The Moment I Realized Remote Work Was Not For Me & How I Changed It
My First Remote Team
Since the beginning, working remotely was a challenge for me. After all, I’m an active girl who very quickly gets distracted. Working from home was not my space and I kind of already knew that.
I enjoy office banter. I like to greet my coworkers whenever I pass them by and ask them how they are doing. I even enjoy bringing people delicious snacks so we can all hang out and enjoy break time together. This was all pre-COVID, by the way.
In fact, the majority of my social interactions happen at work. Outside work, I don’t have a social life, and making new friends as an adult has been challenging. I live alone, and the office is where I get a daily dose of humanity.
For the past seven years, I’ve worked always worked inside a building and/or lab. Every now and then, I take on a few projects and work remotely from home and/or coffee shop (again, pre-COVID). For most of us who are obligated to sit through traffic and go to work, working from home seems like a luxury, and it kind of is. But then again, sometimes it isn’t.
It wasn’t until I started working for a fully remote start-up when I realized that remote work was not a good fit for someone like me.
My First Remote Team
When I joined my first remote team, many of the things I enjoyed about being at an office were eliminated. The people I worked for were faceless. The majority of my meetings were through Google Hangouts and/or Slack, a remote team messaging platform.
A few of the perks of working remote, for me at least, include:
- Being able to work when it was convenient for me
- No one really micromanaging
- Not worrying about the dress code. I chose to not wear any pants during my meetings and it was great!
- Creating my own workspace
Despite the many perks of remote work, I found it quite difficult to assimilate, and the struggle was real. In the team, I was disengaged and unmotivated. When I logged onto Slack, I wondered if anyone knew I existed other than my managers. I later found out that nobody knew who I was. I was just there until I wasn’t.
I remember most that nobody had their camera on during our team meetings. Still, I noticed that people in the team had different accents. It turns out, the company outsourced a few of its employees. In fact, I was the only one from the United States at that time.
It was quite fascinating, actually. I wanted to ask where everyone was from but was too timid to do so. It felt a bit awkward for me to message someone in the team I was not directly working with nor formally introduced to. Mind you, this was my first fully remote job, and I didn’t quite know remote work etiquette. I don’t know, is there such a thing?
I remember hearing five different accents but could only identify one of them because they sounded like my parents from the Philippines.
I was their only content creator and a team of one. To be honest, I didn’t really understand how they hired me for that role. I wanted to learn Facebook Ads. After all, I’m typically data-driven. I like numbers, and I’m good at detecting trends. But I didn’t end up doing that. Instead, I was writing blog posts and creating social media collateral. “Whatever,” I thought, “maybe I’ll learn something.” I did the job but didn’t enjoy what I was doing at all.
The bosses let me do whatever I wanted, just as long as I was producing content. Sounds great, right? For me, not really.
Most of the time, I didn’t know what I was doing, and everyone was so busy. I didn’t have any friends. My mental health was struggling in the team, but no one noticed. How could they if they didn’t know who I was? There were times where I felt excluded and isolated. I was always on my own. Sure, I was part of the team, but it didn’t feel like it. I felt detached when all I wanted was to feel included. I was so lonely that it inspired one of my first blog posts, “Millenials — The Loneliest Generation.”
A few weeks later, I ended up quitting, and a month later, they brought me back at the height of COVID-19, a time when everyone’s mental health was compromised. Also, a time, where a large number of people were losing their jobs and forced to work remotely when possible. This time I had convinced myself that things would be better this time around. It turns out, I was a bit disappointed.
Even though I had quit the month before, no one really noticed that I was gone in the first place. When the managers introduced me to the team (again!) via the Slack channel, not many people welcomed me back. I found out later that nobody even knew that I had left. You can only imagine that my hope for a better experience deflated, and I kind of went on my own with my tail between my legs. I knew it wasn’t going to be different this time around.
I was still lonely and disengaged. For a while, I just did my assignments and contemplated leaving again. But I didn’t want to quit just because I wasn’t feeling it. Instead, I wanted to try to see if I could do something about it.
The First Thing I Did Was Let The Team Know That I Existed
I upload a picture of myself so that people could put a face to my name.
Second, I added some of my personality to my Slack profile with a relevant quote that made me feel confident. It was a quote by Tupac, just in case you were wondering.
Third, in almost every meeting, I had my camera on so that people could see me. Trust me when I say this was difficult for me, but after writing my blog post for the “Video Call Anxiety? Tips To Build Your Confidence” I didn’t want to seem like a hypocrite. For meetings, my camera was on even though theirs weren’t. It was very awkward for me, but I pushed through it like the champ that I am.
Lastly, I started to become a bit more active on the team’s general slack channel. Posting random content and replying to others.
Besides, one takeaway I learned from all this was that rejection is much easier online than in person. The worse thing that happened to me on Slack was that they did not reply to me. It sucked, but “Oh, well!” there was always someone else on the team who was willing to talk to me…usually.
I Did Some Internal Outreach
I wasn’t too engaged in the Slack channels initially. Still, I would reach out to team members through direct message whenever I saw someone online.
At first, it was just the casual “Hi” and “How is everything?”. Little by little, I started to open up to them, and a few engaged with me in terms of conversation. From them, I learned a lot. I could tell you at least a few interesting facts about those guys, such as their favorite color, their favorite ice cream flavor, when they start working for the company, etc. Because I always liked learning fascinating facts about people.
I later learned that I was not the only one feeling out of place in the team, but a few people felt the same. For some, remote work was also lonely, while others enjoyed it.
We would schedule one-on-one meetings through Google Hangouts to casually hang out and have a virtual lunch for some teammates. With one of the engineers, we engaged in a friendly rap battle. Turns out, he was a former rapper before becoming an engineer. How crazy is that?
Whenever a new teammate was introduced, I reached out to them directly, welcoming them because I wish that someone also did that for me.
I think the changes I made did make a difference even though I was mainly doing it for me.
I Started To Feel Confidence
…maybe too confident at times.
The more I talked to the team, the more comfortable I felt being myself. I didn’t feel like I had to be ashamed anymore, and there were times where my personality was enough.
However, my confidence also got me in trouble at times, but that’s another story.
Making My Place
After about four months, I left that company, but it was much harder to go this time. After all, I had created such beautiful connections with a few teammates, and I was sad to leave. I had to think thrice before making a decision.
There was another opportunity for me, and I know it would be a better fit for someone like me. I had worked with them in the past, and I was already good friends with one of the co-founders. With so much potential ahead, I could not pass this opportunity up.
I really wasn’t looking for a new job or a job that paid me more money. I just to be part of something.
They accepted me at Food Period without any hesitation. As I entered the team with a new role, all feelings of disconnection I had previously did not exist.
We started off as a small team, six to be exact, and tripled in the following months. Despite the stress and time crunches that happen in every up-and-coming start-up, I always try to get to know my teammates, their stories, and their personalities.
A personal goal of mine, remote team or not, is to create a culture of inclusion. Even if it is just between them and me. I am always reaching out to teammates, and when I do, I make an effort to give them my full attention.
To be honest, some people don’t deserve it, but I give it to them anyway.
Developing A Great Work Culture Is Vital
I learned that each remote team is different. However, the small unit that works well together will go much farther than a group whose members work in isolation.
A team without collaboration or cooperation is hardly a team. You have the most talented people, but if they don’t know the mission or feel connected, it’s difficult to see any progress. Don’t be surprised if people are starting running around in circles.
In the end, you end up having people who get paid to do the work without adding real value.
As they say, “Teamwork makes the dream work!” The first step is having each member of the team feel included.
Taking the time to know your team members makes a big difference. I felt more motivated and less hesitant to ask people questions when I didn’t know anything. This is what they call collaboration.
When it comes to working in a remote team, culture is everything. Culture is what moves the team forward in one direction instead of directions off the map.
Culture helps the company grow, and it starts with every member of the team feeling included.
In the end, remote doesn’t haven’t to be isolating. In times like these, the connection is what we need, and making people feel included is the least we can do.
Hello! I’m Christine, a content creator based in Los Angeles. I like to write about mental health, holistic wellness, and the millennial lifestyle through my Medium blog.