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Working from home

Recently I changed jobs, I took a role with a company working entirely remotely.

Why did I do this?

Reason one: family.

My daughter is just starting school and working from home means I can get to her school in 5 minutes flat if I’m needed, no waiting for buses, trains etc. We also do flexible working so I can tailor my hours to fit me and the school day. Thus I work from 07:00 to 15:00 and then I get to spend the afternoon with my daughter.

Reason two: selfishness.

I loathe commuting, even the small commute I did at my last job. It was, on paper, 4 minutes on the train, but then there was the walking to and from the station at both ends, waiting for the inevitably delayed train. It all added up and I was shocked to realise I was losing ten hours a week to commuting. When you factor in the hour of lunch where I was sat around reading, I’m up to fifteen hours a week I can spend with my family, or do things around the house. That’s like 2 working days a week extra time for me! It also helped that my last day commuting, my train to work was cancelled. It did not make me regret my choices.

Reason three: A new challenge.

My old job was never easy. I was continually learning, growing, fighting against some of the most intractable and leading edge testing problems I’ve ever heard of. I mean there was basically never a situation where I could take a solution off the shelf and apply it, I always needed to invent the framework, develop a solution, create a new way to do things. It was an exciting problem space. But it was only one problem space. So while it was always novel within the space, I felt it was time to move outside that space. The new role is in a completely different sector and already I’m finding new ways to apply old solutions to problems in a way that’s really got my attention again.

What’re the downsides? How do you counter them?

Bear in mind this is from the lofty perch of 2 whole weeks of working from home, so I could just be in a honeymoon period and not seeing the real issues.

Working from home is a self discipline problem.

It can be oh so easy to slip down to the kitchen for a snack, just check on the garden, get distracted by one thing or another. It takes a lot of self control to actually work in a focused way. If you’ve had your own home for a while, you know there’s always something that needs doing.

To counter this I use Pomodoro, a technique where you focus on one task for a number of minutes (I do 25) and all distractions, interruptions and the like are de-prioritised until it’s over. Now I have some interrupts that make it through the pomodoro gauntlet, phone calls from my daughter’s school, deliveries at the door etc. But most don’t. Emails, slack messages, empty coffee mug, all of them get dumped into the later pile. I take a five minute break after each session to catch up on these interruptions. I also make sure I dress exactly as I did when going to an office, minus the shoes. This helps me keep the right state of mind. And most importantly I have an actual office space in my house. A spare bedroom that’s now where I work. It’s devoid of non-work things and allows me to maintain focus.

It’s harder to have a random conversation which sparks serendipitous epiphanies

You can’t just start chatting to someone about your weekend or the problem you’re facing and suddenly realise what the solution is. There’s no bumping into someone and just chatting as you meander around the office.

This is a hard one, frequent pairing with other team members using screen sharing has been immensely helpful for me. I’ve also taken to using my break time for a walk in the garden or rubber ducking to shake loose the ideas I would normally get from conversation. Still, somethings like grabbing a whiteboard and just collaboratively sketching out a solution are still very hard to do remotely.

Isn’t it lonely?

I was often asked “Won’t you be lonely working by yourself all day?”, many people feel a need to be around others often, we’re a social species after all and working remotely seems like it would cut down your human contact.

I’m lucky in that I’ve spent the last 20 or more years with vast swathes of my social interaction being online and textual. I am full acclimated to having close friends who I’ve never met in the flesh. I have a family so I get plenty of face to face contact, which with a small child can mean them literally putting their face on yours because they want to look up your nose.

What’s the upsides?

Oh wow, so many.

The office is the temperature I want it to be.

After 20 years working in offices where the temperature was either Hoth or Tatooine and nothing in between, I finally have a working environment which is in the habitable zone for baseline humans. I cannot stress how nice it is to not have an office hoodie because it’s too cold at my desk when it’s over 35C outside.

The coffee is excellent

I am a coffee snob, being able to get my preferred bean, roast, grind and brewing time every cup is bliss. So many offices conflate coffee with espresso and assume that dark roast beans are the only way to go. This is a falsehood propagated by big espresso or Italy, I can’t decide which.

The extra hours

As stated above, that’s 15 extra hours a week I get back. Fifteen. That’s time for me to tidy the house and stop having a cleaner in. That’s time for me to make and air the beds. It’s time for me to get laundry done. It sounds banal and mundane, but simply being able to do these things means that the hours I get with my daughter are so much richer and more enjoyable. I don’t need to juggle her and housework, I can give her 100% of my attention.

No reliance on public transport or traffic.

In the final fortnight of my commute, my train was delayed more than half the time and cancelled twice. I have no desire to return to that. The transportation network in Cambridge is horrendous for the 21st century.

I can use my good headphones

Minor point possibly, but instead of the noise cancelling closed back sennheisers I’ve been using for work until now, I can instead break out my open backed monitors and my DAC. That’s assuming I don’t just sit in the room with the surround sound system and play music through it.

Peace of mind.

I don’t need to worry that if something happens and my daughter needs me that I’ll be trapped on the wrong end of a taxi ride or train. I’ll be able to get to her in minutes at any point during the day. With flexi-work I can even do a couple of hours in an evening and be ready for errands or whatever comes along.

Portioning of food

I’ve been losing weight (intentionally) recently and one major issue was that if I didn’t take food with me to work, getting a quick, cheap and low calorie meal was extremely challenging. Now I can cook at home and just eat a sensible diet.

I’m in a space that’s tailored to me.

I guess everything above this point is just a facet of this. But I am in an office I’ve designed, outfitted and everything is where I expect and how I expect it. I feel completely comfortable and at ease in my workspace and with the option to block external interruptions as above, I’m amazingly productive, especially in the very early mornings.

Is it really worth it?

For me, definitely. It’s a lifestyle that I’m embracing and discovering how much I love. Is it for everyone? Probably not. I do miss the walking a little, but I plan to work exercise into my routine in the coming weeks.