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Making Remote Work

Techniques for keeping the remote work experience a positive one.

Smiling Lego minifig sitting at Lego computer workstation

When I talk to people about my work at Palantir.net, one thing they’re usually intrigued by is the idea of a remote-first company. Though remote working has been growing in popularity, many people still spend their work day in an office, so I get a lot of questions and comments about what it’s like to work outside of a traditional office environment.

I’ve had many people say things to me like: “I wish I didn’t have to commute every day”, or “It must be nice having that kind of flexibility with your schedule,” and it’s true - working remotely does have a lot of benefits. It allows the Palantir team flexibility in our schedules, saves us time, and can help reduce distractions in our work environment. Because of all of these positive aspects, many people overlook some of the challenges of remote work, which may have negative impacts on mental health if left unaddressed.

Working from home can be isolating, and at times the difference in structure that you have in an office environment vs. working from home can create difficulty in setting boundaries or feeling a sense of accomplishment. Communication across multiple states and timezones can also present logistical challenges. When transitioning from an office to a remote environment, it’s important to consider these factors and then work to mitigate any issues they might create.

After transitioning from an office to a remote work environment, I’ve learned a handful of techniques that are key to making my remote work experience positive:

  • Communicating with teammates
  • Establishing work-life balance
  • Maintaining a schedule
  • Designing your workspace
  • Shaping and sharing the culture

Communication

When teams don’t communicate well, it’s easy for tensions to build. Communication is important in any work environment, but it’s especially important when working remotely. With many conversations taking place through email or messaging apps like Slack (and often asynchronously), it can be easy to lose context and tone.

Knowing what your options are for virtually communicating is important, but equally important is understanding teammates’ preferences for communication. While some might prefer email because they find it less distracting, others might prefer Slack because it brings things to their attention and allows them to provide a solution immediately. Working with teammates to determine ways of communicating that work best for everyone can help the team to avoid frustration or miscommunications, keeping things running smoothly. One of the ways we’ve approached this recently at Palantir is by creating “Personal User Manuals” so that everyone knows the preferences of other teammates.

Work-Life Balance

Something that was especially difficult for me when I started working remotely, was that it can be an isolating experience to spend such a large portion of my day at home alone. As someone who was used to working in an office and being around people all day, transitioning to working from home was a big change.

Eventually, I realized there were ways that I could change my habits to help accommodate my new work-from-home lifestyle. When I worked in an office, I often came home from work and spent time by myself relaxing and unwinding by reading or playing video games. But when I lost a main source of interaction with people, I started making a more conscious effort to make plans to spend time with people. I started scheduling more time with friends, and got involved in roller derby to make sure I wasn’t becoming too isolated. Realizing that my old habits, coupled with my new working environment, were adding to feelings of isolation was an important part of improving my work-life balance to stay mentally healthy.

Maintaining Your Schedule

Working in an office can be helpful for maintaining a consistent schedule - it’s easy to get into a routine of waking up, eating breakfast, and commuting to work. Because working from home cuts the commute out of the equation, when I first started working from home, I found myself falling into the habit of waking up, eating breakfast, and then immediately starting work. Eventually I realized something - I missed my commute. I didn’t necessarily miss my bus ride into the office, but what I did miss were the 20 minutes it provided me to relax and prepare for my day. After realizing this, I started to build that time back into my morning schedule - before breakfast, I drink a cup of tea, meditate, or listen to music for a few minutes to help get me ready to start my day.

Equally important is maintaining consistency around when you’ll end your day. When working at home, I’ve found that it’s easier to get into a flow of working, and suddenly look up and realize that a lot of time has passed. This means that if you’re not careful, it can be easy to end up working longer hours than you intended to. Doing this too frequently can contribute to burn out, which can affect your productivity and mental health. Making, and sticking to, a schedule (and communicating that schedule with others) can help to keep you happy, healthy, and productive.

Designing Your Space

Another benefit of working remotely is having the option to set up your space in the way that works best for you. Some people work best in an atmosphere with others around, and for those people, Palantir offers the option of working from a co-working space. Others prefer working at home where there are fewer distractions. Either way, everyone is able to create and cultivate the space that works best for them, rather than being confined to the space that their office provides.

I appreciate having the ability to fill my workspace with natural light, scented candles, and plants, which makes it a space that I can feel focused and productive in while I’m working. In an office space, I often found that trying to tune out co-workers’ conversations, and sitting in an uncomfortable chair under fluorescent lighting didn’t usually have a positive impact on my mood during the workday. So while being alone all day can be isolating, it can also provide the flexibility to create a customized working environment. Designing your space in a way that makes you feel good can help keep you productive and happy throughout the workweek.

Shaping & Sharing the Culture

One of the most difficult things about working remotely is creating a cohesive culture when everyone is spread out across the country. However, creating culture is an important aspect of making employees feel connected with each other. At Palantir, even though we may not have the benefit of water cooler chat in the kitchen, we do connect with each other in other ways: some teams choose to have a short personal check-in time at the beginning of meetings, and outside of standard project-centered Slack channels, we have channels like #gardens, #pets, #wellness, and #food where people can share pieces of their life outside of work. Palantir also hosts an annual retreat that brings all Palantiri to our Outpost in Evanston, IL for a week of building connections with each other that carry us through the year. Creating these kinds of connections with co-workers makes it feel less like I’m working alone, and more like I’m part of a connected team, even if we all happen to be in different places.

Transitioning from office life to remote work can be a big change, but by working to embrace the good aspects and minimize the challenges, it can be a productive and rewarding experience.

"Computers!" by Jeff Eaton licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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