What I’ve Learned from Working “Extra” Remotely

by Dieyun Song
Published July 23, 2020

The pandemic has made working remotely a norm for most. The Pacific Ocean and 6,000+ miles, however, have made my work “extra” remote since I’m halfway across the globe in Beijing. I coordinate with colleagues in three time zones, including EDT, CDT, and PDT. Although I’m 15 hours ahead of California, living in the “future” is not really an advantage. My first task every day is to catch up with hundreds of Ryver (our communications software) messages at once, which can be overwhelming. I also feel the responsibility to be extra-productive to avoid delaying my colleagues’ workflow. My

A laptop featuring the WE1S logo sitting on a table. Next to it are a cup of tea and a decorative plant
Dieyun’s workspace in Beijing

thoughtful colleagues and mentors, though, have made this experience as smooth and enjoyable as possible by accommodating my schedule, meeting with me individually (a special shout-out to my Project Manager, Ashley Hemm), and sending me random check-in messages. Here are my three biggest take-aways from this experience. Hopefully they are useful for you.

Write frequently and effectively
Words are comforting when conference calls aren’t always convenient. To bridge the asynchronous workflow, I set up a daily worklog to update my team on what I’ve done and my schedule for the next day. Because I cannot communicate with my colleagues as frequently as if I were in the US, I try to write as clearly and with as many details as I can. My goal here is to deliver legible, accurate information, including URLs and asking a few specific, small questions instead of one complex question. I also read Ryver discussions more carefully to keep myself updated on recent development.

Dieyun smiling with a greenscreen background of a fancy swimming pool
Dieyun during an early/late Zoom meeting

Ask as soon as questions arise
While working with a team, I especially value maximizing collaborative output. This means strategizing resources and collaboration to make timely progress. Asking questions then becomes vital. I ask questions about everything I’m unsure of, and I reach out for help on most technical challenges I don’t have the knowledge for. With Summer Camp being only five weeks long, it is more effective to get help from someone who already has the technical knowledge than to explore in the dark by myself. I also update those who’ve helped me when the issues are resolved. It’s just a nice thing to do, and it’s always a great feeling when you know you’ve helped someone.

a painting of a vase filled with sunflowers sitting on a sunny windowsill
A painting that Dieyun and her mother recently completed

Keep your motivations

Working individually and remotely demands discipline, focus, and motivation. Working remotely is hard, and it’s unreasonable to expect roboticproductivity and enthusiasm all the time. I like to end my day in the middle of a task and leave it for tomorrow. Starting my day by doing something I’m familiar with gives me a jump-start and makes me more confident for the rest of the day. I mute work-related notifications after I complete my weekly tasks. Creating some distance from work and filling the space with what I enjoy, such as painting, learning Arabic, and having a delicious dinner at my grandma’s, recharges me and makes me look forward to my work when a new week begins.

Dieyun Song is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Miami. She loves interior design and painting. When she’s not working on WE1S tasks this summer, you can probably find her catching up with Westworld and rewatching Veep (for the 7th time in 2020).