Remote Work is like being in a Wes Anderson submarine

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When I began working in an all-remote company, I noticed how quiet it can be. There’s no headquarters-y din of noise in the hallways or cafeterias or walkways. It kind of reminded me of the quiet you’d find if you worked in a marine biology expedition submarine — and then I thought of Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic (2004). I then started wondering if there really are submarines out there that are dedicated to marine biology expeditions and realized … uuuuh, unlikely.

How is remote work like being in a Wes Anderson submarine? It’s similar in that you feel like you’re in some form of alien world, with lots of weird colors and strange emojis 😎🦎🌋, and it can be so quiet all the time. It’s also isolating in many ways because you lack constant face-to-face contact with co-workers. That said, it’s a unique paradigm that has many upsides that far outweigh the downsides as I noted in the 2018 Design in Tech Report.

In order to communicate and align folks, I make a lot of handcrafted videos. Recently I’ve started to build more timezone awareness as it’s easy to get biased to one’s own spacetime coordinates. Closed-captioning all of my videocast is something I’d love to do but I’m waiting for AI to help that job get done for me, especially after noticing what G-Suite and MS Office can now do with auto-captioning ..

Ever since I started working in an Anderson submarine, I’ve made most of my internal avatars include a red knit cap. The reason behind the red cap is that I’ve long admired the tenacity of the captain character of Life Aquatic, Steve Zissou. And so I digitally remove different versions of Zissou’s hat to place on my own head whenever I choose a new avatar photo — and that’s why it looks a little bit unnatural and slightly off in my current one. I’m also a huge Bill Murray fan so I consider it a strong, if odd, nod — and if just to solidify an indirect connection to him that I shared in the May 2016 issue of Esquire.

May 2016 Esquire [full page] [cover]

Zissou’s mission is to reveal to the world what is believed to be a mythical deep sea animal known as the “Jaguar Shark.” He’s been ridiculed professionally for talking about the Jaguar Shark as if it were real, and he’s mocked for making it his life’s goal. And over time his faithful team has begun to cease believing in his life mission, and instead they start to see it as possibly just a fool’s errand.

I think of Life Aquatic as a good metaphor for life as a creative person. You’re always hunting for a Jaguar Shark out there that you know may exist. And you rush into it all illogically, and with audacity. And then when you come upon it, you know you can no longer just be audacious — and instead you must switch to having courage. You must then pursue it with all your wherewithals. The possibility for failure goes way, way up! That’s what makes the hunt for the jaguar shark extra special and fun — it’s the impossibility of it all: the adventure. —JM