Remote Work is a Life Changer
June 23, 2022•1,415 words
Now that I've been working remotely for more than two years, I figured it's worth sitting down to hammer out my thoughts and reflect on what I do and don't like about a fully remote job. I'm going to try to be careful to separate remote work from the realities of pandemic life, but since the pandemic is ongoing, it might be difficult to tease out the differences.
Recently my job has started allowing the technical folks back into the office (the scientists have been on-premise the entire pandemic), but I've only been in a handful of times, mostly to meet up with specific co-workers or attend a company event. Even with the option of going in and sitting at my own desk, I haven't really felt the need at this point, although I'm sure I'll be going in more often as COVID becomes less of an issue.
But despite having a desk and an office, I'm still "fully" remote and I intend to keep it that way. Let's dive into the pros and cons!
Night Owls Rejoice
I'm a night owl in a world built for early birds. Remote work has been a game changer for me. In the before times, I was forced to commute to an office and be there by the unreasonably early time of 8 AM each day for no discernible reason other than "my boss said so". At its worst, I drove 45 minutes each way to a client's work site on the complete opposite side of the metro area for over a year. Waking up at 7 AM to sit in traffic just to be in a cubicle working by myself is the perfect example of how stupidly we had structured software development work up until the pandemic.
Now, I can wake up fifteen minutes before a 9 AM meeting, make some coffee, review my notes, and positively contribute to the meeting objectives. All while actually getting some decent sleep that aligns with my body's needs! I can't imagine what the years of waking up at 7 AM and fighting my circadian rhythm has done to my lifespan. In fact, let's blame that for my hair loss!
My Desk, My Way
After getting a new job and realizing the pandemic was going to last a lot longer than expected, I upgraded from an IKEA kitchen table pulling double duty as a desk to a full-on standing desk setup, complete with multiple monitors, a microphone mount, ergonomic keyboard, comfortable chair, whiteboard, and various office supplies to help me organize my notes.
While I've had some decent desks at some of the more generous client sites I worked at, I've never had a work setup as nice as this one. And now, even if I change jobs in the future, I'll get to keep using the setup I've carefully curated. The first company I worked for was unwilling to spend the money needed for employees to have a comfortable working environment, so now that I know what I'm missing, I regret the six years I spent putting up with cheap office equipment.
Back in the dark ages when micro-mangers forced you to come to an office so they could look over your shoulder to make sure that you were wearing the right clothing and doing your job exactly the way they would, breaks were practically useless. The vast majority of them were hanging out in the break room talking with fellow co-workers about nothing in particular. Sometimes I'd take a walk, but most of the time I was in a business office park with very few places to walk. Sometimes there weren't even sidewalks! (Fuck car culture, but that's another post.) If you had personal errands to run, you were out of luck unless they were something you could do from a smart phone.
Basically, breaks were times you sat around dreading going back to work.
Now that I work from home, my breaks are so much more enjoyable! Since software engineering is largely a creative discipline, inspiration comes and goes with the flow of the day. Many times when I'm stuck on a problem, my dog will ask for a walk. That's a great time to take a break, let my brain process the problem, and often I'll have an idea while out enjoying some fresh air! In addition, I can do minor chores throughout the day, use my lunch break to explore and engage with my neighborhood, or have access to my personal computer to play a video game or spend some time working on a volunteer or open source project.
Every Day Is The Same
Granted, every day also felt the same in the office. But at least I saw a complete cast of co-workers, with lots of people I wouldn't have the opportunity to see outside work. That created some fun variety in my day, since I got to swap stories with people completely different from me! In addition, I got to interact with people on the bus or on the highway. I sort of miss feeling the thrill of an idiot cutting you off in traffic or causing a dangerous situation that might kill me in a crash! That's exciting, albeit not particularly welcome.
Now that I'm working remotely, I tend to see the same people. That is if I see anyone at all. I have a couple hobbies like rock climbing that gets me out and about with my friends, but even that starts to feel the same since it's typically the same people participating.
Without a deliberate effort to go try new things, especially activities that involve strangers, each day starts to feel the same as the day before. It wasn't much better when commuting to the office, but it was slightly better.
Getting Stuck Inside
Because I don't have a commute that takes me to a physically different location, sometimes I look up to see an entire day has passed and I haven't left the apartment. This was particularly true when we weren't allowed to leave our apartments due to the pandemic, but even now it sometimes happens by accident when I'm not deliberate about getting outside and doing something that isn't work. Most of the time I'll do a lunchtime and end of day walk with my dog, so this isn't always an issue, but spending so much time in one place isn't very fun.
I could fix this by mixing up where I work. The roof of my apartment complex, one of the dozens of coffee shops nearby, or even my desk at the office are all great options. I just need to be more mindful and deliberate about doing so! Overall, not a terrible "con" to have.
Work is Always Around
When you live in a 500 square foot apartment, there isn't much room for a separate workspace. My wonderful, amazing, perfect workspace I've built does pull double-duty as the desk for my personal computer as well. I'm able to tuck away my work laptop and notes once I'm done for the day, but it's always sitting there and thus is always on my mind to some degree.
Ideally I'd have a separate room for work that would be easy to avoid after I'm done working for the day. It's the main reason I'm considering upgrading to a two-bedroom apartment next time I move, but have you seen real estate and rent prices these days? Even as a well-paid software engineer, I'm not a fan of spending much more on rent than I am right now. That's just the cost of living in a city, I suppose.
I'm sure there's something more I could do to hide my work materials at the end of the day, but no inspiration has struct yet. Something to consider when I next upgrade my desk setup.
Now that I've deftly used the rule of three for each section, we can call this post complete. As you can see, the pros vastly outweigh the cons. I've really enjoyed remote work, and I will never again do five days a week in the office, unless they pay me a ridiculous salary.
Is there something I missed? What other delights or issues have you run into working remotely? Feel free to reach out to me on my blog's guestbook or on any of the social media accounts to share your own experience.