Over the last year, I moved halfway across the country from Kansas City, Missouri to Phoenix, Arizona. I went from occasionally working from home for a few hours each week to a full-time distributed worker.
This drastic transition prompted some examination of how I was able to build off of foundational work habits to make this a reality. It’s been a journey indeed. I hope that this helps someone in a distributed role or perhaps considering coworking options.
Regardless, it’s reminded me how my employer’s commitment to its people is something to be treasured.
Let’s start with RBC.
At Crema, we have a results-based culture – otherwise known as RBC.
It’s largely modeled after Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson’s Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) but our leadership team has adapted this over the years in response to a heterogeneous and complex work environment that a lot of modern businesses, like Crema, face.
Our RBC is built on autonomy, learning, and purpose. It creates a space where people are empowered to work where they want and when they want, as long as their results are being achieved. It relies on trust and transparency. At Crema, we’re measuring our commitment to these values on a weekly basis.
RBC can mean...
- Working from home
- Getting stuff done at a coffee shop
- Adjusting your schedule because your car needs an oil change and your son gets out of school early today
- Working through lunch to get those last little things wrapped up so you can take off early
- A host of other scenarios
Personally, Crema’s RBC has allowed me to experiment with a lot of different remote work techniques. At first, I set up a little desk at home to occasionally work mornings or afternoons. I hit up some new coffee shops around town. I worked late nights and started a little later the next day. I took calls from the mechanic, and scheduled dentist appointments late in the afternoon because I knew I would make up the time later.
I also realized that our RBC impacts more than just me – collaborating with a product team means there are unique schedules and work habits that need to be taken into account when setting goals. We are obligated as a digital product agency to deliver on client expectations, and our iterative sprint goals are built on a collective approval of what we aim to achieve. That has RBC written all over it.
Change. It’s what’s for dinner.
After a few years of working in an RBC, first as a project manager and then as a member of the business development team, I had an opportunity to move across the country to Phoenix. My now husband had been offered a job at the company he works for to train new hires in Arizona. We were excited by the possibility of moving but had a lot of reflection to do since we had called Kansas City home for 10 years.
One of the top considerations on the list was what to do about my job. I loved this job, and I couldn’t imagine trying to find a new one – especially amidst a move. There had been some coworkers at Crema who had recently changed locations and kept their jobs as distributed workers. We have Landon near Indianapolis, Michael up in D.C., and Joel over in Northampton, MA. I started to subtly pick their brains about their transition to distributed work.
It got me thinking that I could do it, too. I could take the lessons learned in RBC over the last few years and put together a pitch to keep my job at Crema – just doing it from further away. It was important for me to frame up why this was a good thing for the business. I wanted to highlight my commitment to our results-based culture and high standard of communication.
I went to work on my proposal, and it ended up with these sections:
- Overview: What I’m asking for and why.
- Benefits to Crema: Why is this a good thing for the company.
- Communication Plan: How I’m going to collaborate with the team effectively.
- Key Dates: When this would all go down.
- Work Locations: Where I would work from (home and coworking space).
- Travel Considerations: What kind of travel we should keep in mind (me back to KC, people from KC to PHX).
- Closing: How thankful I am to be considered for this and what I will do to help grow Crema from afar.
After a conversation with my manager – and some follow up conversations internally – my proposal was approved.
Moving on to coworking.
Skipping past the sweet goodbyes, long hugs, and 21-hour road trip, I made my way to the desert. One of the possibilities I laid out in my remote work proposal was joining a coworking space. This was on the top of my list to figure out while we got settled. Something to note here is that I had conversations with my employer about them covering the cost of membership. Every company is different, but I framed this up as a business expense and discussed how this would play out from a payment perspective. As such, it was important for me to explore all my options and track costs so we could make a decision together.
I started to do some research & asking the few people I knew about coworking options in “The Valley.” I sketched out a list of things I was looking for:
- Not too far from home – this was challenging to identify at first because I spent my first 5 weeks in a hotel and wasn’t sure where we’d end up. I also quickly realized how important this would be, because traffic can be insane.
- Ties to technology – different coworking spaces attract different kinds of workers, and I wanted to be sure that the space I ended up in was relevant to my kind of work.
- Events and networking opportunities – having a role in business development, this was key. I needed and wanted to meet new people as a result of being in a coworking space.
- Good mix of open and private spaces – I love working in a large room with other people, but you will not catch me out there on a call. I wanted to make sure there were ample phone booths and meeting rooms to accommodate a schedule like mine.
- The ‘it’ factor – I didn’t really define what ‘it’ was, but I wanted to feel good when I walked into the space. I hoped the people would be friendly and the coffee would be good. You know, the ‘it’ factor.
Then, I started to tour some options. Most, if not all, coworking spaces are happy to take you on a tour of the place before you sign up. A lot of them will let you work the rest of the day from there, too. I began reaching out to some of my favorites and set up some days for me to come in and work. I created a comparison chart that I would later share with my boss so I could easily compare my options.
Each section looked something like this:
Coworking Option A (hyperlinked to specific webpage)
Tour/Work days: 11/6 & 11/9
Making a choice and getting support.
I made sure to review my findings with my boss and team along the way, because it’s just as important for them to know I’m in an environment that is conducive to remote work. After all, they’re the ones on the receiving end of my work each day.
After touring and working out of six different coworking options, I ultimately made my choice. I couldn’t love it more. It checked all of my boxes (and then some). I’m lucky enough to have a great home office as well where I set up my dual monitors. On days I need to have a lot of screen space, I make sure to work from home. On the other days, I pack up my lunch and head over to my coworking space, badge in, and find a spot in the open tables that greet me when I walk through the doors.
As great as coworking is, I’ve realized something that was in front of me the whole time – I don’t actually work with any of the people that are also here. This can be nice. There are limited interruptions due to people swinging by your desk. However, you have to get out of your comfort zone a bit and strike up a conversation with people in the kitchen if you’re looking for some interpersonal conversation. You have to sign up and attend lunch & learns and other networking events to meet other people who hang around there.
Trust me when I say it gets even better when you have a few familiar faces around to talk to. That lightens the isolation that can sometimes come from working remotely. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of support back in Kansas City, as Crema has leaned into this idea of a distributed workforce.
In the last year or so, we’ve really tried to focus on this. In fact, in one of our recent podcast episodes, our co-founders discuss how remote and distributed teams work at Crema and share 9 best practices. For me, the biggest things that have made a difference include:
- A remote task force committed to identifying, experimenting with, and implementing processes that help our distributed and local team members
- Our #remote Slack channel that is an open forum to all remote work content, best practices, and commiseration.
- Reading Zapier’s ebook on remote team culture
- Joining weekly Crema Bunch Lunches with team members in KC and beyond
- Weekly check ins via 15Five and bi-weekly 1:1s with my manager
Some final tips.
Everyone is different. My work style today varies dramatically from how I used to work at my first job – and even when I first started at Crema. That said, I have found there to be some key learnings from the last 6 months of being a full-time remote worker that could be valuable to you.
- Set a schedule, and stick to it. It can be tempting to let the flexibility of remote work impact when you get your work done. There is likely no to limited commuting. You might have team members in a wide swath of time zones. Either way – set a schedule that works for you, and try your best to commit to it as though you’re going into the office. This consistency will help you start in the mornings and turn off in the evenings.
- Put on real clothes. This is important, but I’ll admit, I’m still working on this. The days I am fully dressed as though I’m going into work feel as though I get more done. I have experimented with the classic business on the top (nice shirt), party on the bottom (pajama) scenario, and it makes a difference. Try to use your morning routine as a time to change into real work clothes.
- Create an environment that works for you. I have two different scenes I set depending on whether I work at home or post up at a coworking space. These will look different for everybody, but I make sure that I set myself up for success.
- Establish habits. Similar to setting a schedule, it’s also important that you set up good habits when working remotely. Take time to go on a walk or get your morning coffee. If you like to workout mid-day, workout mid-day. Just block off your calendar and communicate to your team, so they know when to expect you.
- Set boundaries. It’s tempting to fall into the tap of being always “on” if your laptop is within reach at home. Be sure to clearly state – whether that is on your calendar or through your communication – when you are working and when you are off. You are allowed to unplug when the day is done.
- Over-communicate and talk about the struggles. This one is big. Transitioning into a remote role is no easy task. Even with the experience of working from home occasionally, I was struggling to find my groove at first. I was frustrated with the dynamics of video calls. Acknowledge these things & find the appropriate times and people to bring these up. Hopefully, you’ve identified ways to make things better so that you don’t end up complaining. That said, if you’re close with someone else in a similar remote work situation, share the pain! Sometimes it feels good to vent & move on.
- Combat the idea of “out of sight, out of mind”. This adage gets thrown around a lot, but just because someone isn’t working in an office around dozens of other people doesn’t mean they’re not doing work. Naturally, you need to be producing results for this not to be true so get your work done! Communicate with people outside of your team. Try to bring your remote presence into the lives of your coworkers.
- Work with people in a way that works best. Every person that I work with has a different communication style. I try to recognize who prefers Slack over a Zoom call and lead with that. Learning how to communicate on an individual basis will increase your efficiency when collaborating from afar. Conversely, let your preferences known! Being remote on a team has impacts on everyone that’s a part of it.
Remote and distributed work may not be for everyone – and that’s okay! Crema’s results-based culture allowed me to take the plunge into full-time remote work, and I’m happy to remain a member of the team.
If you’re in a role where this is a desire and could be a reality, I encourage you to try out some experiments and take steps to make this real. I’ve found that talking with people who’ve done this for a period of time often have a lot of helpful tidbits to share.
This was a long article, and it still didn’t come close to touching on all the facets that face remote workers today. If you have questions about remote work or being a distributed team member, reach out. I’d love to chat about it.