little bit more about myself and my own needs.

So without further Ado, let's take it from the beginning. Our story today starts in 2016 where I took a job at an election tech company based out of Brooklyn New York and that company had a partial development team in Denver. That seems shrunk over time a few people moved on to the next opportunity a couple more people decided to leave Denver for reasons that honestly Escape me, but at the end it was just me and one other person sharing a tiny we work office in downtown Denver and I was also starting to work out of my home one to two days per week.

Eventually, it was time for me to move on to my next opportunity. And so at the end of 2017, I joined test double fully remote and also the only person in the state of Colorado, so we had a few others join us in the Denver area since then but we all still work out of our respective homes and occasionally will try to get together to catch up. And because I made that transition gradually from part-time remote to full-time my attitude upon going full-time was basically what's so hard. Can this be I've already done this remote saying it's not going to be that hard and you

know now I don't have to worry about all the things I hated about we work. And at first it really wasn't actually that bad. I was in honeymoon. Of sorts and I was loving that I was no longer bound by a lot of the constraints that I had working from an office. Like for example, I no longer had to wait for the bus in the morning and the bus in Denver is super unreliable. So this was really great and I also got back all of the time that I had previously devoted to my commute. I no longer had to worry about packing a lunch in the morning and then leaving it on the

counter as I ran for said bust and I got to eat instead every day at the cheapest restaurant in the world my own kitchen. I could even privately uncomfortably manage some health issues without my co-workers being any the wiser. And for anyone else in here who also manages a chronic health condition, you know, this by itself is really the Holy Grail to not have to talk about it with anybody else and just deal with it yourself. I have an amazing flexibility to get license done with little to no impact on my day before if I had a contractor coming over to the house.

I have to take off half a day of work to deal with them. And now I could let them in and be back at my desk in the time that it would take me just for a normal bathroom break. I won't lie. There is a lot of upside to working remotely and that's part of why we're all here. Right? I was finding that in many ways a flexible work schedule really is all that it's cracked up to be but of course eventually I start to get used to the shininess. It's not quite as shiny as I once was Anna Lerner leggings wears off and so I found myself at this

point a little bit caught off guard as reality actually started to take hold. Don't carry up here show of hands. How many of you have some kind of morning routine. Right. Okay, just about everybody well chances are it's probably do something like this you wake up. Maybe you got a little exercise or you have straight in the shower. Then you make breakfast or you get kids ready for their day, and then you're out the door as well shortly thereafter. Mine's pretty similar except instead of putting shoes on at the end of the day. I throw on

a pair of slippers and I head back upstairs to my office. And this is where I tend to stay once I get settled then I'm guessing I might be a lot like a lot of you here where it once I get into the groove. I start coding and solving problems time goes by and I stayed there for most of the day. And because now I was now just going down the hall instead of out the door for a commute. I've only said it was really easy for this to turn into being home for days on end. And because I no longer had to go outside to get to the place from the place that I slept to the place that I worked

some interesting things were starting to happen. First I found it at work and home we're beginning to blend together to the point where the distinction was no longer as clear as it should have been. And similarly because there was no physical separation between work and the rest of my life. I was also finding that there wasn't really as much conceptual separation is there should be either the temptation to grab my phone and check my email before I even sat up in bed or said good morning to my husband or get stuffed into something shortly after waking was

really high and something that I was not really able to resist. Likewise because I didn't have an office to leave behind at the end of the day. I also was having trouble knowing when to cut it off. If you are a high achiever like me or dare. I say maybe an overachiever you might even feel a little bit of guilt with leaving some work unfinished for the next day after all how hard is it really to refactor one more method or right one more test. And because there was no difference between my work environments in my

not work on my license fireman time was starting to really slip by and then one day I realized that I had no idea where my house keys were and I was able to figure out that I had last seen them somewhere between Monday and Thursday. But I wasn't really sure like more specifically than that because much as I was loath to admit it. I also wasn't sure when I last left the house in a way that required me to actually lock the door. This development was here with extra surprising to me because one touted benefit of remote work

is that you should be able to work from anywhere. You need a change of scenery just pick up your stuff and hit the local coffee shop. No big deal. But my local coffee shop has sketchy Wi-Fi and it also had that regular who like to shout loudly about politics in the corner and I needed to be on an important client call where I couldn't have that going on in the background. I was finding that even though I expected this, you know from time to time. These kinds of situations were actually cropping up a lot more frequently than I expected and while work from anywhere is

certainly a nice Trope in reality. I was finding that there were far fewer places that I could work that were conducive to the type of things that I needed to get done during the day. And because I felt Limited in the places where I could effectively work. I also found that my interactions with other people were also becoming more limited when I worked in an office or co-working space. This wasn't an issue. I bumped into people all the time. I saw co-workers and friends in the call way and since my office was typically downtown and near my friends office is it

was really easy to get together with people for lunch or make last-minute plans to catch up after work. But because my office was now my home I was finding that the friend and the co-worker that I saw a far in the way most often was Pearl the dog. She's great. There was no getting around it. This social interaction that comes from working from home was starting to get really intense for me or the social isolation. I should say and that was getting extra intense, especially on the days where I wasn't tearing much or I didn't have a lot of

other opportunities for collaboration with other people. I need to know I was finding myself a little starved for social interaction. I was also feeling a lot of guilt over making some time for it. I found myself wondering if it was okay to get up from my desk and take time away from work for a few because it smells leaving my house. If you're like me, sometimes you can feel like you need to ask permission to do these kinds of things and that is also nerve-wracking because if you have to ask for something, it feels like there's a chance that

maybe you're not supposed to have it. Theoretically remote work is supposed to liberate people from needing to ask for permission to go about the minutiae in their debt of their day in a way that they choose because it does away with this idea of button seed as a measure of output or productivity and now perhaps that's true, but I think in reality it's a little bit more nuanced than that. We don't have days where we're not 100% on our game. Maybe you're fighting all day with soccer and you don't get to writing any meaningful code until the last 90 minutes of your day, or

you just had a terrible night sleep and you're not able to get into it for whatever reason. Well when I worked in an office and I had days like these like we all do I still felt okay about the day because after all I was still at work all day and people could say that my butt was doing something. But at home, I felt this immense guilt and anxiety on days like this when I didn't necessarily have the world to show for my efforts. I didn't know how to make it known either that I was still doing things of value and still being productive. And so that leads me to the last thing that I

struggled with when I rent went remote and that's communication. Good communication is obviously important and every job I think that's something that we actually talked about a lot at developers of how communication can Aid us in our work, but it because extra critical when nobody can see you or your person. In fact, it's even easy to wonder if you can CD do I ain't even work here at all, or do I even exist in the world? And furthermore because face-to-face interaction is often lacking in remote jobs. This means that

good written communication suddenly becomes a lot more critical. The concert high volume high quality Communications that's required by a remote job is mentally taxing. Even for those of us who don't have to practice at it a lot entire people eventually start to make mistakes. If you've ever had anything that you written into plaque or an email be misinterpreted because maybe your wording was off and you didn't have the accompanying nonverbal communication to either clear the air or correcting then you know how high the stakes can be in this sort of situation.

Can you put the say I was starting to feel the pressure a bit and between the lack of work-life balance the social isolation and the communication challenges that honeymoon. That we talked about earlier that is worn off. I had a spot where I was really unhappy with my day today to the point where others were starting to actually comments on my demeanor and I was being asked far more often than felt appropriate if everything was actually okay. Anybody I knew in my gut that remote work had a lot to do with my growing and

happiness, but it wasn't really sure how I was supposed to feel about this. After all remote work had been sold in this magic Elixir and that's something that I had bought into that. I was really nervous to admit that instead. It was starting to turn into a poison pill. Wondering what was wrong with me given that my feelings didn't seem to match up at all. With what I thought remote work was supposed to be like I couldn't figure out at all. How am I supposed to reconcile these feelings of loneliness and guilt and anxiety

because whenever I tell people that I worked remotely it seems like the responses were always ones of jealousy or longing people would say things like, oh, I would love to be able to have that someday. You must be so happy or I'm really jealous. You're living my dream. And so I started to wonder if I was living somebody else's dream and yet I was feeling this other way instead. Well, maybe I just wasn't cut out for remote work. And so this spiraled for a little

bit and at a certain point, I finally got over myself a little bit and remembered that I'm fortunate enough to have some really understand a wonderful understanding co-workers. And so I decided to confide in a few that I trusted the most I told him about how I was feeling and I was actually kind of surprised to hear the responses that a lot of them struggled with some of the same thing. Pay not what I expected and also kind of interesting. So just got my wheels turning a little bit more. How was it that for most of us? We

could agree that this is actually the best job. We never had we a work on, you know difficult problems. We work with wonderful people. We're growing a lot and yet at the same time. We're still struggling with varying degrees of anxiety over being by ourselves. Elsa with this point I had the light bulb moment if you will. What I realized at that point is that in all of my other jobs. There was a structure that was provided to me by the physical environment. They gave me choose on how I was supposed to work. And while I'm the kind of

person that's always known some superficial things about their work style like how I like to take notes in meetings or how I prefer for my desk to be set up. I had never evaluated work on a more deeper fundamental level. And that's exactly what I needed to do. What I needed to do was examine the things that had previously been provided to me in a physical environment. And if that's what worked well from their what I like and figure out how to bring that into my life now that I was in charge of setting up my own environment. This was a big

Epiphany but as usually follows with epiphanes the next more immediate question is okay. Well, what do I do now? So let's revisit some of the things that I struggled with and see if we can answer that question. So if you work all that first challenge of working remotely was when working on work-life take place in the same space. How do you separate the two? Figuring out how to create strong deliberate barriers between those with the key. So I actually created a dedicated physical workspace enforced strong

boundaries around it for me. I live in the house. So this was a room in my house that is now the office I work exclusively from their during the day and when the work day is over I shut the door and I don't go in now obviously not everybody lives in the house. So maybe this is a corner of your apartment or it could even be a symbolic walk around the block at the beginning and end of your day just to symbolize the transition between work and everything else. The second challenge with similar setting appropriate temporal boundaries around work not starting too early and not

ending too late. In other words. I need to figure out how I create the non physical barriers. There were awesome required to create that work-life separation. Things that every morning before work I get dressed and I put on a little bit of makeup because this is what I would do if I was going out the door to a physical office now, obviously, I'm not saying that everyone should start wearing lipstick. So I think that would be fun but chances are you may hold yourself to some sort of expectation of presentation. I don't think anyone here would show up to their office in

their underpants. So maybe that's not the way to dress for your job at home. I also know that if I worked in an office, I would enroll in without brushing my teeth or having breakfast in the morning. I am a angry person as my pear can a test. So I need to take care of these things at home to before I can get started on my work tasks. So funny just having a habit or a routine that I can rely on that's just as strong as a physical barrier. No, temporal challenges can be extra difficult when you're working across

time zones. This is the distributive part of remote and distributed and I realized that I needed to instead of stretching the day to match my own match co-workers availability. I needed to instead except that part of the day was going to overlap with both on either coast and part of it just one. Do I communicate with my availability pretty strongly to clients and co-workers and also sent a very aggressive do not disturb schedule on slack, so they wouldn't be tempted to respond to things at inappropriate times. You might need to be as assertive and setting your own boundaries at

home as you might in an office ago office. If your boss asked you to be in the office every day from 7 a.m. To 8 p.m. You probably say sayonara and start looking for a new job. So this is an appropriate expectation to hold yourself to at home just because you're catchin happens to be a 20 feet away. Challenge was around social isolation. Working from home meant that there were far fewer serendipitous encounters with other people and wild Pearl does give wonderful dog hug. She's also

not much of a conversationalist and she's certainly not a replacement for other human beings. So I sent a goal to have at least one event scheduled per week where I would get to interact with other human beings. Sometimes this was a meet-up other times. It was scheduling happy hour with friends and yet other times it was just getting a manicure during lunch so that I could get out of the house and have some interaction. I also set this as a goal with my manager for a little bit of extra accountability. And to make sure I actually

follow through I did schedule these things. I would put my credit card down at the nail salon, or I would make the reservation in my name so that I would actually have to show up. I would also be intentional about scheduling I would try to schedule happy hour near the coffee shop. That actually did have The Good Wife. I so that I could make it an afternoon out of the house interacting with more people. Now to talk about the guilt of kind of this. I also had to tell myself that these are things that I would do on a lunch break or after work if I was working

in an office, and so the only difference was that my office was now my house. It was still okay to go outside and do these things. I'm guessing that nobody here feel any guilt when a co-worker grabs you and says, you know, hey, let's go run to Starbucks for 10 minutes. I know I certainly didn't and there's also no requirement despite our efforts to convince ourselves to the contrary that we be changed to our desk all day when we're working from home. You're likely not going to be at your most productive. Anyways, if that is the strategy you choose to approach so

taking breaks is not only acceptable. It's also healthy. Let's talk about that last challenge communication. Without face-to-face interaction communication with other people can be really different calls. I needed to find a way to get really good at both casual and formal communication with coworkers and my clients. On the Casual side one thing that helps a lot with setting of time for water cooler chat with other co-workers. This is something that testable actually endorses. We have something called coffee Time

Square every week. You're randomly matched up through the computer with another person and you scheduled out 30 minutes to talk about whatever you'd like. I talked about and gardening Pat programming anything. It doesn't matter, but you can also do this yourself if your car if your company doesn't have a formal structure just reach out to someone and see if you can chit-chat at the beginning or the end of the day maybe This helps a lot and holds not only with getting to know people which is certainly nice. But you come to understand your co-workers Styles and how they communicate and that in

turn is super helpful when it comes time for more formal professional communication. Business Concept in communication of high bandwidth and low bandwidth communication may be what you expect it's when there are a lot of sense is involved in communicating with somebody low-bandwidth on the other hand is much more dimensional. I really psycho located environments have a lot of high-bandwidth communications. That's kind of the default. We have a conversation with somebody but we also get to see at the same time their gestures and their body language.

We hear their intonation. Maybe we hear them thighs and we can figure out how they're feeling that day and maybe what it is that they're actually trying to tell us. Remote fan with on the other hand. We don't have any of that. We see what somebody else types into flak. And for the most part, you know, that's it. Maybe we get animoji if we're lucky. So you have to transmit a lot more on low bandwidth communication because it's a lower frequency just to achieve the same means as if you were on high bandwidth frequency instead.

I don't know what that meant for me was that I had to change my Habit to be more explicit and over communicate things that might Simply Be observable or taken for granted. If I was in the same physical proximity as somebody else. This was everything from project status to what I was up to to even how he was feeling that day so that people could understand that I wasn't angry at them and get on my stomach just hurt. More generally I had to be a lot more thoughtful about my communication patterns so that everything I said had value and I was demonstrating the

output and what I had to show for my day versus just relying on somebody to see me typing at my computer and assumed that I was doing something worthwhile. Permits renewed focus on communication also involves communicating issues to my employer so I would be remiss if I didn't stop here at this point and mentioned that a lot of this has been possible because I've been lucky enough to collaborate with a wonderful manager and be at a company that does put remote first and put a new emphasis on making sure that folks are well-supported.

But why don't you don't work in that kind of place? What if your workplace doesn't have a strong culture remove work is exploding in popularity and that's you know, obviously tired of the hook of this talk and I'm guessing a good number of you are here today because your Pioneers in your company's remote turning. If your company install finding the way and finding the way across the river there is still some things you can do to make sure that you don't drown in the process. First of all, you may make sense to evaluate what kind of culture it is that you're actually working in.

One thing that remote work does tend to expose is whether a culture prizes business or outcomes now, ideally we should all prize outcomes. We get paid to produce. It's not just hack away at our computers all day, but that's obviously not always the case. So if your workplace is called sure maybe isn't that enlightened yet? You might have to work a little bit harder now to bridge that Gap over-communicate where you are and what you have to show for it. Now I know that feels a little bit weird or uncomfortable sometimes to Trump at your own accomplishment. But relative

isolation does require some degree of self-advocacy. I know it ought not to be the case out of sight out of mind is a real thing, especially if you don't yet have that strong remote culture, or maybe you're just one of a few remote employees. You may want to make a stablish am your new remote work habits a part of whatever brought her goal setting process. You do have in place at work. You are a setting goals, right? This allows you to hold yourself accountable and also allows you to build up a support structure around yourself. If that

happens to be a little bit lacking at work. It also allows you to demonstrate that remote work itself is also work and worthy of time and attention. Finally don't be afraid to confide in other people remove work can often feel isolating and these feelings can spiral out of control pretty quickly. If we do manage to convince ourselves that we are truly alone. This is something that I regret not doing the sooner. I do really regret holding my feelings in for so long because I think if I said something sooner maybe things wouldn't have gone down quite as far as they

did. Talking about it to a couple people really help sharing with a trusted co-worker or maybe a friend. If you don't trust any of your co-workers can make you feel less alone and other people are always great sources of advice and tips. What's a recap we talked about several challenges of working from home the lack of work-life balance in both the physical and conceptual senses the social isolation and communication challenges and we've also discussed some solutions to these things.

I'll interject here. These are just the main problems that I struggled with working remotely. Maybe you're experiencing some difference or you hate that solution or you have another one. That's awesome to you. That's great and drop it talk. You may have noticed that none of these things really do exist in a vacuum remote work as a puzzle and you can really rearrange these pieces to your liking until you find a solution that fits you. But all these things do you have something in common? They always fail a mindset shift pertaining to

how we consider work for me this mindset shift and Tails go going from relying on a structure that was implicitly provided to me by a work environment. Does somebody else set up to Defying myself the things that I needed and valued and finding out how to provide them to myself now that I was in charge of my work environment. Is what's truly liberating about remote work because once you start to figure this part out remote gives you the freedom to work on your own terms in a way that makes the most sense for you and whatever life

circumstances you have. But we need to stop treating remote work. Like it's some kind of privilege to be earned by people or a gift that should be reserved for an organization's most senior Developers. Do we sell only focuses on the upside of remote work and doesn't give any Credence to the difficulties that people face and getting acclimated. It doesn't create a necessary called support around something that is inherently difficult and that leads to an evitable negative feelings when people do hit those stumbling blocks. Inside knowledge

that remote work is a skell just like anything else at work. Nobody is born knowing how did the rails for example and nobody is born knowing how to work remotely. It's a scale that has to be earned overtime and then practice more and more to be refined because after all there's no one right way to work remotely and I think that's what draws a lot of Us 2 remote anyways. However, because it's something that's deeply individual. It also requires work to figure out what your personal remote working tool set is

I don't think that this is something that I quite realize when I was getting started. Was that figuring out how to work remotely is also work in and of itself. There's no getting around the fact that figuring out how to work remotely can be difficult just because you're struggling with it doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you or your failure or that it's a foregone conclusion that remote work is never going to be for you. So if you take only one thing away from the talk and nothing else. I hope it's that if you're currently struggling

with remote work, you're not alone you can do it and there is a path forward. Thanks.

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