The 12th Man

In football (or soccer, as known collectively around the world), there is a term of phrase called “the 12th man” which refers to, in a nutshell, the fans in attendance at the football game.

The 12th man, being a collective entity, is technically invisible and only ever seen in snippets when the TV coverage pans to a small group of fans; either going emphatically crazy with passion, or with the shadows of dark clouds en-circling their heads in dread and glum, depending on how the results affect their team. However, the 12th man is heard, always, and collectively. The 12th man is so important, pundits, fans, ex-players, and in fact anyone with a connection to football at all, unanimously agree that the 12th man is the most powerful asset to any team.

I am that 12th man. Partly because I’m an avid football fan and travel great distances to watch my favourite team play, but mainly because in my job, I am never seen, but always heard.

All About Me

My name is Callum Hopkins. I live in the North East of Scotland, and I am Scottish born and raised. I work for a web specific agency called Lean Labs which are based in North America and have staff who are spread across the Great Plains of the US and even into Costa Rica. All of us work remotely, with myself being the only UK based member of the team currently. I have never worked remotely before, I have only worked in agencies and offices in the nearby city of Aberdeen, with a team ranging from 4-8 members of staff. It’s what I am used to. I’ve never spent much time working freelance where I communicated solely by email, and have never had much experience working on projects with online participants. In addition, my colleagues’ timezones range from 6-8 hours behind my standard GMT timezone.

Hopefully this helps to give you an insight into how much of a leap it was moving into a role where I would literally be on an island. I chose to continue working a 9am-5pm shift so that my general day-to-day life would not need a complete upheaval. As a result, for almost 6 hours everyday, I am left alone with the expectation of my production manager signing in online to check-up with me incase there is anything I need for today’s task list. Occasionally, some members of the team are working late, or early hours, and will have an overlap with me. Between 2pm – 4pm is when the majority of the team come online and by 4:30pm everyone is usually online on a normal day’s routine. I tend to logoff about 5:30pm or maybe 6-6:30pm if there are some tasks I want to finish before I end my day and, where I can prevent it, I don’t return to my laptop to continue working at night. In addition, I will occasionally have late night chats with the team if we require a meeting, but these are usually scheduled to suit my time management plans, as well as everyone else’s.

I love this.

You may be surprised by this statement, but it’s true. Anyone who has worked with me in a studio before, will testify that when I work, I tend to blank out the world, traditionally with headphones. Now this isn’t anything new, a web developer blocking outside distractions with music is so cliche that it borderlines being stereotypical. However, I’m someone who believes that if you are talking, discussing or taking part in any general verbal musing with people, your attention should be solely on them (or the group in participation) and them alone. As a result, most of the time, I tend to make conversations short when I don’t have the time, or the attention, to speak to people, offline and online. So to have 6 hours of blissful un-interrupted time where I can focus solely on completing each day’s task list is something I hold dearly for my own sense of productivity. I like to think that my peers have noticed at least a decent and respectable level of productivity as a result.

With this timeframe, I know I have conformable windows to work as I please with the aim being to cross off the tasks I have lined up for myself. Then, when the other team members start to come online, I am comfortable to take some time away from the unbreakable concentration I have had for the past 6 hours, to participate in team meetings and one-on- one conversations. Comparing my current role to those in previous agencies, previously there was no guarantee that I would have 6 hours where I could solely concentrate on work without distractions or tasks suddenly being assigned to myself that needed immediate attention. It is truly a gift to have this advantage now.

Talking Heads

“But converse”, I hear you cry, “Surely daily small talk is pining?”. Yes, it’s occasionally missed, however, I now have the fortunate scenario where the friends I tend to spend most of my leisurely time with haven’t worked in the same office with me. Of course, a few break this hold, but in general, my socialising routine hasn’t changed at all. When I worked in an office, I was so drained from the early morning commutes and battling the evening rush to get home, that by the time I finally got there, I didn’t have the correct mind frame, nor the energy to do any after work socialising, unless there was a special reason to do so. The other advantage with working from home is that any tasks that need to be done round my place of residence, can be started immediacy after I’ve signed off for the day.

Alternatively, these can even be started during my normal working day because I can work later to “make up” for the time spend tending to these household tasks. There is a sense of freedom, and comfort being surrounded and immersed in a working environment which I have built and optimised to suit my tastes, rather than a generic vanilla style studio office, optimised to suit everyone equally. It’s selfishness that drives this preference, but ultimately, selfishness is needed to strategise how to get the best out of yourself.

For general day to day conversations, I am always able to (and indeed take full advantage of this) speak with my work colleges online, as if we were all sharing an office together. In addition, I live with my better half and she always has a sympathetic ear to allow me to outpour all my social outbursts for the day. Furthermore, I practically live on twitter, which has always been a huge part of my socialising even when I worked in an office, and so my use of this has not changed for social purposes. I strongly believe that the added benefits for working from home, is much greater than the sacrifice of smalltalk and constant companionship that comes with working with colleagues in an office.

Culture Shift

Moving into my third month now, I am beginning to notice my increasing exposure to American culture, and even American based western business practices, and this is exciting. The US and its businesses go about their work differently to the UK, it’s very much a welcomed change, a breath of fresh air. It’s exciting to see first hand how American based businesses have such a different attitude to the internet and web based solutions, in fact, I think I quite prefer it. As a developer, I really appreciate and enjoy my role where I am allowed to just develop, with a project manager to handle my workflow in the larger scheme of the company and manage clients with requests.

This filters the simple to-dos to me, a process which helps me streamline my work much better. I have had to learn to properly manage and prepare all the necessary details and data I need for the next days work. If I wish to have a productive day, I have learned that I need to inform team members the night before of any information or details I may require for the next day. This was something completely new to me, as I was used to morning catch ups where I could access everything I needed that day whilst waking up to a cup of tea and a chat. Preparing the tasks the day before quickly became a routine though, and has paid off in the long run.

Suits Me

Working remotely is very different from freelance, as you still have all the responsibilities, demands and expectations of working in an office. In cases like mine, you also cannot simply organise a meeting in a nearby cafe or coffee shop with the client or team member. In addition, you have to aim to be as productive as responsibly expected; there is a team which rely on you to do what they expect, you cannot just apply yourself when you feel up to it or suits you best. It’s a demanding role.

For me, working remotely suits me down to the ground, I love the village I live in and working as a web developer, so combining both of these, is a joy. Removing myself completely from the hectic daily commute is a joy to behold, I have a boss who I still need to report to, who asks things from me and expects results, those things do not change and I’m kind of glad they haven’t.

However now, I can wear casual clothes to work, sit in the morning and relax for an hour before I log on to start work, can control the heating to suit my temperature, vent my anger verbally without anyone over hearing (apart from my neighbours), can move from my desk to my sofa and back as many times as I like, (and my personal favourite) I don’t have to wear uncomfortable shoes all day. These are all little tiny perks that remind me why I love my role and working environment.

Becoming the 12th man has changed my life and career. It’s something I would definitely recommend to those who are confident in their ability to succeed in a remote role. It’s hard and will test your ability as a person to handle it, but to me the role’s demands are absolutely worth it.

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