Relatively speaking, I’m a Remote n00b. I’ve been nearly fully remote for three and a half years — four if you count some time I spent as a part-time remote worker on the weekends and weeknights to help me understand what I needed to be successful.
I have written about working from home before, and I’m here to provide some contrast to what remote work looks like for me both as a total novice, and now a more experienced remote worker.
“It’s the greatest thing ever.”
That’s what I said then, and that’s what I’ll stick with. It has enabled so much freedom and saved so much time, money, and ego.
I’m going to rehash why I think it’s so great — these are the benefits of working remote. Then I’m going to talk about the things you need to do to maintain that excellent situation, based on personal experience and conversations with other remote workers; that’s the responsibility of a remote worker.
Low commute time — Commute time is the number one drag on any working person’s life; it’s something you do that provides you no value, your company no value, and has a nonzero risk of fatality. When you know what your time is worth, you can do a simple calculation to find the average amount of time you commute each year, then convert that time using your hourly rate to figure out exactly how much money you’re wasting in commute time. That’s time that can’t be unspent; time that can’t be allocated to recreation, or family, or even family recreation.
Lower costs — Not only do you save the cost of transportation in terms of daily commute (either in gas and maintenance for the car or tickets for public transit), but there are also a number of other costs you can avoid: expensive lunches out, an entire wardrobe of business casual clothes that you wouldn’t wear any other time, and the cleaning and care for that extra wardrobe.
More family time — Work is what I do to support my family. They are the priority in my life. Not having a commute means that I can spend my time on what I care about most while still being fully engaged and available to an organization. The only side effect is that there’s one fewer car on the road, and that benefits my community at large.
Wear whatever you like — I found it onerous to wear business casual clothing at work. I get that business casual looks “professional” to a lot of people, but I don’t agree with the idea that clothing is the measure of a person. When I’m at home, my code speaks for itself, and no one cares what I wear. The CEO for my current organization wears jeans daily to the office, and the office is a more relaxed and productive place for it.
Working outside — I never thought this would be of any importance to me. Before working from home, I spent nearly all my life indoors in climate-controlled rooms. In the spring and fall, however, working from the porch with a laptop has become part of my seasonal routine. Granted, a lot of the time I spend lost in the coding zone, largely unaware of my surroundings, but I know I’m getting fresh air and more vitamin D.
Working from other locations — My home office is pretty nice. Quiet, private, and decked out with everything I need in a way that no office cubicle could ever be. Sometimes, however, there’s a reason that being somewhere else is more convenient. The choice to work from anywhere there’s reliable internet gives you the opportunity to travel. This is a benefit I’ve not taken much advantage of, to be honest, but I’m grateful to have it.
Surgery recovery — I recently underwent shoulder surgery. Recovery has gone smoothly, but it was a couple weeks before I could really type with two hands, and I couldn’t drive even short distances for a month. Because I work from my home office, I was able to get back to productive after only a week off. If I had to go to a central office, I would have had to take medical leave for several weeks. I would have lost income, and the company would have lost my contributions. I count avoiding such a lose-lose as a win-win!
So yes, to the remote worker accrue immense benefits. I recommend that if it’s at all possible for you and your organization that you try it out to see if it’s something that works for you. I think remote work benefits for both the company and the employee outweigh the costs, but it’s not for everyone.
Because with great benefits, there are some costs. You see, someone out of sight could be doing anything. They could even be working, but because a business is always looking to maximize productivity and minimize expense, they remain vigilant to ensure their deployed capital is producing results. Even after you’ve proven yourself as a great remote resource, trust has a way of drifting, either through business staffing changes, perceived loss of productivity, or even people working against the proliferation of remote work (there are some who believe only in the co-working model). So let’s talk a bit about what you need to do to be an awesome remote worker.
You must be omnipresent. Companies that employ remote workers generally have a mechanism that shows when you are available. Whether it’s the little icon next to your name in the chat window saying you’re online and haven’t been away for a long period of inactivity, or its the convention in the culture where you announce when you’re there or when you’re leaving, there’s going to be a system for knowing when you’re available. If your cube farm job had you walking the floor hourly to hit the head or get a refill on water, and you were away, people stopping by would note it and come back later. If you’re remote and not available, the judgment can be a little more harsh. Be diligent about your presence. When you get a message in from your office, make sure you’re responding quickly to increase the trust that you’re always available.
You must be uberproductive and motivated. When I was a cube farm worker, I often sat in my cube feeling sorry for myself because I wasn’t happy about something. It could have been a contentious meeting, or a reorganization I didn’t like, or even an announcement that a project we’d been working was cancelled. On those days, I’d be unmotivated and wouldn’t get much of anything done. As a remote worker, you don’t get that opportunity. You’re producing or you’re not. The motivation has to come from within.
You will feel held to a higher standard. It may not be “fair”, but presence counts for something. Consider two workers producing the same value, one in the office and one remote. The office worker will be perceived as more valuable to the team. You must be productive enough to cover that difference in perception. You must be okay with not only the perceived gap, but also the extra effort to ensure it’s covered.
You must have co-worker camaraderie. Isolation can be a tough obstacle for remote workers. Used to being surrounded every day by folks talking about the fantasy football league, but now you don’t feel part of it? Private channels for bs’ing with your co-workers go a long way. It also helps if your teammates all get along and are generally chatty. Those times at the office where you bump into people at random and have a great little personal chat or come up with a new initiative for the company don’t happen, so you must find other ways to create those moments.
You must exercise. When you go to the office, you don’t realize how much you actually move. Walking to the car in the garage is nothing, but when you drive to work, park, walk to the front door, walk to the elevator, walk to your desk. Throughout the day, you walk to meetings, you walk to the cafeteria, you hit up the bathroom. At home, all that stuff is much closer. You don’t realize how much less you actually move. That’s time not spent being “productive”, but it is motion. You have to compensate from that or home, or your health will suffer. Find your way to do it, even if it means building a walking desk.
You must avoid the fridge. It’s part of remaining healthy. A lot of people say that they couldn’t be a remote worker, because they wouldn’t be able to keep away from the snacks. I’ll admit; I’ve not always had success with it. I keep out of the fridge by having my office really far from the kitchen. Once I’m in the zone, I’m not leaving for snacks. I keep a coffee pot nearby for go-go juice, but that’s about it.
You must communicate clearly and with humility. A serious downside of online communications is that the written word carries no context and no tone. It’s easy to misread. There’s no room for arrogance and sarcasm, because those sound terrible over a text-base messaging system. You also need to communicate more frequently than you think you should. You’re not getting the benefit of water cooler conversations and those random encounters on the way to the car, so you do have to reach out and remind people you’re there.
Be prepared to handle more of the after-hours calls. If you have the privilege of working remotely, and other’s don’t, off hours calls may fall to you. You can’t expect onsite team members to stay late away from their families, when you have so much extra time with yours. Even if they have remote access, be a team member and take the call. Their families are important, too.
You represent every remote worker. Sorry, this seems to be a problem with being a minority. There are so few people in this category that often you’re the only remote worker someone knows, and if you are professional, productive, and positive, that’s how they will see the entire remote workforce. If you let yourself get distracted, get unproductive, get complacent, or get distant, then you’re setting a negative stereotype for the other people who are being productive. Be an amazing member of the remote community, or admit that it’s not for you and head back to the office. Some people aren’t necessarily cut out for the remote lifestyle.
Being a remote worker is amazing. Remote workers cut a lot of the wasted fluff of an office day out. When you’re out of sight, you have to produce more just to appear equally productive. And that’s actually okay. That’s a benefit. Because producing, creating value, and being a maximally effective worker is what brings meaning to our work and fills our days with joy.
Remote or not, I wish you an amazing and productive day!