Leaving the house: from remote work to finding confidence and my voice in the officeFeatured
I had a great job.The company did good things in the world, the people were energizing and optimistic, the startup kept getting round after round of funding and became a ‘unicorn’ in the Australian startup community. Everything was sweet except I was getting bored after doing a similar role for six years, so I decided to look around for something a bit different.BUT I felt safe and comfortable being a remote worker based in the Bay Area for this Aussie company. I love my home, a mid century remodeled delight with loads of natural light, bay views and an adoring dog to keep me company. Being home when kids come home from school, and being able to start dinner at 5:30pm and ready to eat at 6pm was perfect for our family. There was so much I loved about being alone, playing my music according to my mood, turning on the heating when I felt chilly, always being close to coffee and food when I was peckish. I was a work hedonist - pleasure while working was what I sought and I achieved it.My infrequent trips to the office in SOMA (in San Francisco) were 90 minutes one way and wrought with concern over dangerous drivers on 101 followed by the possibility of needles in seats on the BART (train to the city), and then came the walk to the office and being shouted at by mentally ill people, stepping in vomit, or being asked for money. Arriving at the office, there was always a nice welcome from my colleagues, but it was sometimes overwhelming too as 12 different people asked about how I was doing. I could never find a quiet space with a chair or desk that I could airlift to my desired height. I never had a place to put my purse, worried that leaving it in view of the elevators meant anyone could steal it, and I could never find a clean mug to make a cup of tea in the tiny and grimy kitchen. I would look around the office at people wearing headphones, never sure if I could approach their desks and say hello. I really wondered why people thought I was strange wanting to work from home. With three hours of my day lost in commuting, too much money spent on lunch, and not enough time to get work done efficiently I would arrive home and start counting down reluctantly to when I next had to make the trip up to the office.And then I got a new job. In an office.I was very uncertain about this decision, wondering if I had gone mad launching into something I knew I hated. I had done one onsite interview at the new office and it felt like many other startup offices with the obligatory ping pong table and modern furniture. The brightly painted walls made it feel cheery, but also a generic “we’re so funky and fun” vibe that felt insincere. I was interviewed by four men in turn (not uncommon in tech) and whilst the interviews were engaging and fun, I was not left with a feeling that I wanted to be in that office specifically. It was not the place that attracted me, it was my last interview that sealed the deal, talking with a Product Manager about the technical aspects of an integration. I love working with technical people (engineers, product managers, testers, designers), people who are analytical and logical and easier for me to relate to as an introvert. In my prior role, the development team was in Australia and I rarely got to connect and collaborate with them in a synchronous manner.With the new job and the thrill of being in an office adjacent to the people that make the tech happen, the people I admire was the real drawcard. Thankfully the company is within 10 miles of my house, so the commute is fine. What surprised me most about the new work environment was how much I changed myself. I became more extroverted, being the person who walks into the office and says ‘Good Morning’ to people. I actually chat at the water cooler and coffee machine, I sit in the kitchen at lunchtime and talk to people and share stories about my life, and listen to theirs. I love sitting at a group of desks and asking for help from teammates, and offering help when they ask me. I like enquiring about their weddings, new apartments, babies and new pets. I feel much more connected and valued as a person and happy.It was not easy for me at first, I sat quietly at my desk and tried to not bother the people around me. It felt very awkward to suddenly be around people again, and I didn’t know the ‘rules of engagement’. Two weeks into the new job and I had barely spoken to anyone. There were so many people and names and I was introduced on my first day, but had no recollection of who was who. I made mistakes, saying ‘Good morning Hope’ to the person who not in fact Hope, asking a manager how many kids he had (zero), and talking with an executive about his commute to Stanford in the morning to drop off Cheryl (how old is Cheryl I asked) to learn that he was dropping off his wife, and I had asked for her age. I really do embarrass myself sometimes!Things improved markedly when I was chatting with Hope (I was eventually able to identify her successfully), and she mentioned that the team really didn’t know much about me. They had not done the interviewing so it made sense that I was effectively a stranger sitting in their pod of tables. I had the idea to do a “four by four” presentation made up of photos or pictures, four slides in four minutes at our next team meeting. It was all about me: Slide 1 was my childhood, Slide 2 was the countries I had lived in and my hubby and kids, Slide 3 was pictures of my favorite things, and the last slide was places I’d worked. I don’t think anyone really remembers my presentation, but it transformed how I felt at work. I felt like I had revealed more of myself in a structured way. Now, I feel way more comfortable in the office. When the room temperature is too cold for me, I put on a jacket. When I feel like playing my music, I look around and check if people are on calls, or would seem to mind and I just play it on the office speakers. I get coffee and food whenever I like as they are all provided (we have a huge snack wall and catered lunches). When the weather is good I sit on the patio and chat with my colleagues. I take walks to the local coffee shop and do walking meetings with people from work.I’ve put more effort into styling my hair, wearing mascara and (trying) to wear jeans that fit me instead of the baggy Mom jeans. I have expanded my shoe collection by 100% - not because I have to, but because I want to and I get great feedback on my colorful and quirky outfits. I am no longer the hermit in elasticized waist jeans and t-shirts working from home with nobody to talk to. I feel like I’ve left the house, my cocoon, and emerged as a better version of myself. I never expected this to happen, but I’m so delighted I took the leap.Karina is passionate about people, technology and bringing enhancements to workplace culture. In her career Karina has worked across the retail, transportation, government, finance and entertainment industries, always in roles that involve education, systems implementation, change management and project management. Karina is a qualified workplace trainer with a Bachelor of Commerce and Graduate studies in Business & Finance. She enjoys her Silicon Valley start-up experiences and bringing new ways of thinking to organizations.