Working remotely the right way

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 9, 2020, 5:25 PM | comments: 0

I'm having one of those weeks where my calendar is booked solid with few breaks in it, mostly by my own doing. That tends to cause anxiety because there are inevitably things not on the calendar that fall through the cracks, or simply don't get any of my thinking time. But then I looked at what was going on next week, and my cooler head reminded me that this is not normally how things are. In fact, I'm generally working remotely the right way.

I've been working remotely on and off (but mostly on) for the last decade, and even back in the day when I hopped around between consulting gigs. It's amazing how your qualify of life changes when you don't have a long commute, and for whatever reason, I've never had jobs close to where I live. Being among people is a precarious trade off when it involves having to first drive among people. Even when you have a relatively short trip, say a half-hour or less, you're getting almost a whole day back per month and your life expectancy increases.

As much as one can sing the praises of comfort that come with remote work, to me the win comes from a satisfying higher level of productivity. As long as you manage the technology that makes noise, it's a lot easier to maintain focus and do stuff. The key is to not feel like this arrangement requires you to do more than you might otherwise do. It's important to set boundaries, including a hard stop for a quitting time. Working at home doesn't mean you should always work because you're always home. It's also critical to get up and move around from time to time, take real breaks and step away.

This is not as easy as it sounds. I've put in 40 hours by the end of the day on Thursday and not think much of it. Nothing makes you feel like more of a jerk than when your kid is knocking on your door at 6 asking if you're done yet. But what I've come to realize is that a lot of it has to do with who you work for.

At my last job, I tried to work remote one day a week, usually Friday, and I still found myself working a long day, and that was taking calls from my boss at dinner time during the week. I didn't realize at the time that it wasn't OK. The job before that, I just worked too much, classically diluting my own pay and really getting nothing in return other than acknowledging the silly American domestication that suggests that's what we should do. It was never like that in previous remote jobs, because there was a general expectation that it was important to have boundaries and look after yourself. Looking after you and your family is a real, top-down cultural expectation that's either there or not. Working an earnest week is not killing yourself.

Of course, it is a drag when you don't get to spend some amount of time with your coworkers in a more social setting. My teams are spread out across four time zones, but we have been known to do virtual happy hours. I do look forward to a day where we can actually meet up in person.


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