Psychological Context and Remote Work

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Christopher Groskopf, a software developer and project manager who has been "a 100% remote worker" for over two years, offers his insights and advice for making that sort of arrangement successful. There is lots of practical advice, such as on using technology, but I think the following psychological insight is crucial:

It goes without saying that if you're going to be apart from your team, you need to take responsibility for your own organization. What may be less obvious is that you're going to need to take that organization to much greater lengths than would probably otherwise be necessary. Why? The lack of tangible reminders. It's amazing how much we rely on subtle environmental and social cues for how and when things get done. If you never lock eyes with a homepage producer, you might forget to tell them about an impending launch. [bold added]
Groskopf soon after uses the term "context" in passing, but it is clear that the idea of there being a psychological context to work is crucial to his thinking.

And here's an example of Groskopf implementing this idea in another way:
The single best advice I got when I went remote was from Matt Waite, who said, "Put on pants," by which I'm pretty sure he meant, "Act like you're going to work." Get up, put on clothes you'd leave the house in, take a look in the mirror, and go to your work space. It is essential that you have a room (or nook) in your house that you use only for work. You need a place to go to at the start of the day and leave at the end. I even put an office nameplate over mine. Do the same things you would if you were going to the office. This might sound silly, but it will help keep you sane. Think of your home workspace like an exclave of your company's offices. Act like you might run into your editor or the CEO at any moment! It'll make you feel normal. [link in orignal]
Do note that his work day doesn't just start at his office: it ends there. Implicit in Groskopf's advice to act like one is at work is the idea that one should have clear-cut boundaries between work and leisure. That said, while it may seem counterintuitive to include non-work items -- like picking kids up from school -- in a work calendar, this actually helps one maintain such boundaries by avoiding conflict. (Parent and former Qwest CEO Teresa Taylor even goes so far as to keep one calendar for similar reasons.)

I highly recommend this piece, which is explicitly written to be useful for people in any line of work.

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