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Recently I was given the opportunity to travel to Ireland with my husband and work remotely. As Wistia, grew larger, we debated the opportunity of having remote support employees or an “early morning shift” but decided that, ultimately, it wasn’t the right fit for our culture. Having someone come into the office hours earlier than the rest of the team and work alone just didn’t seem fair, and we had never thought about having someone work overseas. While my trip to Ireland would serve as a great way to get out and see the world, I also thought it might make sense to test whether having a team member on the other side of the world would be beneficial to our support processes or ultimately be more of a hassle. Here are some of my findings:
It was hard transitioning from being full-on in the office with all of my buddies to being alone in a hotel room all day. I had anticipated that, like the US, Ireland would have a plethora of cafes that had free WiFi and were totally cool with customers coming and hanging out as long as they purchased food and drink. The most common cafe in Dublin (Insomnia, which has an awesome flat white) has a limit of the amount of free WiFi you can consume, and it’s only around 30 minutes. There goes the eight hours of time I was planning on sucking up sitting here just reveling in being around other people. This meant that I spent most of my time when I was working sitting in my hotel room.
Hotel life wasn’t so bad once I got used to it. I found a great little shop near the hotel where I could buy a loaf of bread, butter, some pesto and cheese for breakfast and after a few days started getting into my own ritual for each day. Getting settled into a “regular schedule” even though it was anything but regular really helped me feel more comfortable and less lonely or depressed. I would recommend that if you are planning on working remotely, you figure out where the places are nearby that will allow you to work there regularly and for long periods of time. You underestimate how important human contact is, and you can quickly become very sad when you are in a foreign country, alone, without any of your coworkers to talk to for the first half of the day. Helping customers feel happy when you are feeling sad is basically the hardest thing to do, so I would definitely take this pretty seriously if I was planning on working while traveling again.
The transition process may be easier for people working remotely from their own house or in a country that they are more familiar with. The combination of working from a hotel, in a foreign country, in a less populated part of Dublin probably was what made it so difficult for me. Had I had more familiar creature comforts to help ease the move from familiar to unfamiliar, I suspect I wouldn’t have had half as much trouble.
Having me working for five hours before everyone else got into the office set up the rest of the team for a pretty good start to the day. When I signed into the inbox at 9AM my time there were usually between 50 and 70 emails. I got those down to anywhere between 10 and 25 by the time the rest of my team signed on for their regular work day.
My coworkers back in Boston were able to get some headspace and accomplish other tasks throughout the day without worrying and having the ever-present inbox guilt, and I was able to get my extra work done in conjunction with completing the same amount of “volume” that I would have done at home.
Given that this schedule worked so well for our team, I would advocate for it in our future as well as for other teams. The important thing was maintaining a regiment, otherwise everything can quickly become disorganized and one team or another can fail to meet expectations. Communication, as always, is incredibly important for having one member of the team working in a different time zone—especially one so radically different from the time at HQ. So, a more thorough breakdown:
From 9AM to ~1PM my time (4AM to 8AM EST), I worked in the inbox answering emails and clearing out my assigned conversations. Between 1PM and 2PM (8AM to 9AM EST) I would go and snag lunch somewhere, either at the hotel or with my husband and his coworkers. Our peak time for emails is between 9AM and 12PM EST, which meant that the slate was clean for their morning rush. By the time I got back from lunch, all of my team members were in HipChat or just showing up to work. I’d check-in, make sure the inbox was manageable, and then go off and do my individual projects. Intermittently in the afternoon I would check on the group inbox and my personal inbox to make certain there were no fires, but I usually waited until around 5PM my time to go in and do clean-up on the last responses of the day. Then, I signed off for the night.
Every company’s culture is very vibrant and beloved by its employees, and I feel no differently about Wistia’s. Because I left right before Inbound, a large conference hosted by Hubspot in Boston, I missed all of the great parties and events that everyone was going to. Given that my company hosts and makes tons of videos, I was also constantly reminded of the fun that I was missing. This was a bit of a double-edged sword.
First, I could watch the videos and see pictures and didn’t feel so utterly out of the loop—it helped me to feel much more included despite being far away. I could share in inside jokes and join in on conversations about the previous night’s events that otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to. That way, when I return to the office, I don’t need to spend a whole ton of time having everybody catch me up on what’s been happening.
That being said, it also made me miss home. I wanted to be there for all the fun, the parties, the videos, and the jokes—not just watch it through my computer screen. I think that this would have been an easier transition if I had never worked in our office to start with. We miss what we know, and for remote workers the culture that they are used to is the culture of the computer screen—their relationships with each other are different than the relationships of people that see each other face-to-face and can interact physically every day. Had I never had that in-person interaction with my teammates back in Boston, it would have been easier for me to escape the sticky grasp of FOMO and function more normally from the get-go. If Wistia does move towards remote working as an option for the team, I would argue that the team member doing so either needs to be remote from the get-go, or has to already be comfortable enough with remote working to not be brought into the doldrums.
Looking back on it, the relationship with team members in a start-up feels very much like a large family (at least my large family) does. Sure, people can do things that annoy and irk you every day when you are near them, but as soon as a day goes by where they aren’t there to do it, you start missing it.
Along with just engaging and conversing with my team members in HipChat during the day, one thing that I found really helpful was was using FaceTime for regular weekly meetings. Even though that form of communication doesn’t easily lend itself to talking amongst a whole team, it was good to just see people’s faces and hear their voices. The first Support Goals meeting that we had on the Monday after I left made me feel a million times better and more happy than I had before we started it. I will say, though, be cautious of when the meetings are scheduled—late afternoon meetings may be hard for people working remotely to attend.
All that being said, I would do this again and advocate that everyone try it at least once. While I wish that I had done just a bit more research about ways to keep myself entertained and happy while here, working remotely was a great experiment for my team, my company, and myself. In the growth of the Customer Happiness team, I would advocate that we have a remote Customer Champion over in the UK specifically for the reasons mentioned above. Remote work, rather than having an “early morning shift” allows for freedom and normalcy of schedule, while still contributing and feeling like a part of the team as a whole. And, after getting over the first few days of sadness, I would definitely do it again, this time with a little more experience under my belt. As someone who struggles with taking time “away” from the office, this was the perfect combination of tourism and productivity.