I am a big fan of John Sonmez, especially his book Soft Skills: the software developer's life manual. I am also very impressed by his ability to blog every day while I have a hard time blogging once a month! He recently published a video and transcript titled "Remote Jobs Suck" and I wholeheartedly disagree. I agree with some points he makes but the title is misleading. I think my title is more accurate. There are some down sides to working remotely, but nothing that can't be overcome through simple processes. I'll share a few of the processes that make me a successful remote worker.
John is clear that he is not necessarily trying to convince people to avoid remote work, but rather to go into it with the knowledge that it may not be as rosy as it appears and that some of the benefits wear off over time. He references Hedonistic adaption which was a new concept for me. Applied to working remotely it means that the happiness we gain from all the pros of remote work will eventually become the new norm but the downsides will always be painful.
Downsides of Remote Work
John points out three major downsides to remote work:
- Lack of human interaction
- Tough routines & distractions
- Lack of collaborative environment, perhaps an extension of lack of human interaction
- Residential grade electricity and Internet access vs. commercial grade
- Security and access
My Favorite Upsides of Working Remotely
Before I talk about how to mitigate the downsides let's consider the upsides, because a few of the upsides lend themselves to dealing with the downsides. The upsides are, in my own order of importance:
- Being there for your family
- No commute - meaning less stress, more time for other things.
- Being more in control of interruptions
- A better morning routine
- Flexible schedule (maybe)
- Remote doesn't have to mean in your home
Processes to Mitigate the Downsides
I want to address the concept of Overwork first because it is by far the biggest downside to remote work. It is also one of the downsides that Jason Fried covers in the Remote book, as well as the topic of several conference sessions I've attended. Solving this one is a major step because it causes some of the other downsides. Once you get past overworking you will have the time and energy needed to tackle some of the other downsides. My process for avoiding overwork is simple, and it's the same process you would use in a healthy work/life arrangement in an office setting as well: Define what you are going to accomplish each day both in terms of specific tasks and hours worked. When you get the tasks done, or hit the hours worked, call it a day. You will not always accomplish your daily goals due to work related distractions, task switching fire-drills, and mis-estimating difficulties, but if you do get your goals done and feel you've done a solid days work, reward yourself and take the rest of the day off! After all, it's results that matter not hours logged at a desk.
Lack of Human Interaction
To replace the human interaction you get in the office you are going to need something outside the house you enjoy. One of the primary reasons to be a remote worker is the work/life balance, presumably because you have a life outside of work. Spend time on those things. For me that means going to meetups, playing hockey, and coaching my kids sports teams. My wife has her Yoga and takes a daily trip to Starbucks to get in a little human interaction.
I don't think there are necessarily MORE distractions at home than there are in an office, but let's say there are just for the sake of argument. This also comes back to routine and work space. For me, I have an office where I do my work, and I still get up in the morning and get ready for work just like if I was going to an office. I then walk the 10 steps to my in-home office instead of spending 45 minutes (or more) getting to an office building. Every single computer programmer I know owns a nice audio headset and has a long play-list of "focus music." As Jason pointed out in his book, "How many times have you put in your headphones while sitting in your office and pretended like you WERE NOT in an office so you could get some work done?" You can do the same thing at home, I guess, and pretend you're at an office if that's what you need.
Routine and Discipline
I believe that the pros of working remotely outweigh the cons but, I do agree with John's assessment that there are cons and that people who work remotely should be aware of them. What John calls "tough routines" I call every day life and I don't think they are that tough. Have a plan, stick to it as much as you can, and continuously improve your habits and processes. That shouldn't be any different if you work in an office or work on a beach. For me what works best is public accountability. I have a wife and business partner that I don't like to disappoint so if I tell her I'm going to get a certain amount of work done I normally do a good job of getting close to that mark.
Some People Suck at Working Remotely
All that said, remote work is not for everyone. Some people don't have the self-discipline to be at their desk by 9am if they don't have a boss-man to hover over them. Know yourself and know if you have what it takes. I certainly did not have what it takes earlier in my career and even today I'd happily sleep until noon if I didn't have customer meetings to attend and a wife to answer to. I do believe that office work is on it's way out for many professions, especially computer jobs. Just like people who hate offices manage to slog through their 9-5 in an office, I feel like the future is going to have computer people who are better suited for offices slogging through their remote work.
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