I hadn’t signed up for this. Moving across the country to a city you’ve never visited before sure sounds romantic, but there’s always a catch. You begin to appreciate the difference between time zones when expected to continue supporting your current project during the transition to a new project. Eight o’clock staff meetings have now moved to 5:00 am. Your available 9 am time slot is their lunch break. This harsh reality of remote working didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
Back in the year 2010, the attitude toward working remotely was quite different, and I was a lone wolf on my team in multiple ways. I had to hone my virtual communication skills and be proactive in reaching out to colleagues so that I wasn’t out of the loop. Later I joined an all-local team, and working with my team was comfortable again for the moment.
As the project grew, there was reluctance toward hiring more full-time staff, and so the contractors brought on to do the job started covering more and more of the map. I felt a particular empathy with the remote workers, particularly those onboarded without ever meeting their team. I made conscious efforts to accommodate all, which was far from easy.
There was a brief window in the morning that fit everyone’s schedules, but I made it work. I kept an open party line while collaborating that remote folks would join and feel like they were in the room with us. I would send photos of whiteboard designs we had made and eventually moved that collaboration online. I encouraged my local teammates to join meetings from their desks instead of a conference room so that we were all on equal footing.
Working from home became more regular and accepted as part of doing business in the twenty-first century. Having this as an option does come with certain benefits. Those dreaded 4+ hour service appointment windows for installation and maintenance work become more comfortable to schedule when you can be at home and ready to answer the door the whole time, instead of taking time off. Working remotely also opens up the opportunity to get your work done during off-hours when the office is closed but still need to meet your deadlines.
Most importantly - remote work gives you an option to stay home when you’re mildly sick and want to remain productive. It sure beats the alternative of going into the office and spreading your germs all over the place. No one wants to be in the same room with someone coughing and sneezing up a storm. Good hygiene helps, but being in a different building helps more. This was practicing social distancing before it was mainstream.
The first two weeks were rough, but not for the reasons I expected. I hadn’t worked from home full time until the pandemic. I was getting my work done in quarantine, but I wasn’t enjoying it. The lines between working, taking a break, hobbies, and relaxing were getting blurred. When you’re living your entire life alone in your apartment, you’re lacking separation of activities and also connection. My mental health was deteriorating from the effects of the lockdown. My band wasn’t playing anymore, and I felt no motivation to do music solo.
Because of (and in addition to) the mental challenges came physical ones also. My sleep was terrible. I would frequently drift off randomly while trying to relax and end up in a half-awake zombie state where I was too tired to get anything productive done, but not tired enough to sleep. As a result, I was neglecting my routines, and doing my body no favors in terms of proper grooming and care. The one exception to this was washing my hands far too often, considering how rarely I went out, and that wasn’t great for my skincare.
The first step of my recovery was to establish a new schedule with less freedom. I also needed to keep my mind occupied with healthier things than constant news consumption that was toxic to me. Since the markets were highly volatile due to the economic collapse, I decided to brush up on my trading skills. Some of the best opportunities for movement happen when the markets open, which meant I needed to wake up at a specific early time, helping to establish order in my life again.
To create a separation between work and other activities, I opted to wear the same clothes I would typically don at the office instead of whatever was most comfortable. I also established set areas in my apartment for different purposes. I began to appreciate how much I liked the rather new apartment building I had moved into a year earlier, as the previous place I was living would have been far worse a place to be locked in. I also became grateful for my continued employment, when many in my friend circle no longer had jobs.
From there, I built momentum by creating and sticking to routines in other areas of my life - discipline leaks from one aspect of our life to others like a nuclear reactor meltdown. Lacking discipline works in much the same way. I reduced my exposure and threat vectors by accepting less variety in my diet. I planned my food consumption to maximize efficiency by rationing my food supplies to last longer. Next, I committed to exercising every day during lockdown to stay healthy and improve willpower in an area of struggle for me.
I resolved to make better use of the extra time I had on my hands from no longer commuting to work. The first use for the time I gained was to read more regularly. I highly encourage all of you to adopt this if at all possible. Read a new book each month, and you won’t regret the positive effects this will have on your mind. I worked my way up to reading a book a week, sometimes two. Reading helped sharpen my mind, but for the next step, I committed to writing regularly. The two complement each other nicely. I recently started a new habit of producing video content, which has helped me organize my thoughts and improve my presentation skills better than any preparation technique.
With the entire software industry forced to collaborate remotely comes a leveling of the playing field. Your coworkers are feeling your pain, and it provides a bonding experience, similar to unit cohesion for wartime soldiers. My team of project collaborators was ahead of the curve at the start of the pandemic. We work together from literally across the world, with all the challenges that come along with that. My previous three hour time difference compared to the rest of my team felt downright trivial compared to over twelve.
Meetings with coworkers from other organizations or even outside the company have become more accessible in this new normal. I presented at my company’s virtual conference, with a larger audience than would be possible in person. This opportunity put me in touch with new colleagues involved in developer outreach that I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I have various appearances scheduled now for live and recorded events. My influence, profile, and brand are all directly improving thanks to this indirect consequence of remote work.
The tide has turned in the direction of working remotely, and I intend to ride it. More remote opportunities mean more job mobility for those in careers that are fortunate enough to allow it. New industries will look to support a remote workforce over time. The culture of “work from anywhere” will only continue to grow, allowing flexibility for travel and scheduling on your terms.
Lastly, new business opportunities are on the horizon for the taking as this wave of change washes over the world. Automation will undoubtedly remove the need for some manual labor work, but the jobs that remain will be the more interesting ones that require human ingenuity. These jobs will either directly support working remotely or require support networks with that option. Knowledge workers will become the overwhelming majority of the labor pool very soon. Anyone not among their ranks needs to prepare for this eventuality, and the rest need to build opportunities for this network to grow exponentially.