The Joys and Pains of Working Remotely
As a software developer for 15+ years, I spent a lot of time working remotely. Sometimes it was for my own projects, but the majority of that time was for employers. Working remotely usually sounds like a dream for many, and while it does have perks, there are definite downsides as well. The following examples are things I’ve learned over the years. I’d love to hear any other tips you might have in the comments as well.
Joy: No More Morning Commute!
I can’t lie, skipping the commute above all things is probably my favorite benefit of working remotely! This is, oddly enough, a reason why I love living in an RV so much. Being in an RV affords the opportunity to skip the rush hour grind in favor of relaxed mornings and planned trips at the least busy times of the day/week. Working remotely means you don’t have to do any of that either.
For those of you lucky enough to work remotely and do the RV thing, it’s the best of all worlds. There is a hidden downfall in this though: if you are late to an early morning meeting online, everyone knows it’s likely because you overslept your alarm. It’s usually pretty hard to hide that fact too when you get on camera looking like you just rolled out of bed. I’m usually up pretty early, so I haven’t struggled much with this personally, but have seen it happen more than a few times. If you’re a late morning sleeper / alarm snoozer, I recommend getting a good alarm or setting multiple and making sure you don’t get greedy taking advantage of that extra sleep time.
Pain: It’s Easy to Work too Much
When you’re in an office, there are pretty clear times to take a break, have lunch, and even head out. When you’re in the zone at home/remote, it’s a lot easier to lose track of time and forget to eat, take a break, relax, or even walk away. Furthermore, if you end up taking your computer to bed or other personal spaces, it’s even harder to get away from the feeling of being “always on” and working. I’ve seen this in people I’ve worked with that end up leaving a computer online all the time and responding to messages anytime of the day.
I try to always have some kind of “office space”, even if in the RV it’s just a certain place I sit and have the computer. Outside of that space, I try not to do too much work. Of course with the availability of smartphones, it’s easy to let work related activities leak into personal time as well. Many phones are starting to let you track and limit usage of different apps, so this might be a good way to help limit the amount of time spent working outside of work.
One way that I’ve found to help myself take breaks during the day is by using the Pomodoro Technique described by the creator as:
For many people, time is an enemy. We race against the clock to finish assignments and meet deadlines. The Pomodoro Technique teaches you to work with time, instead of struggling against it. A revolutionary time management system, it is at once deceptively simple to learn and life-changing to use.https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique
The basic principle is to break work down into smaller “chunks” using a timer, usually 25 minutes. After each “chunk” is completed, a small break is taken (3-5 minutes). After 4 “chunks”, a longer break is taken (20-30 minutes). I’ve found this technique to be extremely helpful in managing time and stress better, and ultimately reminding myself to walk away at the end of the day and know that I’ll be better prepared for the next day after letting my brain rest.
Joy: Money Saved on Gas and Car Maintenance
I calculate this to an actual dollar value when I’m considering a remote position for a job. Usually it’s around $2500 – $5000 depending on the vehicle’s gas mileage and maintenance costs. The amount of money you can save by skipping the pump alone is pretty substantial, but there’s also a lot of savings by having to replace tires and do oil changes less often. On top of all that, another big benefit is that you’re helping the environment. Staying off the road helps reduce emissions and keeps from having to use valuable natural resources.
Joy/Pain: Work From Anywhere
This one isn’t as easy to put in one slot or another. Being able to work from a coffee shop, beach, etc.. is usually pretty nice, assuming a few key things are met:
- There’s good wi-fi or cell phone signal strength to do hotspot sharing. If this one isn’t met it’s a deal break. Too often that’s the case on the road and sometimes you just have to roll with what you’ve got. I recommend scouting out a few key locations nearby if you don’t have good signal and have those as “go-to” spots if you find the signal is too bad where you want to be.
- There’s a comfortable place to sit. If there’s not room to use your computer or have a notepad out without someone breathing down your neck, it can be hard to really be creative sometimes. Some people can ignore everything with a pair of headphones on, but to me location is important as well.
- I check to see if my battery has enough power and/or there’s a place to plugin to charge close to the spot to sit
- How loud is the surrounding environment and do I have any meetings later on?
Joy: Spend More Time With Family
This one is a no-brainer and sort of fits in with some of the other points, but it’s worth calling out on it’s own. Being able to work from home / work remotely means you get to spend a lot more time with your family and loved ones. It’s more than just the drive time you’re gaining too. It’s the times when you’re feeling frustrated and need a break, or feeling accomplished and want to brag. Being able to turn to your loved one and get their input on a hard decision is invaluable. Most of all, I enjoy being able to take breaks and lunch with the people I love. There’s no better way to drown out the monotony of a long workday than by having a nice lunch with your significant other and talking about things you wouldn’t usually talk to coworkers about.
Joy: Increased Productivity (usually)
If you are self-disciplined and able to stay focused on your own, then working remotely will usually mean more time to focus on the things you do best. Being at home means less distractions of the office, and it’s easier to go “heads down” to really work on something without interference. However, if you lack self-discipline, working remotely can be hard. The temptations of TV, video games, etc.. can be too much for some people to turn down. These kinds of people will struggle in a remote environment, and it’s usually pretty obvious when someone isn’t pulling their weight on a remote team.
Overall, I give remote work a “joy” rating
I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to work from wherever I want for anything. I know I’m more productive, I spend less money on food and gas, and I have more time to spend with my wife and dogs doing the things we really want to do. If you’re on the fence about remote work, take some time to look at who you are and what you want. It’s not for everyone, but for those that do it, it can be life changing.