A few weeks ago I wrote an article about my one year remote anniversary and I said that I didn’t want to talk about the transition yet … Well guess what …
First of all: These are not normal circumstances, and the ongoing pandemic is causing a great deal of psychological stress on all of us. Lack of social interactions, travel, leisure, restaurants, take your pick. In my case, it’s worrying about the well-being of my family, especially about what experiences my daughter will miss out on. This psychological burden clouds all the positive experiences I am having with remote work.
Leaving the office
The first two weeks were hard. Life went on at the office with me being safely stowed away at home, forgotten and without the appropriate tools. A few weeks later when everybody was working from home, the lack of tools really kicked in: Meetings by phone conferences and screen cast tools from the last decade, but at least it was a level playing field for all.
As with many large companies, we heavily rely on meetings so the new reality was met with more meetings to get everybody up-to-date and working. Even before the pandemic I read a lot and talked to a lot of people about remote work and for me the key to effective remote work is asynchronicity: I do not want to attend a meeting where I’m only a receiver of information, I do not want to see your demo at a scheduled time. There are more appropriate tools for that like email, chat or wikis. Yes, as the information giver it will cost you a lot of valuable time to write down your thoughts concisely, but it is just your time, not everybodies time.
Everything got a LOT better after transitioning to Teams with chats and video calls, but there is still a lot to do. Here are some things I do and expect:
- A chat message is not an immediate call to action: Chat means, I will read and react to it when I have the time.
- I do all my calls with video on by default and I’d like to see the other participants as well. I still do switch my camera off if I have nothing to communicate.
- Just because I work from home does not mean I’m readily available for meetings scheduled for the same day in the late afternoon.
What about the social and management part?
Do I miss the social interactions? No, not really. I still have them, just not randomly in a kitchen or coffee corner but randomly after a regular call or deliberately if someone calls me up or vice versa.
The same goes for the phenomenon of “experiencing leadership”: I want my manager to be available if something interferes with my work or when I’m looking for an exchange of thoughts (and he is). It is something I want to actively claim, nothing I want forced upon me (with whatever good intentions).
Working from home
Equipment and work environment
I prefer my office at home. Since my hobbies require good computer equipment, my work benefits too: Better camera, better peripherals, 4K monitor.
I’ll get into the details in another blog post.
As I mentioned in my last post, the amount of available time is the most important part. Until March 2020, I worked from home one day a week while driving to the office on all other days. My commute of 40 kilometers takes me about 45 minutes. Times two, of course. So every minute of work comes with the cost of 10 seconds in the car.
The 45 minutes were only feasible with strict working hours. Getting up at 5:50 AM and off to work at 6:30 to beat traffic, start at 7:15, get out at 4:00 PM to beat traffic again, home at 4:45. That’s 11 hours gone.
And it leads to unhealthy beahaviour. You get home, make dinner, spend way too little time with your family and maybe you need a little time all by yourself to clear your head. I tend to extend the last part into the night, leaving me with very few hours of sleep. I’m an owl forced to a lark’s cycle.
All this time is unscheduled now and free for other things. I still stay up late but now I can sleep in. I start working maybe an hour later than before but everything intertwines nicely: Making my first coffee while checking my mails, making breakfast while in a status call. And the most important part of all: Calling it a day when I feel like it with immediate effect.
Back in the days when there were just my wife and I, we’d come home from work and make dinner together and we stuck with that ever since. Therefore I’m not that much of a cafeteria guy and I just grab a snack for breakfast and lunch. Now snacks are rarely healthy nor really substantial and I came home and topped that off with dinner - and it shows.
Working from home helped me to gain better control of my eating habits. You might think that your own kitchen in convenient walking distance isn’t that beneficial but it leaves you with the food you counciously bought and not with what’s available or what you crave.
Another benefit: I live in a rural - and I mean really rural - area. I can simply step outside and go for a walk in the fields. While I tried to make going for a walk an alternative to commuting (in a sense of a boundary between work and leisure), that didn’t stick. But it’s still way more probable for me to go for a walk right after leaving my computer than after leaving my car after a 45 minute drive.
By some freak coincidence I can see my wife’s office from my own office even though we’re not in the same building nor have the same employer, but that means that we tried to commute together whenever possible. So on our ride home we’d go on and on for a solid 45 minutes about what happened at work that day. With both of us working from home, we can have these exchanges in between and it helps me reflect on what I do, plus we can ask each other on advice and opinions.
As for my daughter we scrubbed kindergarten for the last few months to not help further spread the virus. But up until December 2020 I was suddenly able to bring her and pick her up, while I didn’t have the time for that before. Kindergarten is officially still on an emergency care plan but that’s not a bylaw, rather an “appeal to the reasonable parent”. Since parents obviously are not reasonable at all, it is currently at full capacity minus my kid. But we’re in the lucky situation to have all grandparents gladly at hand to take care of her. That’s a risk but it is a more assessable risk than a room full of children.
On Thursdays I’d take a detour after work to meet with my band for practice. To me it felt like a ritual: The prelude to the small weekend that is remote Friday. We obviously stopped doing that for safety reasons. The tricky part is that it usually takes me another 30 minutes from work to our room and like an hour from there back home. Continued remote work would mean two hours of travel for the band. But it’s something I miss dearly and that I’d try to make work.
So what would you do if 100 % remote was here to stay?
- Easy. Sell one of our cars.
- Not just work from home but giving real mobile work a try, from a coworking space or from some place I’d consider a destination for a weekend vacation.
Any other thoughts?
It’s going to be hard - if not impossible - to ever go back. Anything that isn’t 100 % remote will feel strange: What’s the advantage of going to an office one or two days a week if other team members work from home on the same day? Why should I endure 90 minutes of commuting just to use the very same tools but from an office location? I’d settle for a few really well organized events every few months to meet in person and get highly interactive work done.
I’m glad that my employer is actively planning for a work environment after Covid-19 and while I really like the direction I’m somewhat curious about what we’ll come up with.
Want to read more?
Franz has a much more concise blog post about his experiences. You should go and read it while you’re at it.