Full disclosure: I work from home. I love it!
I’ve worked from home for the past ~ 2 years. Before that, I worked remote, not spending a lot of time in the office. Before that, I worked from an office. Before that, I worked remote. There’s a bit of a trend.
My first remote gig was working for Sun Microsystems. While I could go on about how great Sun was (RIP Sun); I was hired sight unseen (two phone interviews; this was *gasp* before Skype was mainstream) to work remote. I’d been working in your typical (or atypical) office-type location. I’ve worked my share of service jobs too. How was I to ‘work remote?’
The answer was surprisingly simple. I was given clear tasks and goals, deadlines to achieve, and the freedom to do them or not do them as I wished. I could work at 11 p.m. or 11 a.m., and as long as my work was complete, all was well. This was also true while I was at Cerner. I traveled 80–100% of the time (e.g worked remote). While I had a desk at ‘the office’ I wasn’t there much, if maybe for a few hours on Friday. I’ve worked from planes, trains, cars, couches (even a boat); just about anywhere with cell service or Wifi. This is still true with my work at Daatik; still consulting and happy doing it.
This is where I have a problem with work from home. I’d work from home, work from a friend’s house, work from a coffee shop. I’d have meetings that needed a quiet environment, but outside those, wherever I had Internet and my laptop I could conceivably work. I was really working remotely. I highlight the difference because I think it’s important. Home has a sense of place for a lot of people, it has a connotation for many. I think this is important for largely two reasons:
- Remote work is largely un-different than office work in 2016.
- One doesn’t need to be at home.
1: Most work that can be done in the modern office can be done from any location with some assumptions (not exhaustive). You’re a knowledge worker. You have and require (relatively) mobile tools (laptop, phone, etc). We live in a digital world. Ninety percent of my office jobs required a computer and a phone. As long as I had those things, I could work from anywhere with Internet connectivity. The other 10% could be modified to be remote or made to function with limited ‘in-person’ appearances.
I find that working remotely actually forces communication and teamwork. Without those, one is completely unsuccessful. While communication and teamwork do happen in the office, they, in my experience, are less complete, less thought out, and less successful than what happens between remote knowledge workers. Why write that extra paragraph in that email if I’ll probably just see Bob later? Email is usually the go-to and can quickly become unmanageable by sheer volume. Filters help, as does the modern telephone. Companies like Slack have cleverly and successfully merged the dreaded instant messenger (DND) and email-like functionality into an innovative (and really useful) communication platform. Screen-sharing and video conferences are also quite useful, if ‘in person’ meetings truly need to take place.
This isn’t to say technology can completely replace face-to-face meetings and encounters, but it comes damn close in most cases.
2: Work from home is about as descriptive as homework. Does homework have to be completed in one’s home? Does it usually occur there? Probably. With technology, the digital home is nearly wherever you want to be, at any instant.
Let’s talk about productivity. I love the ability to make lunch from scratch, or leave the (home) office and catch a bite out. I typically eat at home and am healthier and more productive when I can work from my kitchen or dining room just as easy as my home office. I don’t have to worry about disrupting others either (remember the last time someone made popcorn in the cubical farm?).
I tend to work longer when remote. I don’t mind sitting at the computer until 6 p.m., taking a break and doing a bit of work or emailing before bed… maybe 9–10 pm. But, when I had a commute… yikes. Talk about unproductive time: traffic. That’s a solid 1–2 hours a day of work I do while at home, instead of commuting.
I’m much happier. And we (hopefully) all know that happy people are more productive.
It’s not for everyone, it’s not for every situation. I’ve touched on this above, but I think it’s common sense. I’ve had friends that have had a tough adjustment to remote work. While there are plenty of co-working spaces; breather, if you’re away from the home office and quickly need a quiet place for a short time; some people just can’t function or concentrate from home or while not in ‘the office.’ I had a friend that transitioned over a year to work remote from ‘the office’ and had to get up each day and grab a coffee at his favorite coffee shop as he did on the way to the office.
Am I against offices? Not really. They can be conducive to productivity and collaboration if the culture and space are correct. Everything has ups and downs, but I think remote work will only become more popular now and in the future. I have a home office and probably spend ~70% of my working time there. However, that ~30% of when I work outside of my home office is really great and hard to give up.
Originally published 2/21/2016.
About the author:
Andrew lives in Portland, OR and has worked in tech for over 15 years. With a foundation in philosophy, political theory, and communications, he is an avid thinker & tinkerer, constantly learning and exploring the world around us.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License © 2019.