Reflecting on two years of remote work

How much of sprawling diverse Houston can you fit in two days? With enough iced lattes and Topo Chico, quite a lot. After two years of remote work and nearly doubling in size, it was time for our team to get together at our home base of Houston, Texas.

January Advisors team at the retreat

In late March, our out-of-town team members gathered with us in Houston for a team retreat. David had the great idea to set their expectations and generate hype with a playlist. For many of us, it was the first time meeting each other face-to-face, and for some, their first visit to Houston. At the retreat, we heard from some great speakers (thank you Katie Laird of Black Sheep and Elizabeth Vann of the Rice Center for Civic Leadership!) and co-developed the core values of January Advisors.

But mostly, we ate. It’s tough to fit all the cuisine and culture Houston has to offer in two short days, but we did our best. Check out this map to see what we got up to.

Screenshot of google maps with pinned locations of january advisors retreat locations

January Advisors Nationwide

It’s been two years of remote work, and we’re not looking back. We’ve given up our museum district office, and used the flexibility of remote work to hire people across the country. Emi joined us from Michigan, Taylor from Colorado, and Gerard from New York. Through all of our Houston-based projects, these three probably know more about Houston politics and demographics than the average resident!

But we’re not all-Houston-all-the-time. Remote work has also given us the opportunity to collaborate with clients across the country. We’re studying evictions in Michigan, developing a strategic plan in California, mapping child care in Oregon, training social workers in Massachusetts, and so much more.

Forming New Remote Work Routines

How do we facilitate all of these remote connections? We upgraded our software suite. We use Zoom for meetings and Slack for chatting. Asana helps us manage tasks. We track time to help budget projects using Harvest. And we’ve leveled up our Github skills.

We also strive to maintain the social connections that can be lost when we’re not sharing a space. This means cookie deliveries for birthdays, one-on-one social meetings with each other, and Slack channels devoted to Recipes, Music, and Reading. Carly also organized a “notebook swap” for us. We’re all notebook enthusiasts with our personal favorite brands and styles. Carly bought one of each of our favorites, and sent it to a different team member. So now, we all get to step out of our comfort zone and try a vetted new notebook. Check out some of our favorites: Leuchttrum1917 and Baronfig.

StandApp Remains Crucial for Virtual Meetings

Our daily standup and sitdown check-ins have remained a key organizing force of our remote routine, and these meetings are still tracked by StandApp. StandApp has remained integral to our remote operations, and has undergone some improvements in the last year. Emi updated the app styling to give it a sleek modern look. David and I honed our data visualization skills with interactive charts. Now, with hover and click functionality on each chart, we can really drill deep into the patterns.

Screenshot of StandApp, the app used to track data on January Advisors' team meetings

We’ve also added some new charts to keep up with our ever-growing thirst for stats. The “dependency wheel” is a slick visual that really highlights the prolific Carly-Shannon Alliance (still unbreakable by the way – upheld in 517 of 533 meetings).

We also keep track of our “streaks” now, or string of continuous meetings in which we get the order correct without error. It’s something we’re not super good at. We mess up in about 1 in 5 meetings, or about twice weekly. Once, with a great deal of concerted effort, something remarkable happened and we went 53 meetings (over 6 weeks) without a misstep! I don’t expect we’ll ever reach these heights again, but it’s something we can look back on with a lot of pride.

We also have over a year’s worth of “fun” “facts.” Generously, only about 5 in 6 are fun, and even fewer are facts. Some of the team’s favorites are:

A hot second is shorter than a second but a hot minute is longer than a minute

Brian was having a cast removed from his wrist in the 5th grade. The nurse accidentally cut his shirt with the cast-removing saw. frazzled, she laid the saw down on the bench where it lacerated the seat cushion. More frazzled, she gave the saw to Brian’s dad, who successfully cut the cast off, as the doctor entered the room in shock.

Benjamin Button is not based on a true story, but a short story

David bought a case of fizzy water and it wasn’t fizzy at all

Brian has too many fruits in his house, and Carly has too few fruits in her house

Shannon used to tell people she was related to Aaron Carter for clout

We’re taking remote work as a silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s allowed us to grow our team and collaborations, and it frees up more time for life beyond work. Are you still working remotely? What strategies do you have for staying connected?

Shannon Carter

Shannon is a data scientist at January Advisors. You can follow her on Twitter @shan_k_carter