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Distributed Work - My First Impressions

Yes, I could work from here!

As I write this I'm new to the Chromatic team, in only my 2nd full-time week. It's my first time working in a distributed company so I thought I'd jot down my first impressions. (Before I get into it I'll mention that a large part of my work experience has been spent in a typical office environment - sitting in a cubicle or shared office, surrounded by co-workers, cubicles and offices.)

Impression 1 - Tick Tock

I have found the biggest adjustment to be time tracking. We use Harvest and to our credit and to our clients' delight, we track every moment of our day, assigning hours and minutes to the specific projects we work on. (Currently, my timer for "Chromatic Internal - Blogging" is ticking.) A non-developer friend, upon hearing about our time tracking, almost gasped and admitted (as I'm sure many would) that a portion of his 9-5 office job is spent surfing the net. Let's face it, in an office environment you can sometimes be at work without actually working. (Long lunches, anyone?) The timer behooves you to focus and get down to the task at hand.

This has led to 2 observations:

  • Clients really get their money's worth.
  • Tracking 8 hours of productive work in a day takes longer than 8 hours.

Impression 2 - Forget Impression 1

I liken this to the notion of dancing like no one's watching; work like no timer is keeping track. If I worry about the timer, then I'm distracting myself from the task at hand. The last thing I need is added time pressure when I'm trying to concentrate. My take is that the timer is there to keep me within my allotted hours rather than to lord every minute over me. I start the timer to set my mind to the task and then I forget about it.

Impression 3 - Flexibility vs Regimen

The 9-5 workday does not work.

That's the line in the Chromatic job advert that really caught my attention. I have the flexibility to work when and where it best suits me. As long as I can participate in client meetings and communicate with the team efficiently, it doesn't matter whether I'm at home or in a coffee shop, in the U.S. or Europe. It requires that my company trusts me and I find that trust to be motivating. (I'm still adjusting to this freedom and discovering how to use it best. After all, just because I can plop down on the couch and watch Netflix in the middle of the day doesn't mean it's a good idea.)

Impression 4 - Work and Life are not always Separate

I have been leaning towards this way of thinking for a while because, in IT especially, work is always with you. In my previous 9-5 jobs I was responsible for websites which, of course, run 24/7. If a server goes down over the weekend, you can't wait until Monday morning to fix it. In a distributed setting, I find we are always kind of "on" and if you have a question on a Sunday evening and see your colleague's online, chances are he or she won't mind taking a minute to answer it. This "always on" connectivity allows us to spread our productivity outside of regular work hours. The flip side is no one gets riled up if you're participating in a stand-up from the beach or the back seat of a taxi.

Impression 5 - Video Conferencing isn't Truly Face-to-Face, but it doesn't Suck

Google Hangouts is our main mode of face-to-face communication. It's not the same as being in one room, but it's surprisingly robust and you get used to it. The occasional dropped call or interrupted video is a small price to pay for the flexibility it provides. (Refer to the back seat of a taxi comment from Impression 4.) Everyone understands there will be occasional technical glitches and we just deal with them, keep calm and carry on.

Impression 6 - Tight Knit

I have been surprised at the strength of the Chromatic team. Even though our meetings are all virtual, it feels as though we are a bunch of friends that happen to be working in the same place. The support and enthusiasm is tangible and you believe you are part of a company that wants to make your workplace great. As an added bonus, we get together once a year at a team retreat!

Conclusion

My first weeks at Chromatic have been super. I already feel a part of the team and I find that distributed work makes me more productive. There's definitely a growth curve and I'm still getting used to it, but the freedom and trust is a breath of fresh air.

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