The Good, the Bad, and the Gchat: On Working Virtually

As I mentioned last week, my work for The Daily Muse doesn’t usually involve fun times with my co-workers—or any time with my co-workers. My work usually looks a little more like this —>

Admittedly, this picture was taken during a day that I did get to spend at our co-working space in NYC, but you get the idea. Just me and my computer, getting chummy. Starting last August, I have worked 10—and now 20—hours a week virtually, in various locations and states of dress (read: I don’t always look that cute).

There are a lot of things I love about working virtually. The biggest perk is that it’s continually given the the opportunity to work for a company I’m really excited about, but that is unfortunately not in the city I’m living in. When I first applied to The Daily Muse, I was a week away from moving to Copenhagen for a semester. I was worried they would turn me down because of my international situation, but they were completely on board. (Thank goodness.) Plus, I can pretty much work whenever, wherever, and wearing whatever I want. As your typical way-too-busy AU student, this is key.

But as great as it sounds not to have to show up in your best business casual every day, there’s a dark side to working virtually, too. The hardest thing for me has been not having face-to-face interaction with my co-workers. As I learned over the summer when I did get to work in person with them, my co-workers are pretty awesome, and face-to-face time leads to a lot of great things: socializing, brainstorming, coffee breaks, collaboration, happy hours, joking around, more coffee breaks. My managing editor and I try to mimic it by sending each other links to Editor Real Talk or pictures of cute puppies over Gchat, but it’s just not the same.

So, now that you know the best and worst of the matter, here are a few other things you should know if you’re thinking of picking up a virtual internship:

  1. If you aren’t a self-motivator, don’t do it.
    No, your boss won’t be watching you work over your shoulder, but that doesn’t mean you get to slack off—if you don’t do your work, your boss will still know. Take yourself to super-star intern level by regularly communicating the status of your projects to your boss, even if they aren’t due yet. It’ll make her life easier knowing what to expect from you (and reminding her that you’re doing good work never hurts you either).
  2. Get ready for an email explosion.
    All the assignment check-ins, quick questions for your boss, and little conversations you would have in the hall? Get ready for them all to be in your inbox. Long emails that replace presentations or team updates, short emails with quick questions about a project, just-in-the-subject-line emails for quick need-to-knows. We recently adopted a team chat service called HipChat that has relieved our inboxes some, but the amount of email you send and receive as a virtual worker is pretty absurd.
  3. If you can find a way to meet the people you work with, do it.
    Whether you can afford to take a trip to go meet them all, or Skype is the best thing you can do, find a way to spend a little time with your most immediate co-workers face-to-face. It’s kind of hard to really get to know someone over the internet, to get how you vibe with them. I worked with all of my co-workers over email and the phone for nine months, but didn’t feel like I really got to know them until I met them in person—and now I feel like I can interact with them all much better virtually. It’s nice to have a face, voice, and personality associated with the person on the other side of the email chain.
  4. Don’t be afraid to have a little virtual fun.
    When all your work is done via email, it can be easy to feel like every email you send has to be business related. News flash—it doesn’t. You have to find some way to virtually replace the break room (in fact, most of our breakroom content stems from the jokey emails and chats we send to each other). Obviously, this will depend on the level of professionalism within your organization and how well you know your co-workers—and you don’t want to spam people’s already crammed inboxes—but a fun email every now and then can be a good way to give everyone a quick break.

That’s all I got for now! Do you have any questions about working virtually, or tips from your virtual work experiences?

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