Silver Linings: Trial Run of Remote Work
Posted On May 17, 2020
Like everyone else in the world, my pre-COVID daily life and routine is gradually fading from memory. But, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted certain groups, so I’m very fortunate and privileged to be among those who still have our health and a steady job. And, while I wish it were under different circumstances, I’m grateful for the unexpected opportunity to try remote work and evaluate how that changes my plans ahead.
The First Three Months
After nearly three months and counting, I have to say that I really like working remotely. That said, there are downsides (some are generally solvable, some aren’t) and it’s not clear whether I’ll feel the same way after a much longer period of remote work or after society (and our office) reopens. For now though, I’m not looking forward to going back to the office on a regular basis and continue to look for ways to improve my working from home experience.
There are a lot of positive aspects to working at home, even though my work continues to be as (and occasionally, even more) demanding than before.
- More time
- No commute saves me about two hours or more each day
- It’s been wonderful to have more time around my significant other during the work week, whether it’s in-between meetings or when we’re eating meals or taking a quick break
- I now spend even less time getting ready for the day (not that it took me that much time before)
- More flexibility
- On a light meeting day, I can go pick up groceries in the middle of the day or take a nap or break in the afternoon
- Healthier lifestyle
- I can now bike and run on a more regular basis, instead of only a few times a week
- I cook more meals at home, which tend to use fresh ingredients and are healthier than eating out
- No commute also means I avoid public transportation (and its densely packed spaces), which is one of the last places I’d want to be before there’s a cure or vaccine
- Higher savings
- I’m saving slightly more than pre-COVID, since I eat out less and there are no work-related meals or happy hours to spend money on
However, there are some downsides to working remotely. Some I can address easily (like buying a more comfortable desk or chair), while others are more difficult to address, at least at my current (demanding) job.
- Suboptimal home office setup
- Furniture: Our furniture at home wasn’t intended for all-day work, so sitting at our tables and chairs or using a makeshift standing desk isn’t very comfortable for long stretches of time
- Internet: Our internet isn’t always the most reliable, especially as we move around our place; we might need a better router or a WiFi extender
- Some work is more difficult
- Meetings: Meetings are harder via teleconference (e.g., Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, BlueJeans) — sometimes it’s hard to hear or see people, sometimes it’s just more awkward to have a conversation over video (especially with larger groups), and technology just isn’t good enough to replace in-person converations yet; on top of that, I seem to be invited to more meetings where I’m not actively contributing anything (in those cases, when possible, I turn off video and do other work while half-listening)
- Staying updated: When I was in an office setting, it was easier to keep updated on what was going on across our team in real time, whether it was from casually chatting with people in the office, passing by each other or in the dining area, but now we generally need to wait for team-wide meetings to get those updates, which adds some time lag
- Less separation between work and non-work
- Blurring of the line between work and personal time and space: It feels like there’s now even less separation between and work and personal time (e.g., I’m checking my work email and laptop more often than pre-COVID, including during evenings and weekends) and space (our dining table is often used as our work desk); that’s made it harder to have a real break, which is taxing mentally, and I need to do a better job of setting boundaries
- The downside of not having a commute: Previously, my commute helped to naturally break up my day and gave me an opportunity to read or zone out on public transport at the beginning and end of each day, but now I need to consciously make that mental reset happen
- I’m eating more snacks and processed foods
- Snacking as a distraction?: When I was at the office, I would often put my head down and grind through work before heading home, and I didn’t feel an urge to snack; however, now I more frequently look for a quick snack during the day, perhaps to give me an alternative to working
Overall, remote work has been a huge blessing. I’ve been curious what it was like and now I have first-hand experience. There are a lot of positives that mitigate some of the prior downsides of having an office job, so it’s now more likely that I’ll stay at my current job for a little longer, especially to see how things shake out in the world.
However, my overall plans and goals are still largely unchanged, and having an office job, whether done remotely or not, still doesn’t seem aligned with those goals in the long term. So, even though I’ll stay at my current job in the near term, I’ll likely seek a change sooner rather than later.
Perhaps, I’ll look for another job that can be done remotely and is remote-first (like Automattic), but less demanding and all-consuming than my current job. More and more employers are open to remote work permanently going forward (such as Twitter), so hopefully more opportunities open up. That said, some employers are using tools like Sneek to look over their workers’ virtual shoulders and track productivity, so the grass isn’t necessarily greener. And regardless of where I’m (remotely) working, it might be a great opportunity for me to move to a lower cost of living area.
We’ll see how things play out in the coming months and years, but like others, I’m grateful to have this test run of remote work and feel like it’s a meaningful step in the right direction toward otium and my ideal life.