Adapting to office life

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 19, 2018, 7:02 PM | comments: 0

I worked remotely for about four straight years before taking a non-remote job this summer, which puts me at five years total of working remotely. As a percentage, that's about a fifth of my adult life, five of the last six years. I love it, and I generally think it's an extraordinary and efficient way to work. There are some pros and cons either way, and this is a brain dump of those thoughts.

First, let's be real: Commuting sucks. Getting in your car and spending time driving to a place and back again is a serious quality-of-life issue. It's not easily solved by declaring that you'll live near where you work. Even if you do live close to where you work, the longest part of the drive is the part near where you live. The 12 minutes I cover 14 of my 24 miles are book ended by almost 10 minutes a piece of the last few miles to work or home. Every day I worry that I'm going to get into an auto accident, and I don't even live in a place where you have to contend with snow. I lose about six hours per week sitting in my car.

That said, the drive creates a certain separation between work and life that I didn't have before. When I'm working at home, I'm typically plugged in before 8, and it's easy enough to do just this one more thing before I end the day if I don't have to try and beat out the traffic. I found I was working an extraordinary number of 10-hour days, when Diana or Simon would come knocking on my door to see if I was done yet at 6. That's no good.

It's also nice to be among actual humans. I don't go out to lunch with people as often as I thought I would, mostly because I end up inserting lunch to whenever it's most convenient. I'll either bring something back to the office or just eat by myself. But I do end up among people and talking a lot. There are some other decidedly dotcom perks in my case, too, like the chef that makes breakfast Monday mornings and lunch on Wednesday, and the free massages every few weeks.

But when you have a truly remote culture, you don't lose the alleged "opportunity cost" around co-location. I developed rich friendships and deep understanding with the people I worked with remotely, in part because you always used video when you called, so non-verbals are still visible. People use Slack or Teams as a crutch, but anything not easily explained goes to a call with the right people quickly when you're doing remote right. In fact, I would argue that interruptions are minimized and communication is at its most efficient in the remote situation. It forces communication to be deliberate and focused.

I've said before that taking geography out of the equation leads to better hires, and I still believe that.

I'd like to work remotely more, because we're set up for it even if our culture isn't necessarily wired for it, but it would be hard in my position at the moment. One of the reasons we moved was so I could have more office space, and I miss spending time in there. One thing at a time though... building remote culture is not a priority at the moment. I did like the way we would do at least two half-days downtown at a previous job. That was an excellent way to get the band together without feeling all of the negatives around commuting were overwhelming.


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