Reflections on Remote Work at NextRoll

Matthew B. Wilson Written by Matthew B. Wilson, March 17, 2020

Introduction

As COVID-19 continues to spread and cause anxiety, many tech companies have begun encouraging or mandating that employees work from home. For the time being, NextRoll is among these companies. Fortunately, NextRoll engineering has long had a remote-friendly work culture; I myself have been working remotely for the last three years after two years at our San Francisco office. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on the benefits of remote work, and some tips from NextRoll’s remote employees intended for anyone who has recently started working remotely.

Benefits of Remote Work

From a personal perspective, remote work has greatly increased both my quality of life and my productivity. When I worked in San Francisco, I had almost an hour-long commute to work each way. Now, I have an extra two hours of every weekday that I can spend working, relaxing at home, or playing basketball. The extra time I am able to allocate to my personal life allows me to be less stressed and better rested, which makes me more focused and productive when it’s time to work. In other words, one of the major efficiencies of remote work is that remote employees have more time for both their personal and professional lives.

From a broader perspective, the option of remote work has helped enable NextRoll to hire and retain a large number of very talented engineers. Some of our brightest, most impactful, and most experienced engineers work remotely. In some of their cases, the option to work remotely was the key differentiator between a NextRoll job offer, and offers from other companies with more rigid work policies. In other cases, like my own, the option to work remotely allowed NextRoll to retain engineers who would otherwise have had to leave after deciding to move. In these ways, remote work can be a huge win for companies willing to accommodate flexible work arrangements.

Tips for Remote Work

If you find yourself working remotely, and are looking for some tips on how to make it work, this section is for you. These tips and suggestions come from several of my fellow remote NextRollers.

Logistical Tips

For your remote working arrangement to succeed, the first step is setting up your home workstation. Of course, a reliable internet connection (with VPN) is a must. Beyond that, messaging services like Slack and teleconferencing solutions like Google Meet help bridge the physical gap between the office and your home office. Be careful though, these tools can quickly become distractions as Matt Burch, one of our Software Engineering Team Leads, points out. He recommends disabling notifications at times to give yourself an opportunity to focus on the task at hand.

It is very important to give your workstation its own, dedicated space, away from wherever you unwind. This helps keep your work from bleeding into your personal life, and vice versa. It pays dividends to invest in your workstation, especially for long-term remote working situations. I learned this the hard way in my first year working remotely after developing pain in my elbow from bad ergonomics. For this reason, I recommended a dedicated desk with an adjustable chair, and at least one external monitor. A wireless keyboard and mouse are also well worth the investment. Several of my colleagues, including Senior Software Engineer Jose Hernandez, suggest purchasing a nice pair of speakers as well; instrumental background music seems to be popular among the remote folks at NextRoll.

As far as office attire, there are differing schools of thought. For some people, like Senior Software Engineer Danny Fowler and Senior Staff Engineer Brian Ecker, it’s best to keep a consistent schedule as if you were at the office. In particular, this means getting dressed as if you were going into the office. Others, such as Staff Engineer Tyler Brown, believe in embracing the flexibility that remote work offers by working in sweatpants.

Another logistical aspect unique to remote work is the need to over-communicate with teammates. Effective communication takes a more conscious effort when you are remote. This communication is particularly challenging when teammates are spread across the world, in multiple timezones. In situations like this, Staff engineer Brujo Benavides recommends carefully thinking through questions you may have for people in other timezones, and being patient because their responses may take a few hours. The good news is sometimes this extra thought can help you answer your own question.

Tips For Well-Being

As important as having the right work setup is having the right mentality and approach. When working remotely, it is very easy to feel isolated or overworked. Technical Talent Partner Haley Scruggs suggests scheduling meetings with teammates for the sole purpose of catching up personally. Senior Software Engineer Corey Shott says taking walks, and breaks away from the computer are particularly important when working remotely. For example, it’s best to eat meals away from the computer.

Remote work provides a lot of flexibility in terms of when you work, which is both a perk and a challenge. On one hand, it’s easy to start a load of laundry during the workday, and on the other hand, it’s easy to send just one more slack message after dinner. For this reason, setting boundaries is particularly important when you work from home. Security Engineer Nicolas Valcárcel suggests separating home and work entirely. To make this work in practice, Senior Staff Engineer Mike Watters recommends developing routines that start and end the day to enforce a mental separation between home and work.

I’ve found a workout to end the day is particularly effective for me in this regard. On that note, regular exercise is extremely important, as Director of Software Engineering Paul Huff told me, because it’s so easy to become sedentary when working remotely. Not only does exercise make you physically healthier, it will make you feel better mentally too.

Conclusion

Remote work creates unique challenges. If you are working remotely for the first time, it takes some getting used to both in terms of logistics, and in terms of your approach to work. For example, you may have to create a dedicated space for your workstation or find a way to set boundaries between your home and work.

Nonetheless, at NextRoll we’ve found that these challenges are outweighed by the significant benefits of remote work. Flexible work arrangements give employees better quality of life while often increasing, rather than sacrificing, productivity, and give employers an advantage in recruiting and retaining talent. If working at a remote-friendly company sounds appealing to you, please take a look at our careers page.