Amber Luong, Head of Partnerships, New York

Amber

When I login at 8, it's already 5:30 in the evening in India. My teammates are edging towards the end of their working day. As I log in to Tandem, and connect with my team on video chat for our daily standup, I am reminded of the early 2000s when I worked in finance, where people would correspond across the globe regularly using emails and (non-smart) phones, and we couldn't even put a face to the names. Back then, video calls were never used for routine correspondence - only for the important committee meetings involving senior management from across the globe. In fact, we interacted with so many people we hadn't met in person that a usual source of amusement at work would be to pull up their company directory photo during a call to at least visualize who we were talking to.

By the time I joined Blue Sky in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, the world had shrunk considerably. Video calls became the norm, and everyone was connected to every corner of the world in some way or another. Remote conferences and webinars proliferated, opening access to contacts and information previously behind the paywalls of expensive flights and access fees. The pandemic came at a time when everyone had the means to connect, yet had been mostly sticking to old ways of operating. It was as if it came to deliberately topple the established working order and reinvent it for good.

It was the pandemic, Blue Sky was in India, and I was in NYC— it was going to be remote from day one. Interestingly, had there been no pandemic, I would have been the only one connecting remotely to the team. It’s been a totally different experience than it would have been since we are all in the same situation now. I open Slack and instantly get updated on what is happening and what everyone else is doing. Leveraging the tools for remote working like Slack has been crucial, because given the difference in time zones, it allows for easy asynchronous communication.

Guilty pleasures: I find it entertaining to see who shows up as “active” on slack at weird hours, so I know who the night owls are in the team (spoiler alert: most of our tech team).

For most of my career, my jobs have had a global element, so the time zone crossing is not new, but the way we now rely on tools for “seeing” each other virtually and interacting makes a huge difference in building relationships, especially the tools that allow for more spontaneous and informal interactions. In that way, I am one of the weird people who likes Zoom because I get to see people reacting in real time and am also endlessly entertained by people's zoom backgrounds.

A retreat with the team
A retreat with the team

For all the advantages of remote working though, I do believe you need in-person connections periodically for team building and effective communication. We organize quarterly retreats at Blue Sky for this reason - it’s a time for everyone to work and socialize with faces they otherwise see only behind the screens. One of the hardest things about the pandemic was that I couldn’t travel to India to meet everyone on the team until early 2021. And I hope to meet everyone again very soon.

A catch up session on Tandem
A catch up session on Tandem

It’s 9 am in the morning in the quiet residential area where I live, while it’s 6:30 pm in the evening in India, and I remind myself again that I am in NYC. There is a 9.5 hour time difference between where I live and where the majority of my colleagues are based. Only remote working could have made this impossible scenario possible.

I spent 15+ years working in office environments and building core team relationships in person, and everything suddenly changed in front of my eyes. For that reason, it was harder for me to adjust than a lot of my younger colleagues, but it was totally worth the initial struggles with all the various platforms we use. I am at my home, in my country. The scope is unlimited. I open Tandem, and there is a catch-up session going on. I start my video, and thumbnails of cheerful faces start popping up. And in one instant, all the borders disappear. I am at home.