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Remote or Nothing

23 Sep 2019 - mrtn

In the last years, I transitioned from working full-time on-site to work remote for most of the time. Neither was this always easy, nor does this work for everyone. So please take everything with a grain of salt and have in mind, that these fews reflect my own observations working in the technology sector.

When you talk to people from different backgrounds what they think of remote work, the answers tend to vary quite a bit. Some think working from home (which means ‘remote’ for most), means that you’ll be available on the company messenger and make sure to get as much of the housework done before you clock out. Others will tell you that they can’t imagine doing anything remote, because they need to talk face-to-face with their colleagues to get anything done. Some may worry of not being able to stop working if work and home meld together. Of course, as with most things in life, the truth lies in the middle.

In the next few parapgraphs, I’ll give my opinion on some (perceived) drawbacks of remote work.

The drawbacks of remote work

Remote work is not real work - all you do is doing housework on company time!

Of course, all that ever happens in an office is absolutely efficient and value-driven hard work. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

All jokes aside, of course there will be days where you’ll be able to empty out the dish washer between two meetings or a conversation with the neighbour you pass by each other in the stairwell. But most people I work(ed) with are not lazy. People do actually want to work and achieve something. Of course, no one likes to do menial tasks all day long. But you’d be fascinated if you realize how many people sit in an office and browse reddit for 7.5 hours and go home afterwards, because the work they are doing isn’t challenging. If you keep challenging your employees with interesting, engaging problems (and trust them to solve them for you), they emptying their dishwasher will not seem to be a problem worth discussing.

I can’t do remote, I need to talk face-to-face for my work.

What happens if I tell you, that it’s not always necessary to get an immediate response and the full attention of anyone near you. Sometimes it’s even better if you can’t just go over to Jim and ask him how he deployed the application last time - because you just detected an information bottleneck. What happens if Jim gets hit by a bus on his way to work? (Please Jim, take a look in both directions before crossing the street!) So either you need this documented somewhere in writing. On the other hand, if it is already thouroughly documented: Why didn’t you just read it up and let Jim do his work instead? Interuptions can destroy carefully constructed thoughts and might burn through more time than you’d think. Although almost everybody has seen this already, have a link to the comic that explains interuptions from a programmers point of view.

Working remote is not for me - I need to separate work from home life

Valid and understandable notion. Before I had a dedicated space to do my work, I struggled immensely with this. The desk i worked at was the same desk I played games or made music at. This made it far too easy to “just check work emails once more” or underestimating the youtube recommendation algorithm and wasting an hour or two watching videos. The solution to this are probably as divers as people can be. For some it might not be a problem at all. One computer, one mobile phone, multiple uses. Other need separate devices or a room dedicated to do their work. The thing that did it for me (finally) was switching back to having separate phones. Completely separate. No private mails, messages or apps on the company phone and nothing work-related on my personal one. Without this separation, I’d catch me reading slack messages or drafting mails late at night, during lunch or at whatever place I was.

But what about meeting people? Isn’t it a bit lonely to be remote all the time?

It actually is important to go out from time to time. Meeting friends, taking a walk and have a chat with someone. Sure thing, it helps to relax and unwind - but this is not confined to an office location. But I have to agree that working remote might make it easier for yourself to stay in the comfort of your home and don’t come out if it isn’t necessary. So you should be aware of this and act accordingly.

The benefits

After investing quite some time in the (conceived) drawbacks of working remote, here are the key benefits that I discovered for me.

The most obvious one: No more commute. Don’t cram yourself in public transportation for at least an hour every day just to sit at another desk and do the same stuff you could be doing from anywhere else as well. This might be the time you need to finally get in shape, play more with your kids or enjoy with your partner! Don’t throw it away, make use of it!

Another thing that comes from working seperately from your team: Focus. Concentration. No one can walk over and interupt you in the middle of a thought. You are in control of notifications and are able to limit interuptions. Just make sure to be reachable if shit really hits the fan.

Another aspect to remote work is, that I learned to value time spent together with my colleagues more. If you have to make the conscious decision to meet up, everyone will make sure to get the most out of it.

One thing that also comes up a lot if you read about remote work is flexibility - be it when you do your work or where to do it. I can’t say too much about the when, because I usually stick to a certain schedule that I know that works. Not only for me, but also for the people I work with.

The conclusion

All things considered, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. I know how to work around the (biggest) pitfalls and don’t see any benefit in wasting time and resources just to work at another desk in another building.

In case you’re still interested, here have some links: