Today marks one month of being a remote worker for my employer. I’m still learning on how to be the most effective with this new environment, but I wanted to reflect on my experiences for anyone else considering this working arrangement.
Lets get this out of the way: its not all unicorns and rainbows. I think that was the biggest surprise to me. It seems like a dream to wake up, walk into another room of your house, work a few hours, and already be at home when 5 o’clock hits. For those expecting instant happiness – you will be slightly disappointed.
The reality is that, like most things in life, working from home is a mixed bag. For those looking to make the transition, consider the following issues:
Isolation can be a big problem, depending on your personality. I think this blow was softened because I am a software developer, and I am used to working with a computer more than people already. I have already cut my teeth on reduced interaction. What I do miss is the comradery in working in a team environment. You often have lunches with your co-workers, entertaining side conversations, and a million other things that contribute to the work culture. When you are working remotely, you exclude yourself from most of that, and it can be frustrating to feel like your avenue for interaction has been reduced.
Reduced visibility in the company is another disadvantage. I feel that I need twice the participation in communications just to prove that I really do still exist. You aren’t in the chatter loop anymore, so information may come to you seemingly out of the blue. Its important to remember that the company isn’t just swinging at things to see what sticks – they are in discussions that you aren’t part of anymore. There is something to be said for that office grapevine. I also get the feeling that I am quietly passed over when it comes to opportunities. The “online” indicator in a chat room isn’t the same as being a warm body in the room when it comes to picking a person for a job.
Getting into a rut in your routine is something that you have to constantly work against. While it seems so simple to sleep in one room, and work in the next, my mind craves more experiences in a day than the walls of two rooms of my house. Like it or not that soul-sucking commute, and those bleak off-white painted walls in the office provide some stimulation. I think it is key to be mobile. Work from a coffee shop for a day, or visit a local university, or other facility welcoming of guests, and providing free wi-fi.
Take your lunches out a few times a week, just to stay connected with the outside. You will be amazed to know that the rest of the world isn’t in a stasis. Things on the outside change. New restaurants open, roads get built, technology improves, books get published. Partake in the changes by going outside your house.
Join a meetup group for fun, or for professional development. In addition to providing networking, and keeping you up on the times, it is also and excuse to go have a few drinks with some peers.
Its not all gloom and doom, as there are some really positive things about working from home. Some of these you probably already know (and maybe even dream about!):
You will have a lot more time. Simply commuting is an average of two hours a day – 10 hours a week that you instantly get back. Also, if you cook at home for lunch, often you can use the remainder of your time to complete tasks mid-day instead of waiting until the end of the day when you are tired. I often do some laundry, or vacuum, take the dogs for a walk, sit outside and read my book, etc. My wife and I have a seven month old daughter, and every minute is precious to me. Having more time to spend with her is priceless.
There are cost savings to remote work, including reduced wear and tear on your car, and fewer fill-ups at the pump. I actually got to reclassify my vehicle as as “for pleasure” on our auto insurance, since it is no longer used for commuting and falls under the cap for average miles per year. Other savings include cheaper lunches (unless you go out) since you have a full kitchen at your disposal, and a thus are able to prepare a range of foods. You may find other savings including no more mid-day dog-sitters, saving on a parking spot, or public transit (just kidding – this is Atlanta!).
You will be hyper-focused. A co-worker once told me “an office is a great place if you don’t want to get anything done”. I understand what he meant by this now. Co-workers can be lots of fun, but when you are trying to buckle down and squeeze something in on a deadline, the office is the least likely place that is going to happen. I often get “in the flow” for 3-4 hour straight in a day when working from home. Its important that you recognize the speed you are working at, relative to your output before to understand how productive you are. The first week, I felt like I was moving in slow motion trying to adjust to the new environment, only to find that I had increased my work output. I would wager I am twice as productive in a day at home relative to a day in the office.
That being said – take frequent breaks. Your coworkers aren’t there to give your brain a break – so its up to you. I find it the most ethical to take breaks doing tasks I can relate to my work. I read HackerNews, read a technical book, or use the time to test out some new technologies. I have already been able to fold some of this exploratory knowledge back into the projects at work.
You are free to travel (and for extended periods!). Lots of people binge vacation, one or two weeks a year. When working remotely, you aren’t tied to a particular location anymore. As long as you have a laptop, access to the Internet, and power, you can be anywhere in the world. My wife and I are gearing up to spend a month in St. Augustine, Florida. I will work during the day most of the time, taking only a few PTO days. After 5pm, or when the weekend hits you are already in the middle of vacationing. The best part is that the month long vacation schedule is one you can physically sustain, with plenty of rest between the activities.
The final benefit I will mention is being able to set your own schedule. You can’t get carried away, especially if your employer enforces office hours. But if you need to take lunch earlier, or later, you can. If you need to step away from the computer for a few minutes to handle something, you can. There is trust that has to occur between employer and employee, but in my experience, your employer is most concerned with work output. It is a loaded gun to know that you are being entrusted to operate with almost total autonomy. You no longer have the eye of an overseer watching your every movement, which is a liberating feeling. Just get what you need to get done, and don’t go crazy with power!
So far, I am loving it. I have heard mixed reports of people adapting to working remotely. Some people crawl on hands and knees begging to come back to the office, and some people work remote the rest of their career. I think it comes down to your particular personality. If you are like me, you just have to try something to know if it works for you. This is one gamble I am glad that I took.
For anyone seriously considering a teleworking gig, I would highly recommend a few resources that helped me get started. First first is a short post like this one from Kyle-Kulyk. I don’t touch on it, but he makes a great observation about how working from home will affect your relationships with significant others. Benefits of, and managing your new teleworking lifestyle can be found in the 4 Hour Work Week. This book contains lots of great resources for how to negotiate a remote work arrangement, and tips for extended travel. Finally, Joel Gascoigne has some great pointers for keeping yourself mentally happy during this big transition.