Is working remotely right for you?

Thoughts from a fully distributed company

Here at Chromatic, we each strive to surf that sweet spot between working effectively on our own, with each other and our clients, and finding a healthy balance in our lives. We pooled together some of our thoughts on what makes for a good distributed worker, advice on how to manage working from home day after day, and the upsides as well as the challenges of working for a distributed company.

One of the many ways in which we try to cultivate an intentional culture of sharing and camaraderie is using a software tool like Know Your Company (KYC). KYC aims to improve employee engagement and provide a forum for honest feedback in the form of questions about the company or about personal/social interests on a consistent basis. Many of the quote attributions below are the responses from the team to KYC questions about working remotely.

In the spirit of sharing our best advice and observations about our personal experiences as a fully distributed company, here’s the collective dish on the who, what, where, how, and why of working remotely for a digital agency.

Who should work remotely?

Not everyone is cut out for working remotely. It takes a certain grit to self-regulate, to know and/or stretch your boundaries, and to delight clients which is always our focus at Chromatic. Here are some valuable traits that we highly advise an aspiring remote worker to cultivate:

  • Comfortable with spending time alone.
  • OK with missing things like watercooler talk or post-work happy hours.
  • Self-motivation.
  • Good planning skills to structure “unstructured” days.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • Know when and be comfortable with asking for help.
  • Writing skills to make communication clear and succinct.
  • Self-discipline.
  • Emotional intelligence to pick up on subtle cues since we often lose the more obvious in-person cues.
  • Good at setting and respecting boundaries.
  • A penchant for heavy instrumental music.

What is working remotely like?

Ultimately working from home means WORKING - it isn’t taking a day off as some people who work in offices might imagine. One of the running themes that kept popping up in a recent KYC question (i.e. What attributes have you discovered are critical to becoming a successful remote worker?) was the emphasis on boundaries, balance, and discipline. Here are some Chromatic team members chiming in:

Working alone is harder than I expected years ago. I am both exhausted by being around lots of people and invigorated by being around my coworkers. Balance is hard and takes effort.

— Chris Free, Partner & Creative Director

Routines and rituals are no less valuable just because there is no commute and I don’t have to report to someone’s office. They are as important, if not more, to reinforce proper boundaries and keep myself from both procrastinating or over-working.

— Alfonso Gómez-Arzola, Designer / Frontend Developer

The ability to deflect peer pressure from the age old "Katie! Come out and drink with us, stop working! Don't let work get in the way of you having experiences." Incredible time management skills (ensuring I have equal parts work and fun) and the passion to provide great service so that if I party until 5am, I still log in and work at 7:30am... LIKE A BOSS.

— Katie Kolkovich, Executive Assistant

One thing that surprises me about myself working remotely is that I feel a lot of pressure to produce. Since we're not visibly clocking in at an office, the work we produce is the only measurable way to justify billing time. The other thing I find, as a result of the above, is that I'm oddly more inclined to over-work, blurring the boundaries between working and not working. So I'm finding myself needing to be more vigilant and crisp about maintaining the boundary between when I work and when I don't.

— Clare Ming, Developer

Where is best suited for working remotely?

As far as the Where goes, here is our distilled advice on not only location, but tips for the day-to-day:

It’s helpful to shake it up and have proximity to:

  • Coffee shops
  • Libraries
  • Anywhere with wifi and ambient noise
  • Co-working spaces
  • Trails for breaks/exercise
  • Quick/tasty lunches

Have a home office:

  • That supplies a quiet distraction-free environment
  • That is ideally a dedicated space to help define work/life boundaries in a physical sense.

A sound byte from one of our illustrious colleagues:

Switch spots around the table or switch rooms. Have a routine, but leverage the flexibility when needed. And don't have too many tasty snacks sitting around.

— Adam Zimmermann, Architect

How do you work remotely?

Turns out we all agree - in addition to structure, breaks are really important.

Some sound advice from Chromatic luminaries:

You have to get away from your desk sometimes. A change of scenery can be a real kick in the pants.

— Chris Free, Partner & Creative Director

Sometimes taking a walk is more productive in solving the problem I am working on than staying heads down. Keep a regular schedule.

— Mark Dorison, Partner

Stepping away from the computer can be as important as being at the computer.

— Märt Matsoo, Developer

Go for walks. Go outside. Move. Our profession remains dangerously sedentary.

— Clare Ming, Developer

Have a low-maintenance, minimalist lifestyle.

— Kim Sarabia, Frontend Designer / Developer

Follow a schedule for each day. Have a system (notebook, app, sticky notes) to keep track of personal to-dos that pop into your brain while at work. Schedule breaks. Say no to more things (just because you work remotely doesn't mean you're always free to run errands or jet out of work early).

— Larry Walangitan, Developer

Get out of the house for breaks/after work.

— Adam Zimmermann, Architect

Why work remotely?

The holy grail of why we love working remotely may boil down to the obvious - the flexibility and agility of distributed work empowers us with more agency in our lives. We’re not obligated to commute somewhere as part of a daily grind, we can live almost anywhere (within reason), and we get to have more time in our personal lives (if we maintain good, crisp boundaries/discipline).

Perhaps more importantly, working remotely means that when we do get together as a company, it’s a joyous occasion. We share meals and enjoy each others’ company in ways we don’t get to do in our day-to-day. We all look forward to our team retreats and gatherings to learn more about each other, discover mutual interests, and help shape the vision and culture of Chromatic.

Is remote work right for you?

If any of the ideas and suggestions above speak to you, remote work could be an option. Be forewarned: remote work is still very much work — the hustle in client services is real, and the company you work for is as paramount as where you work from. So as you contemplate all this, it’s important to ask the equally pertinent question: Is the company for which you would work remotely right for you?

We at Chromatic feel profoundly fortunate to share in this collaborative experience that the current technological landscape enables — and we take great pride in the exceptional work we do from wherever we are.