How Remote work has affected me
I’m writing this while lying on the living room floor with a pillow under me. This is a practice I developed while working through some chronic pain. I was unable to sit for long periods, and I didn’t have a standing desk (and standing doesn’t work as well as laying down for me). I find that it provides me with a nice, low intensity shoulder workout, stretches some of the muscles that form when I’m hunched over a computer while sitting, and let’s me flop over when I want to think. This is not something I would want to do at the office. There’s no room, it would be awkward for myself and everyone around to explain the situation, and the carpet feels less welcoming than the living room carpet.
There are other things that I do regularly at home that I could not do at an office including: - playing loud music through my studio monitors - using my giant TV as a computer monitor without worrying about people seeing what I’m working on, - Turning off the “is anyone looking over my shoulder?” background process - noodling on my piano while I’m thinking - practicing scales during meetings that I don’t need to be in (if you were my employer, know that I never did this at your company) - running in the middle of the day (and not having to worry about being sweaty next to my coworkers) - eating leftovers. This may sound like a small thing, but being able to go to the fridge and eat whatever is there has its benefits. - working from new locations
Most of those are pretty idiosyncratic, and likely do not apply to most people, but I do want to talk about the last point a bit more. I have family overseas, and being able to visit them without taking a vacation means that I get to visit them more often; moreover this doesn’t just apply to family that is across the globe. I have been able to spend much more time with my parents and my extended family because they are a full day’s travel away - I can’t make it over there for a weekend.
As I began visiting family more, began to feel more confident in my abilities to get work done regardless of location. I’ve worked from malls, grocery stores, planes, trains, busses, beachside cafes, ski lodges, churches, rooftops, highway shoulders, and airports. All of these come with different challenges and benefits. The greatest common benefit is freedom. And sometimes, I am less productive in these places, and that requires me to work more. Your mileage may vary, but I see that as the price to pay for the freedom that is earned.
It must be noted that there are a few perks that I have experienced from offices that I do not get at home: - Prepared meals - in-person interaction with my colleagues - The ability to forcibly impose my presence on someone (this was very useful when I was an annoying intern - I’m sorry and thank you)
Working remotely does get lonely, though I think it is easier for those of us who grew up socializing in the digital world as much or more than we socialized in the analog world. And there is another aspect of remote work which I can only describe as cabin fever - I have never experienced this when working at an office. When working remotely, I have often spent days inside, and it affects my mental health. There is something about the commute to work which helps to moderate this feeling. I have found that going on runs or reading outside work as ways to manage this.
How remote work has affected businesses
Sports massages, hair cuts, pedicures, and accupuncture cannot be done remotely - some businesses are not set up to be successful when doing remote work. However, those are not the people who file into glass towers in downtown; nearly all of those workers could be remote. Now, imagine for a moment that all of that real estate was no longer used as office space - this would not only free up capital for business, but it would free up space in cities for people. Lots of people are leaving the bay area during lockdown because they are not seeing the benefits of living in such an expensive area. I predict that many of these people will not return - this is a huge benefit for the places that these people do go in the form of taxes, consumer spending, and idea/talent sharing.
The most common failure of remote companies is going half way. If you are going to be a remote company, you need to commit. Partially remote companies create nexuses of politics and power that degrade the performance of remote employees - note that this is not because they are less competent but because they don’t know what’s going on. However, offices are expensive, and if you can make the switch to remote work, you may free up a lot of cash.
Businesses that are successful with remote work get to pull from global talent pools which usually translates to better employees at lower costs. Keep in mind, though, that having a company that operates globally makes meetings very challenging and introduces latency into your processes. In order to handle this, you either need people who are willing to work at all hours (these people do exist), or you need highly competent managers who can make sure that things run smoothly across time zones.
Maintaining culture is very hard at fully remote companies. If everyone is in the same office, it is much easier to adjust the office to facilitate culture. The best ways that I’ve seen for maintaining cohesion and culture while working remotely is to have remote events coupled with in-person meetings. The in-person meetings ought to be infrequent, but focuseed on being together - attendance should not be optional. Remote events can be much more ad-hoc and informal. Things like playing games online together or having beers over a video call.
How remote work has affected relationships
Working remotely has strengthened relationships with my extended family and made me a more pleasant person to be around. Despite being far from my coworkers, I have built very close relationships with many of them. A few of them have even let me stay in their homes during my travels.
Overall, being allowed to be remote has had a positive impact on my relationships. It has allowed me to design the way I work and play to be highly optimized to my own personal needs and desires, and allowed me to improve my relationships.
Working from non-office spaces can be pretty challenging because it’s easy to remember that the laundry needs to be done when you are sitting next to it. There are two methods that I’ve used for this: 1. Separate the spaces. If you have a dedicated space for work - even if it’s just tape on the floor, the cognitive effect of being somewhere else can be very helpful 2. Use headphones. I have found that I prefer a certain cadence of music while I’m working, and listening to certain styles of music for work has helped me focus in the past
I also have a theory that you could use other senses as well, but I have not tested it extensively. I am a very sound-driven person, so music works well for me. Others that I know are heavily driven by smell and touch. It may work for you to burn a candle (smell), wear certain clothes (feel), or chew gum (taste) while working. Creating a separate space covers the sense of sight.
There is another, unspoken rule here which is - do work that you’re proud of. Many of us do not have the luxury of recruiters emailing us constantly about new jobs that we could jump to. To the extent that you do have that flexibility, if you find that you just cannot make yourself care about your work. You may have found an indication that you could try something else. It is important to remember that all jobs get boring sometimes, and for that I use music.
There are some people who find it very challenging to work remotely because they do not get enough interaction with people. I have found that meetups and communities are a good solution to this. Many of these communities are still around, and doing online get-togethers now. Other than that, spending time with family and friends who are in close proximity to you should help.
If you still find that you want more interaction with your coworkers, try to schedule a few informal calls with them. I try to schedule time with people I work with to just say hello and catch up.
Lonliness is especially acute when traveling extensively, and learning to meet people at bars and coffee shops is a must. Many places have coworking spaces, even if they’re small towns - these also tend to be good places to meet people, though they can also be expensive.