For the last 23 years, I’ve worked in a corporate environment in either an office or cubicle. Working in Information Technology, it’s important to be in close contact with your customers, the people that use the technology you deploy to perform their day to day jobs. Occasionally, when I needed some heads-down time, I would work at home to limit interruptions or to focus on a particular project. These days were highly productive and I was always glad that my employer gave me the opportunity to do this from time to time.
In August of 2014, I needed to move half-way across the country and my employer was gracious enough to allow me to keep my job and work from home full time. I was really looking forward to the ability to have that same level of focus and productivity all the time. As someone who has been striving for ways to reduce expenses in my personal life, I was sure this was the best thing for me. An opportunity to work in an environment of ultimate productivity and save an immense amount of money by eliminating my daily commute. But things weren’t as awesome as I had hoped.
I have followed the plight of the remote worker for several years. As technology is constantly improving, it has become easier to stay in constant contact with your co-workers no matter where in the world they might be.
If you’re familair with 37signals the company behind the cloud-based project managment systems, Basecamp In their best-selling book, Remote they encourage remote workers and believe that if you’re only looking for employees in your local area, you’re severely limiting the talent pool from which you can hire awesome employees. In order to hire the best of the best for your team, you may need to look outside of the immediate geographic area. Jason Fried’s awesome TED Talk entitled Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work is a nice discussion about how employees feel more productive when they are outside of the office.
The other side of the conversation is best exposed by Scott Hanselman who understands that Being a Remote Worker Sucks I certainly agree with his statements about being out of sight and out of mind. I can imagine that it would be easy to forget that I’m still part of the team, having impromptu meetings or discussions without me. Discussions that I would have been part of might happen more and more without me until my contributions become insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
But my issues with working remotely were not at all what I expected. One of the things I miss most is the general background noise that happens in larger office environments. There are always conversations happening around you, work-related or otherwise. Listening to or being a part of those conversations can really help you feel integrated with the rest of your team. When you’re the only remote worker on your team, you know those conversations are happening but you’re no longer a part of them.
There are other distractions when working at home, even when you have the whole house to yourself. For me, background noise is important, but I’ve found that music, rather than the television, provides the best noise while still keeping me productive. Music doesn’t require as much of my conscious thought as the television does. If I’ve got the TV on, there are conversations and activities happening that frequently draw my attention and distract me from what I’m working on. If I want to get something done, the music is on and the music is loud.
I’m in a support role as much as a development or creative role, so being available Io my customers (internal business users) is very important. I’m a couple of time zones away from them now, but I’ve shifted my work day so that I’m still working West Coast hours. This means that my day starts later and ends later. I had no idea how difficult this would be. I tend to start working a little earlier in the morning and when 7 o’clock rolls around, I can’t just stop. I need to finish what I’m working on. This means that when I’m done working, my day is nearly over already. If I need to run errands, those are now typically done in the early morning hours rather than right after work. It’s been difficult to get used to, but I’m still working on it.
Overall, working remotely has not turned out quite how I expected. I’m still very grateful for the opportunity, but given the chance, I would probably move back to San Diego and resume my role in the office with the rest of my team.