Hi! Welcome to my first post on this blog, I hope there will be others soon!
Today I felt inspired after reading an article from Bennet Garner (here). He writes every day in his newsletter about software development and finding purpose in your job/life. I’ll try to follow his advice and write regularly, but for sure I cannot promise anything like a daily post.
By the way, Bennet’s article is about remote working: its pros, cons and why it’s going to last in our society. Take a look at it!
In this short post, I’d like to give my take on the argument.
Disclaimer: all these are my opinions (as a software engineer) and may not apply to other professions.
What is remote (for you)?
Remote working comes in different sizes and formats. Every company likes to adapt its definition to its culture and means of working. Also, when we talk about remote working, we might intend it in widely different ways.
I currently distinguish between these forms:
Full remote: work from anywhere, without constraints on where, when and how. Work is asynchronous and based not on “productivity” (ass-on-chair) but on goals.
Hybrid: work from anywhere but can come to the office at any time to have in-person meetings, team building days, or to use devices you don’t have at home.
“Hybrid” (the Italian way, also called “smart working”): you can work from anywhere, but it must be a private place (for privacy reasons), must be reachable (by phone or chat) in predefined hours, have a maximum number of remote days a week and at any moment you might be requested to come to the office. You should be measured based on value but instead are still measured by the number of hours you are “visible”
Guess which kind of remote work I’m doing right now? 😅
I’m currently working from home 2 out of 5 days a week and coming into the office for the rest. Given that I’m on a “forced hybrid” approach, I think I can list both the advantages and disadvantages I see with remote working (spoiler: I’d be in favour of the office if commute time is almost absent, but otherwise give me remote please!).
No commute time
Working from anywhere means, most of the time, leaving the office behind. Apart from physical tasks that need the office (like embedded software with difficult-to-move objects, tests at the client site, and happy hours with coworkers 😛) the rest of the work can be done from home or from other places (coffee shops, coworking spaces etc..).
In most cases, this means working near or at home, which means not doing any commute!
When I commute, it usually takes 3/4 hours of my life away from me every day (as we say at work: “time given to the road” or “time wasted to the rails”). I can still take advantage of the situation by reading and sleeping on the train, but it also adds a lot of useless stress (traffic, delays and so on).
With remote work, I can regain this time. Time to sleep, exercise, read, learn and care about myself.
By removing the office, you also remove the need to work simultaneously with all your colleagues. Most of the time companies institute “core hours” in which you should be available for meetings and knowledge sharing, but otherwise you can work whenever is better for you.
For example, I sometimes take some time off during the day to clean my house, walk or read/watch something interesting, without the fear of “wasting time”.
In addition, having time flexibility means working when you are most productive. I tend to work a lot better in the morning (8-12 AM) and late afternoon (4-7 PM), while in the in-between hours I feel less productive. When I’m in the office, my second productive slot of time is wasted because I worry about taking the train (at 5.30 PM), while when I’m working from home I can keep going and finish my task more efficiently. This means I can also do lighter tasks (or nothing at all!) in my “unproductive” time.
More privacy (sometimes)
Unless you work from a cafè or a coworking, most of the time “remote” = “home” or another personal place. Not being in an office, I don’t have to worry about someone staying over my shoulder to check my progress or complain that I’m not working enough. It also means less noise (if you want) and fewer distractions from co-workers.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all people. For example, parents have kids running in the house, and pets can also be very noisy and distracting, Finally, the sofa or the bed might be the worst distraction of them all: “why don’t I just rest a little on the sofa? 5 minutes and I’ll back”.
All said, remote wins here.
Why would you want to go to the office?
Given all the benefits given by remote working, why should someone still want to work in an office?
I can give some perspective about this, as I’m currently working more from the office than remotely (3 out of 5 days a week). By the way (spoiler) I’m still torn between the two options, mostly because of the following reasons.
“You can socialise remotely”. Yes, but I think meeting in person is still better (even as an introvert).
Staying in the same room together helps to “glue” people together and allows them to read the room in an instant.
Some of this can be done remotely, but would you keep the camera and/or audio on for the entire day when working from home (or worse, from outside)? You can still call your colleagues for a quick chat, but this is far from walking to them, tapping their shoulders and chatting in real life. Yes, it’s distracting and “unproductive”, and sometimes can be daunting (and toxic) but, in the right environment, it can also be fun.
Yes, I have a 4-hour commute, but when I commute I’m detached from the world outside and can do stuff I wouldn’t do that much at home. This applies to me as I commute by train and underground, so I can read, write and sleep on them.
Commuting also makes me aware of the time passing while working (I have to stop working or I won’t come home in time for dinner 😂) and helps to detach from work and arrive less worried/stressed by it at home.
Finally, commuting helped me cultivate friendships I wouldn’t have found by staying at home (I call them my “train friends”).
So, what is the verdict?
Given all these pros/cons, what do I think about remote working?
As Bennet writes in his article, I think it’s here to stay for a long time. For some situations and tasks the office needs to stay (and to really socialise with colleagues), but otherwise just let me work remotely:
- More productive (less distraction and I can work when I am more productive)
- Work based on real goals and not on “time on chair” metrics
- More time to improve, relax and learn (and enjoy my life in a less stressful way)
I think many companies still need to fully understand remote and asynchronous work, and hope most of them will embrace it and take advantage of all the benefits in the near future.