You Don't Want To Work From Home
For more than ten years I worked exclusively from home. Our twitter feeds tells us to lust after it — movies and television tell us it’s the next best thing to retirement. We romanticize it as the answer to our corporate aversion and idealize it as the ultimate perk.
Do you ever put on pants?
Well at least you get to make your own hours…
I wish I could do that…
Now I prefer to work in an office. There’s plenty of the same distractions and some days I think about staying home. But I don’t because I would miss out on the best part about going to work: the people.
Working from home is isolating. You miss out on the magnitude of ideas that occur everyday in lunch conversations, coffee breaks, and brownbags. The balance between work and life blurs until you can’t see the difference.
Before I go on, it’s worth mentioning that your mileage may vary when working from home. Working from home is a viable solution for many who can balance their environment and productivity. For those with families, working from home is a great affordance to spend less time commuting and spend more time with their children. Working from home can also be a necessity for those with disabilities or health and safety concerns. This is to say that in some cases, working from home is the only option.This story is for folks who have the ability and choice to choose whether they want to work from home. Here’s some of the experiences I had over the years and why I’d suggest to re-consider abandoning the monotony of the office.
A good view is everything. Good lighting is paramount to being productive. My first apartment here had one window facing the old apartment next door. It was dark and sometimes the plumbing would whistle — both which were productivity killers. Eventually I moved to an apartment with better lighting. Within a few weeks I was already happier and more productive. It’s also good to get outside every so often.
When you need a break, or need to grab lunch — location can make a big difference. Being able to step outside or grab the resources you need quickly can have a big impact on your productivity. It was here that I learned that working from home has its limitations. Some days it can be claustrophobic and other days isolating.Before making the leap, consider working from home for two weeks to get a better understanding. Try it for two months before making a commitment.
I was fourteen when I landed my first gig. Most of my work consisted of slicing Photoshop designs into HTML and CSS. On the side I would sell designs and plugins in online marketplaces.
It was hard to concentrate for many reasons. My parents didn’t understand what I was up to with all the time I spent online. My mom barely knew how to turn on a computer while my dad thought I should prioritize schoolwork.
You might hardly call this work. It was challenging, exciting, and I loved every minute of it. It was here I fell in love with programming and problem solving. Some days it was an addiction — I would rush home to boot up the computer and maybe you’d find me there until the A.M. I had no idea that what I was doing would one day be called “software engineering.”It was here where I learned that working from home requires sacrifice. Those days that you want to get away — your home is a place to retreat. When your home’s space is mixed-use, that space can feel more like a restraint.
At eighteen my work became a livelihood. My first startup, Tinychat.com, was funded and I stowed away my freelancer hat. I moved out of my parent’s house and into a small studio apartment. For the next five years I worked full time while attending university full time — leaving just a couple hours in the day to unwind.
Working from home makes it difficult to maintain a solid work/life balance. If your office is five feet away from where you sleep it makes it tough to clock off and think about something else. Even more so when you’re juggling academics and the demands of a growing startup with 2M+ monthly actives.
If you’re considering working from home — create boundaries between your work and your home life. When possible, create physical boundaries that divide your space and minimize distractions. Create time boundaries, hard stops when it’s time to put down the work. Mental breaks are important: take a nice sunny walk or work remotely from a coffee shop now and then.When you feel overwhelmed — remind yourself it’s okay to put yourself first.
Six months before I graduated university, I gave up the luxuries of bachelor life and rented a room from my grandmother. At eighty years old, she needed some extra money and help around the house. I need to save up money to pay off expenses and loans. The physical boundaries were difficult to navigate, however the social boundaries were even more challenging.
To her, a computer was a game or a toy — which meant it was okay to interrupt me. Those interruptions made it difficult to remain focused and impacted my productivity. For some folks, even though they understand what you’re doing is a livelihood, the process is still undervalued when compared to working in an office. The difference between me working on a computer and my grandmother watching TV for three hours — was a matter of perspective.
It’s here where I learned that to work from home you have to not only sell the idea to yourself — but to the whole household. Your family, wives and kids and etc, they must understand that the compartmentalization is not one way.When you work from home you bring your family to the office.
Now I work in an office and despite its challenges I love it. Somedays it’s difficult to focus and the circus of distractions can be overwhelming but that’s nothing a step outside can’t solve. There are mazes of problems to navigate and in a corporate setting it can sometimes feel like a drag. But it’s here where I’ve met some amazing and talented folks that make me think twice about packing up and going home. I’ve learned things I’d never be exposed to from the comforts of my couch.
Working from home is what you make of it and for some it’s not all that it’s cut out to be. We take for granted what there is to gain from an office and the growth we get from sitting next to each other. I’ve grown more in the past few years than I had working a decade on my own. I’d argue there’s no amount of social networking, conferences, or even open source that can replace meeting face to face and solving problems in person. I question folks who say they recommend working remotely or that remote-first is the right way to do things because of how much work it takes to build that network. If you have the chops for it, that’s great — but consider the harm when prescribing what could be isolation. And for those taking this to heart: my message is not that remote doesn’t work or that it’s awful.
It’s not all or nothing. On Fridays I work from a coffee shop so I can feel a little guilty and escape the corporate routine. There are moments where I wake up in a state where I want nothing more than to crawl under the covers and waste the day away. But then I’d miss my team — those moments in between pull requests where we laugh and joke around. I’d lose that same maze of perspectives that comes with being part of a larger organization.
A developer’s most trusty tool isn’t the hands, the brains, or the code. It’s the people. It’s who you know and what you can learn from them. Seek them out and absorb every little detail. Working from home works for some folks — but if you ask me it’s overrated.It’s called company for a reason.
In an unexpected turn of events, in 2020 many folks now find themselves working from home. Most of us are unprepared, myself included. Because this is not just an exercise in remote work, but rather new constraints that have unfolded in a time of crisis.
A lot of folks are discovering some of these elements for the first time. For myself this is a return to sweatpants and staying up late. The loss of routine hasn’t been easy, and I find my attention is more divided.
Many of us juggling work with homeschooling and parenting. None of us were prepared for this — society has always functioned as a safety net. But all of us are discovering how to remain productive in a global pandemic, while the criteria for productivity has changed.
While we learn how to navigate this new world, the main elements that I am discovering are key: vulnerability, visibility.
We are all vulnerable, and it’s important now more than ever to allow people to express vulnerability. Vulnerability is not a weakness — suppressing it is. One of the things that has helped me through this situation is seeing leaders expressing their vulnerability.Knowing that others are feeling the same, and our peers are feeling the same — this makes everyone feel more comfortable.
Visibility is usually important for remote work, but even more so for a crisis. Keeping in touch with regular check-ins can help keep folks aligned. More importantly is providing opportunity for folks to speak up. Since we are feeling vulnerable, affording space gives us an opportunity to express fears and concerns openly.
Together, vulnerability and visibility help to prevent social distancing from turning into isolation. Friends and families are turning to online video chat and virtual happy hours to connect with each other.
Will we return to the office? When will we return? What does the office look like if we have to practice social distancing? It’s hard to say at this point, but I look forward to returning. I would love to wake up tomorrow, get into my car and drive to work. The groans and pains of commuting and open office layouts feel so distant to the grief we are feeling now.
When we do enter the next stages of opening society, it won’t be immediate. Routines will resume but not to the extent we had before. Many of us will transition from “working from home in a crisis” to just “working from home.” It will be a nice relief, however we will again have to learn how to navigate the new normals of a limited society.And when we are on the other side of this, it’s impossible to say that it will look the same. If we remain vulnerable, and make space for visibility — we can navigate these challenges.