A Year of Working Remotely
August 22, 2019
I’ve been working at User Interviews – a fully remote company – for over 2 years now. I keep meaning to summarize my thoughts on remote work.
But this post came along and pretty much did it for me. A lot resonated with me. Some highlights. 👇
“The way to look at remote work is that it’s a series of tradeoffs. You enjoy benefits in exchange for disadvantages. The uptake of remote work over the next decade will depend most on the minimization of those disadvantages rather than the maximization of the benefits. Reason being, the benefits are already substantial while many of the disadvantages will be lessened over time with technology and process improvements.”
This feels exactly right. No commute, more flexibility, economic advantages, etc. These benefits already exist and aren’t going to get much better.
Whereas the drawbacks and challenges will be better addressed in the next few years. Collaboration and communication tools will continue to evolve. Norms and best practices will emerge and so on.
“I will say this about video meetings though: I have a very hard and sudden limit I reach with them. My first hour or two of video meetings every day are a joy. But the days when I have to do 4 or 5 hours on Zoom, it gets tedious. This is not the case for me with in-person meetings. I feel like in an office full of people you genuinely enjoy, sitting down in a conference room or taking a walk with them is refreshing. It’s part of what makes office life enjoyable… for me at least!”
This mirrors my experience. I love Zoom. Days without any video calls feel isolating.
But a slate of them back to back to back is exhausting. You’re performing for a camera almost. You feel “on.” Often with no real break between calls. A day full of meetings in an office at least usually means walking to different conference rooms. It is chopped up a bit as you physically relocate.
A day full of meetings is never great but it is worse over video.
“In terms of being super-productive in remote environments, the biggest lever is to work as asynchronously as possible. Carve off large chunks of work that you can do on your own without having to check in every hour or even every day. For design reviews, do some of them over video, but collect as much feedback via asynchronous comments as you can.”
Ding, ding, ding. Async is amazing if you can figure it out. Remote provides a natural incentive to figure it out. It’s not easy but it’s great. Plus, you end up with written documentation and other artifacts to revisit that don’t always come out of meetings or whiteboard sessions. It is documentation by default when working async.
A few final add-on thoughts from me:
- Companies fear remote work because they cannot track employees and worry they’ll take liberties. Employees fear remote work because they worry they won’t be able to stop working and set boundries when their home is their office. Seems like a silly misalignment in expectations when you think about it.
- Sometimes I love Slack. Sometimes I hate Slack. I couldn’t imagine working remote without it. But it distracts me a lot too. This deserves its own post.
- A pleasant home environment and socializing outside of work are key. But these should be key for office workers too. A nice home and regular social activities with non-coworkers shouldn’t be disproportionally valued by remote workers. Kind of sad when you flip it this way and realize office workers seem to be more okay forgoing these things without doing so intentionally.