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5 Tips for DBAs on Working Remotely

For many professionals who've never had the chance to try it, full-time remote work might seem like pure upside—even luxurious. On days when rush hour commutes, shared fridge space, and raucous office mates threaten to overwhelm, who wouldn't prefer the option of settling into a spacious, at-home desk, with the family dog snoozing at one's heels? But like any logistical detail of a job, working remotely comes with its own unexpected challenges. This is especially true for people whose roles are highly variable, sensitive, and central to an organization's ability to function, such as database administrators'. The flexibility and liberty that come with remote work have their trade offs, which can quickly offset some of the benefits. Solitude, monotony, imperfect communication, and wavering morale are all potential symptoms of a remote work space. On top of that, every job is molded by human interaction, for good or ill. No matter how technical or digitized one's tasks, an organization always relies on humans working, growing, and succeeding together. How's that best accomplished if all human contact is filtered through speakers and screens? Of course, over the last few years, advancements in tech and workplace philosophies have made remote work more common, accepted, and even necessary than ever before. Communication tools like Slack and Hipchat allow teams to sync whenever necessary; project management platforms like Asana make team organization a snap; and the growing popularity of SaaS-based solutions have enabled access to organizations' systems for the workers who need it, whenever and wherever necessary. As we have talked to more users and teams, we've been struck by just how many DBAs do their jobs remotely, away from their organization's central offices. As of writing this blog post, a quick search returns nearly three-hundred "remote DBA" job openings currently listed. The possibility for remote work has skyrocketed, most naturally and notably for experts in technical disciplines. Global Workplace Analytics reports that the number of workers who telecommute increased by nearly 80 percent from 2005 to 2012. This increase was especially high among workers in state government, where telecommuting increased by 122 percent. The overall diversity of telecommuting positions is also increasing, according to FlexJobs. Their website maintains a list of the 20 most popular telecommuting roles, which currently includes engineers, systems analysts, software developers, and graphic designers. These professionals typically must make significant adjustments to successfully transition from a traditional office environment to working from a remote location.  With these trends in mind, we want to offer 5 general tips for remote work, which we hope will be especially valuable to the DBA community.

1. Communicate with Your Team

Light, personal interaction with teammates may seem trivial, but it's essential for building morale, clarifying communication, strengthening relationships, and creating a sense of loyalty, which flows both ways. A cheerful rapport can be more difficult to maintain when working remotely, since you won't be talking to your coworkers in the break room, will have fewer opportunities to casually compliment a new haircut, and will be unable to go for a decompressing walk and commiserate after a stressful meeting. It's therefore important to take the extra steps to forge strong bonds with the people you rely on professionally, so working together isn't purely transactional or situational. Today's technology makes this easier than ever, but just installing an app doesn't satisfy the gestures of friendship and camaraderie—these still depend on your taking the steps to reach out, not being aloof, showing genuine interest, and emotionally engaging with your team. Depending on your personality, this might take even more effort than usual, but pays off in the long-term.

2. Manage Your Energy

Workers in a traditional environment often spend a fixed number of hours in the office. They can't help but note how their time is structured, naturally and cleanly divided as "at home" vs. "at work."  However, when in a remote position, you'll frequently need to take conscious, deliberate steps to manage your energy; the lines between work, leisure, and even family can blur when you're able to transport into your career—and all the emotional complications it involves—just by opening your laptop. A common strategy for energy management is to codify simple rituals and habits. Make a 15-minute morning walk a routine. Treat yourself to a pastry down the street every Monday. Always meditate at noon. The primary challenge with energy management is sticking to a schedule despite other demands of working remotely. Such management is especially pertinent to DBAs, as the nature of their jobs can already involve extreme work hours, depending on the behavior of the database. Don't be afraid to set limits for yourself, assert the time you need for your own health and happiness, and push for the adoption of solutions that can help resolve and isolate issues. 

3. Streamline Productivity

Streamlining productivity is one of the most critical methods of reducing barriers to successful remote work. In an office, a problem might be resolved by a simple two minute detour to a colleague's desk and a chat about an unclear detail or work flow. In the realm of remote work, however, that same conversation might require a series of carefully crafted emails, a calendar invite, and a glitchy Google Hangout session, just to arrive at the same conclusion. A degree of exhaustion can accompany even the most casual attempt to "sync." With that in mind, a remote worker can bypass major strains on energy by setting up preferred systems for accomplishing work and communicating. Organization is of paramount importance and might include the smallest of details, such as always keeping a backup drive in the same place.  One of the great upsides of remote work is the license to personalize your space with absolute authority; take that opportunity to make the space your kingdom, as personally efficient as possible. If you work best with a stereo blaring at full blast, turn up your music in a way that would chaotic in an office. If you need to do jumping jacks every hour to keep blood flowing, don't hesitate to break a sweat.

4. Take Pride in Your Work

Remote workers have fewer opportunities to casually chat with colleagues and managers; conversations are often task-focused, time-bound, and somewhat formal. As a side effect, there are fewer chances for a coworker to tell you how much he or she appreciates how you do your job or how much you helped with a given project. DBAs in particular work in an intense, specialized environment, constantly fixing issues... and regularly saving the day. It's a job that can sometimes feel thankless already. Fewer boosts and less praise doesn't make the job any less vital or your team any less gracious, but vocal, emphatic feedback is important for virtually everyone.  A remote worker may need to make special efforts to maintain a feeling of accomplishment. A clear understanding of the impact your efforts have is crucial for maintaining productivity and performance. Make a special effort to celebrate accomplishments, especially with other members of your team, when possible. Talk about how you spend your day with non-coworkers too; tell family and friends about your job and let them know what you manage to accomplish in your own remote domain. This way, when you do get a chance to spend time with other members of your team or visit the office, you feel like a genuine, key player in the success of the company—not a stranger or tourist.

5. Persevere

Perseverance is often more important to success than any other personal attribute, including talent and education. However, in a remote environment, it can be difficult to maintain, due to the mental discomfort that almost always occurs when learning a new task or adjusting to a new scenario. One of the best ways to persevere through such a process is to focus on the next step, especially when a task requires long gestation, complicated execution, and delayed gratification. It’s also important to think about the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel after finishing a project, and it's vital to take a global, long-term view of your work, which can lend a boost through the sense of one's work being a journey, culminating in an eventual, satisfying arrival. 
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