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Jeremy Friesen
Jeremy Friesen

Posted on • Originally published at on

Orienteering in the Time of Remote Work

Or Navigating without One of Your Senses

On I joined Forem as the Lead Engineer of Context Experience. My duties involve contributing code, managing developers, and managing the deliverables of the content experience pod.

, I called my mom and we got to talking. Just hearing her voice helped me immediately develop an analogy to explain the condition I was feeling.

Sharing a Bit about My Mom

My mom has a degenerative eye disease, resulting in progressive deterioration of her vision. These days she is almost completely blind.

, she moved to Vietnam. There she worked as a disabilities advocate, helped develop social work programs at universities, and most recently helped address the systemic problem of infant onset blindness.

she moved back to Indiana. She got herself a small apartment near a grocery store. She’s maintained her independence: going for walks, buy groceries, and indulging in a chai latte.
Though I sometimes go to the grocery store on her behalf; and always pick her up a chai latte.

she’s moving to a retirement community. She’ll still maintain her independence, but will now have a much larger support network.

One thing she’s done has been to practice orienting to her soon to be new home. For her to make sense of space requires an approach different from what I, her sighted son, would take.

Remote Work is a Bit Like Losing a Sense

Just hearing my mom’s voice helped me develop an analogy to what I’ve been experiencing in beginning my work at a fully remote company. It is kind of like I’ve moved somewhere but don’t have access to one of my senses to help me orient and navigate.

At all of the other places that I’ve started work, my first day always involved sitting down at a desk amidst the desks of other coworkers. Maybe the team would take me out for dinner.

If I noticed a team member getting up with their laptop (or in the early days a pad of paper), I could take note. Maybe they were going to a meeting. I wonder what was that meeting? Was it something that might be relevant?

Or two other people might be standing up at their cubicles and quietly talking to each other. It’s almost impossible not to notice. And if I stood up, they might turn and greet me or simply continue their private conversation.

So now, going to an all remote and asynchronous organization, I have the feeling of missing one of my senses: the “Office-sense” skill if you will. Fortunately, my team members at Forem are lots of things to accommodate my lost of “Office-sense.”

There’s extensive documentation and lots of wayfinding tools. There wonderful people reaching out to check in and introduce themselves and schedule Zoom time with me.
If you’re going to Zoom a lot, please turn off your self-view. Trust me. It will improve your experience. Even though I like staring at myself talk, I’d rather look at the person speaking without distraction of that stranger I only ever see in mirrors.


I’m closing in on my second week.
I took a week of vacation last week.

In drawing forth this analogy, I’m also trying to observe what we might improve or refine. And there’s nuance. As a manager, there’s even more context to absorb than were I a contributor.

I want to be mindful in my observations and contextualize them to my experience and not accidentally spark a policy/procedure change that addresses one person’s experience. But also not discredit it nor suck it up.

Having long walked with my mom holding to my elbow, I’m always looking out for those bumps in the pavement to help guide her around. As I continue my on-boarding, and shift towards contributing I’m trying to take notes, submit recommendations for changes, and marveling at how well the team at Forem is doing to make me feel welcome and helping to keep the dis out of orientation.

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