Reflecting on four years of remote work
- 10 min read
Throughout the past four years, I've had the opportunity to work for a unique, design focused company called InVision. For those not familiar with InVision, it is growing to be the operating system for digital product design. Its product line provides tools for designers, developers, and stakeholders to collaborate on designing and building websites, mobile applications, and almost anything else that is displayed on a screen.
On this page
The entire company is dispersed across the globe with people across all continents and in almost all time zones. There is no central office, but some make use of coworking spaces like WeWork. All communication happens on Slack and meetings take place on Zoom.
When I had started back in December 2014, I was number seventy-six, and at the time of writing this article, there are well over eight hundred. Many things have since changed, and as an organization, it has matured. The company is broken down into small teams, each with the responsibility of handling a specific area of the product. Whether that's boards, inspect, or conversations (I’ve worked on all three products), we all have a sense of ownership to what we deliver to the customer.
Side note: we're hiring!
Take the good with the bad#
Working the remote life is a tad different than most people imagine. When I tell people I work remotely, they always ask how I find the motivation to do the work. This is still an easy one to answer for me because if you love what you’re doing, it doesn't feel like work at all. Most of the time I'm sincere answering this, but remote life isn't always as glamorous as it seems. First, let us go over some of the goods before getting to some of the not so greats.
It goes without saying that remote work gives way more flexibility than having to be in an office all day. You have the option to work from anywhere really, but I found the only places I’ve worked from are either my office, couch, or a nearby coffee shop. I know many people prefer having an office outside of home, and many people commute to their local co-working space. I may try this option in the future just to get out more.
Have appointment midday? No problem! Just let your team know you’ll be back in a bit. Kids are home sick from daycare, and you have to watch them for a couple of hours while working? No problem! Never have I ever had any of my managers question or seem put off by the fact that life sometimes gets in the way. I can’t express how great this is! To be able to watch the kiddo for an hour or two in the middle of the day has done wonders. If it weren't for this flexibility, my wife and I would of either had to find someone to watch him or one of us would have to take part of the day off.
Reap in all the productivity#
Nothing is worse when you finally get in the groove, and someone taps you on the shoulder to ask you some nonsensical question. When working remotely, you have the benefits of isolating yourself and blocking out all people and distractions. If I really want to get into the zone, I turn on “do not disturb” mode in Slack for an hour or two. Everyone on the team respects interrupting you whenever you are in this mode; unless it’s critical of course.
Honestly, I feel like some of the best work I’ve done is in a remote setting. With no one around you are left alone with your thoughts. No people, notifications, and some great tunes = programmers bliss.
Transportation is a thing of the past#
My commute to work in the morning and evening is a quick walk up or down stairs to and from my office. It didn't always use to be like this as I used to take two or three buses to get to work. This was not only time consuming (about an hour and a half one way), but incredibly dull and repetitive each day. Most days you finish work, and just want to get home as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this is everyone else’s mentality too.
Travelling in the winter was brutal! I’ve had to wait out in the -40℃ (which correlates to -40℉ for my American friends) wind chilled weather for a bus that shows up late or refuses to let people on because it’s full.
Since I no longer need to travel, there's no need to worry about the extra gas, parking, and purchasing bus passes each month. I even save on insurance because I don't drive my vehicle to and from work.
As contradictory as this sounds, I do occasionally miss the commute. While riding the bus, I got to take some time and do the smaller things that I enjoy, like reading, playing games on my phone or just mindlessly browsing Reddit while listening to music. Mind you I can do this all at home, but other priorities take precedence.
Less sick days#
One significant upside is catching way fewer colds. No longer do you have to come in close contact with other people from either the office, bus, or just about anyone else you bump into during your day. Before working from home, I used to get sick a couple of times a year (almost always during the fall), and if you know me in real life, I hate taking sick days. In these past four years, I’ve taken maybe 5 days off total.
This was recently true until my toddler started going to daycare. Any parents that have children in daycare know that they seem to bring back most colds that go around. It feels like he brings back a cold every month or two and I seem to have a 50-50 chance of catching it.
Clothing: partially optional#
Lots of people that work remotely tout the fact that you only need to be presentable from the waist up. Personally, I feel incomplete if I’m half dressed. I do own at least 10 or more pairs of sweatpants and a couple of pairs of sweat shorts more than the average person, but I have never gone to work in my pyjamas.
Fun fact: one guy on my team only wears shirts when we have a meeting because he lives in a tropical area. It’s funny to hear him say one second I need to put a shirt on when a spontaneous meeting is scheduled.
The not so greats#
You often feel like you take on more responsibility and are held more accountable to what you say and do. It's not uncommon for me to work outside of office hours because my computer is literally a room away. You put in a couple extra hours after dinner, and before you know it, you’ve worked a 10 hour day.
I don't always see this as a negative though. There are times I'll sit on the couch watching something on Netflix and experimenting with something new that I otherwise would not have had the chance to try out during the workday. If it ends up adding any benefit, I'll mention it to my squad, and it will usually get merged in without any problems.
The number one productivity killer for me is distractions. It’s all too easy to open up Reddit or Twitter for 5 minutes while your Docker container is building. The cat may walk in wanting attention (many video calls we have, there is an animal present) or family members walking in to say hello. All these little distractions do add up!
I can see how this sounds terrible from a management standpoint and that no one is there to tell you what you can and can’t do. Is this any worse than having random, pointless conversations at the office or having a group of people going out and grabbing a coffee? I can see how some people might need supervision to stay productive though, and remote work may not be the best option for them.
Visiting the outside world#
Leaving the house usually requires a bit more effort, and in the winter months, it's even harder. I can easily go the entire week without leaving my house except for driving down the street to grab some coffee, sometimes multiple times a day. I used to go out running a couple nights a week and exercise more outside the house, but that motivation comes and goes.
Your mental state#
After the initial hype of working remote sets in, you begin to realize your only face to face interactions become limited to your family, friends, and your pets. You do start to feel lonely sitting there, every day by yourself in your office and begin to doubt the choices you've made choosing a job where all coworker interactions are virtual.
We as people try so hard to keep work and home separate, but working remotely wholly changed that for me. Once your day is done, it’s almost impossible to just switch from work mode to being a dad and not bring any emotions or troubles over from your day. At least with a commute home from work, I had the chance to decompress and put work aside before I got home.
Making remote life work for you#
I see remote work as the future since the goods outweigh the bads by a long shot. You have more freedom and flexibility than you would have in a traditional office, but there are a couple of things you should keep in mind before making the jump.
You should set work-life boundaries. I did cover this a bit in the not so greats. However, I've found that having a cutoff time and really try not to work through the evenings has helped in a way. Besides, the more rested you are, the more productive you'll be, and you can produce a much higher quality of work, right?
You need to get used to figuring things out on your own. While working remotely, I find that you don't have the luxury of people hand holding you while they sit next to you at the office. A lot of the times if you need something you will be pointed to either a wiki or some documentation. You learn to be pretty self-reliant and gather your own preferred resources.
It’s better to over communicate than not enough. Since communication is all text-based and not face to face, always try to be clear and give some context if you are asking a question. Try to connect with your team throughout the day to let them know when you're in, heading out for the day, or have to step out for a bit.
Get out and exercise. I’m not sure I can include this since I’ve been lacking in this department for the past little while. I used to exercise on a regular basis until my son was born; however, it’s something I want to get back in to. Being cooped up in the house all day takes a toll on your body, and you should be exercising regularly. Not only for your body's sake but also your mind.
I hope this article has shed some light on the life of remote working. For the foreseeable future, I see myself continuing down this path. With the right mindset, I definitely believe that remote work can be an option for anyone.