Scott Dawson, a web designer from Trumansburg, has been working from home for 21 years and has even written a book about it. He works full-time from his home in upstate New York, where he lives with his family. Dawson started working remotely when fax machines were not well-liked and was lucky with his first job. He worked in technology, marketing, and a local technology organization in Zurich before returning to the States. His boss suggested working from home instead of leaving, and Dawson was unsure if he wanted to make any real headway on a change.
This time, Scott Dawson, a web designer from Trumansburg, was the interviewee with the most distant job experience. Scott has been working from home for the past 21 years (seems incredible, doesn’t it? ), and he even wrote a book about it.
This exceptional guy works full-time from his home in upstate New York, where he lives with his wife, kids, and dogs, and is enthusiastic about music, jogging, skating, acting, and writing. He also founded an active remote community and maintains a blog there. When fax machines were still a part of the technical infrastructure, he started doing remote work. Now it’s a subject that merits research.
The first thing I want to know is when you started working from home. The fact that your supervisor suggested you choose this choice rather than leaving nearly happened by mistake. I think it wasn’t a typical job or particularly well-liked twenty-one years ago. Why and how did your boss behave in this way?
Yes! Did you read The Art of Working Remotely before coming to this conclusion? This is one of my favorite chapters.
I did do my homework, yes.
I think the book was funny.
So, yes. It was purely coincidental. I had just received my college degree and had been working for about a year and a half. I was really lucky with my first job since they put me through a rotation program and spent a ton of time and effort getting me acquainted with different aspects of the company.
I worked in technology, marketing, and a local technology organization in Zurich. I had just been engaged when I came back to the States. We were looking for a location to live that seemed like the right match close to New York City.
I was also looking into potential internal transfers. I told my boss that I wanted a change before I could make any real headway on it. “Don’t waste your time with that,” he said. We want you to stay on in this department of the business. Why not try working from home instead?”
With a good network connection and a Windows laptop while working on my current job, which is web design, in 1998, I set up a home office in our apartment’s Massachusetts spare bedroom. ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) is well known to those who have existed for some time. Today, I use high-speed Internet access via cable, but I still use a Windows laptop, though I wish it were a MacBook.
It was as if I were in a one-person office and calling into meetings as usual. It was a tremendous advantage to start that position at a large company with multiple offices, because all of our meetings required a virtual component. So, I was not armed with any additional information on how to flourish when I was not in the workplace, a traditional office.
They assumed I worked in the Midtown office while they were in Long Island City, and I never disclosed that I worked remotely up front. I was there to work, so it never really came up. However, after they learned of this, I became known as a highly effective remote worker because I was skilled at my job. After two years, I sought feedback from coworkers and discovered that they were unaware that I worked remotely.
That was the beginning.
We now have Slack, Zoom, and every other program. You’re using some instruments you made yourself.Or was it comparable to an earlier Cisco.How did this function back then?
True, there weren’t any collaborative tools like the ones we have now, but I learned how to communicate visually asynchronously without the usage of screen sharing.
Without being able to directly influence the flow, I could walk people through the prototype on a phone call by instructing them to open a link. I would guide them through the interface and allow them to interact with these interactive prototypes. At one stage, I maintained a 600-page prototype. As a web designer, I was able to upload files to a server and send out URLs, essentially a method of asynchronous screen sharing.
This formed the feedback cycle: I would update the prototype, we would discuss it, she would print out pages and annotate them with a pen, and then I would evaluate that and ask pertinent questions. It worked extremely well. One of my business stakeholders would fax me versions of the designs with annotations.
People consider asynchronous work as the future of work since it facilitates communication across time zones and hours, yet you accomplished it approximately twenty years ago, and we are reading a lot about it now!
Yes, that was fashionable back then, but not now.
We made use of the tools at our disposal, which proved to be both effective and efficient, perhaps because one of the things she was required to do was to carefully consider her feedback, she did not respond in the instantaneous manner of a Zoom or WebEx call, and she was able to think about the message she wanted to get across to me.
There is merit in being more deliberate when collaborating, as conversations are frequently a simple back and forth. However, I believe that when you are able to calm down and settle in, you will be able to get into the flow and consider what you wish to contribute to the discussion. Amazing occurrences can occur. I’m not sure if this is a common issue today.
However, speaking of teammates you’ve had, you were always on the same team, correct? What about your communication with managers and team leaders? How do you therefore communicate with your team? How frequently must you do that? I completely agree with you that this is an interesting account of asynchronous labor.
With the addition of collaboration tools, interaction became more seamless, but the majority of collaboration occurred via telephone. Because Agile was not a thing, there were no daily stand ups per se. We did not circle Jira because Jira did not exist. I cannot recall any positive or negative aspects of team interaction from so many years ago.
As a manager, I remember being very deliberate about avoiding meetings, and when I did have them, I fought hard to prevent them from becoming rote: I altered the format, kept things light, asked parlor questions, and so on.
What are your current tools for remote work, and what is the absolute minimum?
Depending on where you work and what they use, the tools will vary. At the moment, I use WebEx. Skype for Business, which is simply instant messaging, is used, but WebEx performs a lot of the work for me.
Our daily meeting has participants from all over the world, so I stepped in and implemented a “cameras on” policy without stating that it was a policy. One day I began sharing my video, but nobody else joined in. A Russian colleague turned on his camera one day; I had never seen him before. It was enchanted because I did not try to compel it. Within a few weeks, the majority of i.
These are the two main tools we employ, and with any luck, we’ll also have access to Slack.
I really hope so! How about your personal gear, anything you use to govern yourself?
I keep personal task lists in Wunderlist and use Apple notes to organize my thoughts. Professionally, Jira is used; there, we communicate frequently; again, the consistent submission of data to the cloud is a key enabler of asynchronous work.
What are your thoughts on the fact that loneliness and isolation are major issues in this city, despite the fact that you don’t need to commute to waste time, I read on your website that the greatest benefit of working remotely is improved quality of life.
Isolation is, in my opinion, one of the worst negatives, and unhappily, it is up to the person who is isolated to look for ways to get out from under it.
As a runner, I’ve noticed #runchat’s enormous success on Twitter. There are many runners who like discussing running, and I figured that remote employees would appreciate the same method of communication. In fact, one of the reasons I started #remotechat was so that I could interact.
It is easy to think that you are alone and that something is wrong with you, but the reality is that it is merely a symptom of a larger issue. It could be that you need to alter your routine by going to a coffee shop for a few hours, going for a run, or hiking with a friend.
What would you say are the top three ways to avoid or combat isolation?
It need not take place during business hours; it could be an activity for the evenings or weekends. For example, because I enjoy singing, I joined the community chorus. We meet on Monday evenings. That is first place. I believe that the most important thing would be to identify an activity that you can do with others and to create a plan to carry it out.
You do not need to be with other people in order to break out of the negative feedback cycle. The second step is to get up and move, either by going for a walk or listening to a podcast while doing so.
If you can run or enjoy group fitness, you should incorporate these activities into your routine because A) it gets your body moving, which is satisfying; and B) you never know who you will run into; therefore, this is a great way to get out and do something for yourself physically and socially. I believe number three would be to engage in a fitness-related activity.
Do your critters ever lend a hand in overcoming feelings of loneliness?
It is helpful to have another living thing in the house, and Phoebe, my bunny, shares my home office with me. She has an open cage throughout the day, and she may be at my feet, hopping around the room, or snoozing.
Nice. I’ve also seen pictures of your office, and I know you put a lot of attention into how to design it so that you are comfortable and productive. Maybe you could point out some frequent mistakes that others who are trying to structure anything for remote work should avoid.
As I take this call, I close my door because my family is at home and a closed door indicates that I’m occupied. I access it when I have time. I think the biggest mistake is not having a space that can be closed off, having space that allows people to disturb you when you do not wish to be disturbed.
I feel it is essential to have a dedicated workstation because once I leave that setting, I am no longer in work mode. If you believe you can work remotely from your living room sofa and can manage the resultant distractions, that’s terrific.
I feel that these qualities are essential to maintaining remote work motivation since I have a private office from which I can physically go, I am not tied to my computer during the evening and I do not hear incoming emails, and having a distinct workplace helps me achieve a work-life balance.
The question “What are the most important skills required to work remotely successfully? ” intrigues me the most, cool.Maybe a mentality, delicate talents, and physical skills?
It is not unique to working remotely: if the information is not expressed clearly, it will be misunderstood. The most crucial component is communication. Possessing the capacity to be both an attentive, active listener and a succinct, plain communicator.
The most crucial aspect is communication, but there are many others to take into account as well, such self-care and discipline.
But the problem is that many people do not trust freelancers because they disappear, miss deadlines, or something similar, and distributed or remote employees are combined with freelancers. Do you believe they are identical? Have you ever encountered this type of attitude from remote workers?
I have encountered negative attitudes toward remote workers, such as “You’re not actually working all the time because you may be doing chores or outdoor activities around the house,” but I’ve been fortunate to have people who are aware of my work ethic because they have worked with me and supported me. I honestly doubt that I would make that distinction.
Although it might be challenging when you prefer not to brag or overshare your status, I feel you must be more attentive when conveying your worth when working remotely. You must proclaim, “Hey, check what I did! To counteract the assumption that “if I can’t see you working, I assume you’re not working,” you practically have to overestimate the usefulness you offer. Ironically, in an office situation, others will presume you are working if you are seated at your desk. Instead of working productively, you are really scrolling through Instagram or reading articles online. Preconception, in my opinion, is hard to remove. You must be able to use communication to combat this.
Additionally, I actively provide knowledge to a pool of resources that our team uses. People start to see you as a part of a bigger picture when you are engaged, loud, and visible, regardless of where you are.
True. We will talk about your book. What was your intention is the thing I want to know most. Were you trying to make things clear for your personal gain? Or perhaps you helped others work remotely more effectively?
Yes, both of them are combined.
Recently, a coworker started working from home. He sought me for help with the issues he was facing since he was having a hard time. I gave him some things to experiment with. After saying thank you, he insisted that I reveal the information. especially “You should write something about this.”
I had already created the website and the #remotechat channel. My coworker encouraged me to start writing down all the incidents I could remember from when I first started working remotely since I like writing. No matter how long they’ve been working remotely, I think everyone has a very unique story to share. I thought it was important for context that the first part of the book be about me personally. There are a ton of blog pieces about keeping discipline and organizing your personal workstation. The addition of personal context may be quite helpful because a lot of this material is rehashed.
I then started writing chapters about the many aspects of working remotely. The topic of the infrastructure and its significance for remote work was easily broached. Everything came full circle with the discussion of soft talents since without these, you will be lost.
My wife works as a teacher. She read the book and made the statement that it’s bad that the subject matter is geared toward distant workers. She claimed that regardless of whether they teach at a school or work in an Omaha office, everyone could understand the soft skills. It doesn’t matter what kind of task you are doing. Many of them are deceptively simple abilities that are useful in any position.
After a few short months, I had a book!
You were successful! You performed a fantastic job. It serves as a virtual reference book for remote work. You get the feeling this was written by a person who is very knowledgable about this subject.
And I have a typical question about working remotely. What is the most difficult situation? Because any business would provide remote labor if it were the best thing ever. They don’t leave their offices. What’s the problem?
I think the response to that query explains why I’ve previously declined chances. I’ve made an effort to influence how others think. Not because their line of reasoning was flawed, but rather because the approach is no longer valid. We have advanced. I think that some businesses do not actually think that working remotely can be more efficient than the existing approach. So why not keep doing what we have been doing?
However, some companies and people continue to view remote employment as a deal-breaker. Because if you are able to have that conversation and if that individual has a successful encounter with someone who is not seated next to them, they will become more open to the notion, you must just shrug your shoulders and ask, “Why? What are your fears?
Laurel Farrer recently spoke at Nomad City, where she stated that much of the discourse surrounding remote work needs to transition from worker benefits to employer benefits. I concur that this is crucial for changing perceptions and gaining acceptance. However, people do not reach this stage because they are overly concerned with labels, such as “Oh, that person is remote, so we cannot consider them.”
It is hard to get there because you have to actually influence people’s ideas about who is competent to work with you and their impressions of who is qualified.
I think we do this regularly because we deal with so many early-stage firms, and I think the key to effective remote teams is having managers that firmly believe in this idea.
Because my wife owns a bakery, I often use the analogy that once the cake is in the oven, it must bake, so you need someone who believes it can work and understands how to foster a culture where it can flourish (micromanagement is the bane of my productivity).
You need a manager for these early-stage businesses who says, “I want distributed teams because I think people work best in their natural environment, and they shouldn’t be required to travel to the office, and I want access to a large talent pool and hire the best people.”
This way of thinking raises a few problems, such as how to recognize great remote labor. Have you ever conducted an interview or hired someone?
Cool. You said that good managers must be able to create a culture and work with distant teams. That is an important subject. when you don’t have an office and can barely even organize regular meetings (more than once a year). Is there culture there? Why do remote teams have different cultures?
Every individual will have their own notion of culture and priorities. Therefore, physical closeness is not a consideration when I look at distant companies and culture. Every contact has an impact on how culture is formed.
What about your typical remote work do you like best? What is the main feature that you wouldn’t change?
I wouldn’t change a thing about the way I work from home.
Nothing would make me look for work elsewhere, though. The ability to enjoy breakfast with my family before beginning work is something I much value. I go down the stairs after work to spend time with my family. I don’t want to enter traffic on a train, a carriage, or my car. I can work in this way because I am happy and healthy.
I would not renounce that. I feel really fortunate to have had this opportunity for more than 21 years.
You are a unique person with many talents. You have a wide range of hobbies; you write, run, hike, sing, and draw. Do you wish to work remotely as a result of this or do you think it is this way because you do?
It results from this. I would probably regret not having the time and energy to partake in these other things if I were still commuting. I think being able to work from home has given me the mental freedom to explore interests unrelated to my day job. And it keeps me going.
I think a big part of why I’m a creative person is how I work.
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