Conventional wisdom says that remote work is awesome and we should pity the poor slobs who drag themselves to an office every day. However, I’ve now switched from remote work to office work, and couldn’t be happier about it.
I’ve worked from home for the past three years while working for Tier 3, and now CenturyLink. I’ve explained some tips for success with that model, and also have a course on personal productivity that was influenced by things that I’ve learned over that time. A month ago, I picked up and moved my family to WA, bought a house, and now drive to the office every day. And I love it. Because of …
1. Contextual conversations.
We use Slack a LOT around here. And WebEx, and Skype and all other types of communication tools. But, it’s still asynchronous most of the time, and dependent on the other person engaging. In the past month, I can’t tell you how many times I stood up, walked to a team room, asked a question, had a brief conversation, and resolved an issue. That same interaction could take up to an hour to transpire on Slack. Those conversations are better than simple “yes/no” answers in chat, and lets everyone get on with their day.
Also, there’s the value of non-verbal communication (and I’m not counting “pug bombs” in our channel – see picture). On the phone, you can’t gauge reactions in the room. Since we have very few (none?) dumb meetings, there’s value in being there in person to see how everyone is reacting and if people are engaged. I’ve already changed my approach in a few conversations because I noticed that the original direction wasn’t “landing.”
2. The commute.
The commute? Isn’t that the primary reason that most people say that working from home is BETTER? I have a 25 minute commute, and it’s great. I like it because it gives me time in the morning to start thinking about my day, and gives me time on the way home to switch from “work Richard” to “home Richard.” When working from home, I found it extremely difficult to stop my workday, walk out of my home office, and immediately engage my family. I was still thinking about the last email I sent, last blog post I read, or schedule for the next day. Now, I make a few phone calls on my drive home, decompress, and come into my house ready to beat my son at checkers.
3. Spontaneous engagement.
Two weeks ago we had a fire drill at our building in Bellevue. Instead of standing around outside, ten of us walked to a coffee shop. It was awesome. Talked about life, work, and microservices. If I were at home, I’d just be on radio silence for an hour while everyone was unavailable. Instead, I got to know my colleagues better and even brainstormed some ideas for new services.
I’ve also noticed that I’m dragged into more working sessions than before. Instead of setting up dial in numbers, finding a conference room, and starting a meeting, the developers come by office and grab me and we chat in the hallway.
4. Productive interruptions.
To be sure, I loved when my 18 month old daughter would stumble into my home office to say hi. However, it was disruptive to work from an active home. I learned to get used to packages being delivered, gardeners buzzing my office window, visitors in the house, and dogs barking. However, it was taxing.
Now, a typical interruption is someone walking into my office and asking a question. Or my boss stopping by and grabbing me for lunch. While these interruptions may stop me from whatever I’m working on, it drives our product forward in some way.
5. Less travel.
I’m not a fan of business travel. I’ve done enough of it, and only do it when I need to. Working remotely meant that I came up to WA at least once a month. That wasn’t bad, but it was tricky to pick the best weeks, and often conditions would change (e.g. customer visit, conducting interviews) that forced me to change trips, extend trips, or make secondary trips in a given month. While I am still traveling to our other CenturyLink offices and visiting customers, it’s not the every-month-grind I had before. Plus, any fewer interactions with our expense tracking system, the better.
6. Better health.
I’ve somehow lost 2 pounds since I got here. It’s probably because I walk around this office all day, and have gotten more physically active since coming up to WA. I don’t sit still for more than thirty minutes during the workday, and rarely snack. I know some folks take advantage of working at home to exercise more, but that wasn’t my routine (besides walking the dogs a few times a day!). I like trekking around the office and walking to lunch each day. Free exercise!
Without a doubt, your enjoyment level for remote work is related to what your role is. If you’re heads down in a job 90% of the time, then working remote is probably fantastic. If your job is primarily collaborative, it just seems more effective to be physically with your colleagues. It’s great that so many people have the choice nowadays, and I wouldn’t have traded my remote work time for anything. But now, I’m amped to be sitting with the smartest group of people I’ve ever worked with. Want to work with me? We’re hiring!