Remote Working: 1 Year Later
If I have my way, I’ll be working remotely for a very long time, if not the rest of my life. I’m done with the traditional office set up; the open plan nature of the office, having to be social all the time, and endless meetings.
That’s not to say I don’t see the benefits of being in the same space as your colleagues, but for me the cons outweigh the pros. However, there are some things I had to get used to which I thought I’d write about, and some questions I thought I’d answer.
I’ve worked remotely for the past year in two different roles:
- Product Engineer (Buffer): This role was a typical software engineering role, building on the main product. A bit of context switching but all within the same ecosystem.
- Platform Support Engineer (Heroku, current company): This is role is primarily a support role, where I answer customer tickets about the technical issues they have on the platform, so essentially being a professional debugger. I’ve also taken on some coding projects as part of the role. A lot of context switching, especially as I’m helping debug apps in programming languages/frameworks I know nothing/very little about.
Both teams were remote when I joined and already had systems in place for things like communication and work flows.
For a very long time, I thought I wasn’t a very disciplined person. I found it hard to stick to routines and do stuff exactly when I should, I was* the person that won’t wash up immediately after using something, but that doesn’t mean I will never wash up, just not right now (to the annoyance of my mum). However, the issue isn’t that I’m not disciplined, I can form and stick to new habits, the issue is that trying to fit myself into how someone else says I should spend my time is difficult for me. When I used to work in an office, the days I’d work from home were mostly more holistically productive for me, I could not only get the work I was paid to do, done, but I could also cook, rest when I needed, do laundry, etc
And now, as I juggle full-time education and full-time work (more on this in another blog post/podcast episode), I’m seeing just how disciplined I actually I am.
*I’ve changed and have now become the person who “washes up as they go along”.
Open plan offices are my idea of professional hell. Working in a space that makes me happy and is inviting to me, is so crucial in me being productive. This year, I’ve been to an office 4 times to work, and most of time I either left early or arrived after lunch time. One time I spent pretty much the whole day, but that was for a specific reason (I accidentally smashed my laptop screen 🤦🏾♀️). And my employers have invested money into allowing me to make my space comfortable. Buffer had a policy of: you can keep any office equipment we buy even after you leave (including laptop), so even though I was with them for less than 6 months, I was able to keep the laptop and desk they paid for. My current employers don’t (seem to) have the same policy but I’ve still been able to get a very good office chair (the Aeron, which I got like new, second-hand) which they paid for, and I random bits & bobs (external keyboard, mouse, etc). Waking up and coming to this office feels good, I want to work from my desk. I look forward to making a cup of tea and switching on my laptop in the mornings.
Work/life balance is important and a concern many people have with remote working is that it’s far easier to over-work than if you work from an office because of the cloudier separation of work/home concerns. I’ve only combated this in one way, which works for me. I have two laptops one for work and one for personal use, and I’m pretty strict with how I use both. What makes it easier is that my work laptop has so many security protocols installed on it that I can’t possibly install any work things on my personal laptop even if I wanted to. But regardless of that, I don’t install any personal things on my work laptop, I don’t log into personal email/social accounts. The only personal things I use on my work laptop are Whatsapp for web & my personal-work (read: business) google account, the latter so that I can test things w/ a second Heroku account. This has been the single most useful thing for me because it means at 5pm I can literally just shut my laptop & that’s it. I do have Slack on my personal phone but I switched off notifications for it, it’s literally just so if I need to reach out to my manager/team & I don’t have access to my laptop.
Lots of blogs on remote working and people who have done it speak heavily about the importance of having routines, many of which are hard and fast rules about how to work. I don’t have too much of a routine. I wake up, I lay in bed for a very long time, shower, get a drink & maybe something to eat then open my work laptop. If I have any coding projects, I do those in the morning and tickets in the afternoon, otherwise it’s tickets all day. Within that time I’ll cook lunch when I get hungry, take a nap if I need to, go for a walk if I want to, call my mum or a friend, etc. I don’t have any hard and fast routines that I absolutely must do (& maybe I need them? 🤷🏽♀️) but making sure things are still pretty flexible for me is important to me. I tend to start my day around 9ish (by 10am at the latest), then begin to wrap up around 4pm to be completely offline by 5pm. I adjust times if I start work earlier/later than usual.
I’ve changed things slightly since I’ve started classes (since I have to attend those too) but my lectures are mostly in the afternoon & evening and I’ve added my timetable to my work calendar so my colleagues know what to expect at any given time.
Feedback Loop 🔄
The feedback loop while remote working is a concern for many because it’s a lot harder to get what we need from our team, exactly when we need it when everyone is in different locations. There are times when I’ve asked a question in Slack that’s taken a while for someone to respond to, other times someone might be waiting for me to respond to something they’ve said. Waiting becomes part of the norm of remote working, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The remote teams I’ve worked on have also both been distributed, so many of my colleagues have worked or are working in different time zones. This has meant that asynchronous communication is part of the work flow, and as badly as everyone wants to get rid of email, it’s really, really good for this use-case. I’ve used a combination of email, Slack & GitHub comments as part of the communication work flow and becoming more comfortable with waiting. Waiting doesn’t mean doing nothing, for me there is usually another way I can be productive while I’m waiting. This has been enough for the teams I’ve worked on, it may not be enough for other teams. I know of teams who, although remote, don’t hire outside of their timezone because of the complications with communication it can create.
I love the flexibility that remote working gives, it’s the only reason why I can go back to school and still work full time. There are struggles but nothing for me that I can’t adjust to or get over. This isn’t for everybody though, one of my best friends hates working remotely and although he does work from home once in a while, he much rather prefers working in an office with people around him. That’s okay too, everybody doesn’t have to work remotely. And even if you do work remotely, home doesn’t have to be your office space, you can work from co-working spaces, coffee shops, the park, anywhere that is suitable for you.