Deep breath in. Mhmmmmm.
And out. Ahhhhhhh.
I anxiously waited for it to be exactly 8:30am to enter the Zoom room. It was the first official day of my VFA job; I didn’t want to be too early and appear overeager, but I also didn’t want to be late and appear unprofessional.
I started to fidget with my clothes and watch, checking the time every three seconds. Thankfully, my boss saved me by beginning the Zoom room on time.
“Welcome to Ed Farm,” she said, “we’ve got a lot to cover today.”
At the start of our final year of university, I don’t think any graduating college senior expected to start their job remotely. As the year went on and the coronavirus pandemic took over the news cycle, it became clear that there was likely no other option.
Thankfully, by the time that colleges closed campuses and businesses shut down, many of us had already accepted the offer to join the 2020 cohort of Venture For America. We could breathe easily knowing that we had an entire organization supporting our job search. Yet, being a part of the largest, most diverse class in VFA’s history, with a delayed start to our job search had its own unique challenges.
Unable to interview Company Partners in person or visit the cities I may end up living in, our summer of Match was held almost exclusively through glitchy Zoom interviews and awkward FaceTime calls. Although device failures or parents walking into interviews became funny banters between the Fellows, there was a lot of anxiety woven into the 2020 Match process. Are we going to find jobs we actually want? Should I consider my fellow Fellows as competition? What will it be like to move to a city I’ve never visited before?
And the big question: will I have to work remotely?
For many companies during Match, the answers were “I don’t know,” “Probably,” “Maybe.” City and state rules regarding COVID-19 changed weekly, or even daily as the numbers of positive cases rose and fell. Then wildfires and hurricanes and protests happened, adding more confusion to our work questions.
Summer continued, we attended a fantastic online Training Camp (shoutout to Barry, Julia, and of course, Jad), and more of the Fellows were offered jobs. Now the answer to the remote question was a resounding, “yes, we will be working remotely.” In my case, the company I joined planned to be remote until 2021.
So now the question shifted from “will I work remotely?” to “should I delay moving to my city?”. Different Fellows had different approaches to this question. Some moved as soon as they could. A few are digital nomads, moving around the country and working from coffee shops or co-working spaces while the opportunity to travel cheaply is available. Others plan to stay with their families until their companies are working in-person, saving on rent and other expenses in the meantime.
Upon receiving and accepting a job offer at Ed Farm, I initially planned to stay home until January 2021, when the company initially planned to return to the office. However, after some conversations with my family and the company, I moved up my planned move date to October (which will be another blog post itself). My first two months of full-time employment would be remote, and I needed to prepare for that.
To succeed in a startup environment, one has to be both nimble and stubborn. Flexible enough to tackle new challenges as they arise but stubborn enough to guard your time and energy against distractions. Remote working requires more of both of these qualities.
Preparing for remote work from home, I took over my family’s dining room table, setting up a sit-stand desk and an office chair and arranging the plants to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. After many tense conversations with my family, we’ve reached agreements about television volume and taking phone calls in the living room. I’ve grown very attached to my noise-cancelling headphones.
Remote working is a continual learning process, especially as you’re simultaneously navigating a new job role. You’re trying to learn branding standards while also figuring out whether it’s okay to call in from bed (my vote: it’s fine – just hide the PillowPet). Or you’re preparing an end of month report for your CEO while also helping your mother tackle laundry.
There’s benefits to remote working; I can quickly step outside to play fetch with my dog in between meetings, and I can live in pajama pants without anyone noticing. But the drawbacks are there too; I can’t brainstorm with peers over a casual coffee break, and my days are filled with Zoom meetings (resulting in Zoom fatigue) rather than true collaborative work.
Despite never meeting my bosses or coworkers in person, settling into a flow has not been a particularly difficult challenge. My coworkers are simply a Slack message away. The challenge is not facilitating communication but setting digital boundaries for myself. Not checking emails or Slack after hours, setting a limit on screen time, and using the Pomodoro timer method for scheduling breaks during the day.
For most of my fellow VFA Fellows, remote working likely isn’t going away soon. COVID-19 closures will continue as case numbers fluctuate, and many companies have found that they are still as productive, despite working remotely, as before COVID. The VFA Class of 2020 may become the first VFA Class (and young adults in the workforce, generally) to build careers that are partially or fully remote.
How exciting is that, to build the culture of the remote workforce upon graduating from college?
Deep breath in. Mhmmmmm.