Remote worker

2014 Jun 07

I’ve been working remotely, on and off, for a good 16 months now.

The first time I did it, it was because I wasn’t willing to relocate halfway around the world. So we agreed on a 3 months onsite - 9 months offsite deal. At that time, I had a pretty good idea how to organize my time and how to communicate to people remotely effectively - everyone else seemed pretty scared about working remotely, but to me it seemed kind of…sensible, I guess.

I discovered several things about remote workers and myself during that time, the most surprising of which was that I wasn’t as introverted as I thought. I found myself unable to stay in the house for the full extent of a 8-9 hour work day, let alone the rest of it. Combine that with the timezone differences (-6 or +3 hours) - when I’d start work around 0800, others would be already past halfway with their day - and it makes for some pretty erratic days.

Easy aspects

  • Living (mostly) by myself during this time has helped organize my time as I see fit. I can see remote work being much more stressful with a spouse and/or kid(s) in the same house.
  • The constant interruptions are mostly gone. People can still annoy you at will - I seriously hate having a phone right now, but there are more ways to “buffer” them, like check emails twice a day, or IRC once every 15-30 minutes, etc.
  • Getting away from the horrible “open” workspaces. Those spaces are an invasion to sanity.
  • I’ve found it’s easier to reach consensus about a decision - most likely because I suck at explaining myself in speech.
  • When I feel like going crazy inside four walls, I can find a coffee shop with WiFi and do some work under the illusion that things are happening, but nobody’s going to be bugging me. In general, having the flexibility about when/where to work is good, even though I’m not taking full advantage of it.
  • It’s easier to keep in touch with the people I want to, and avoid those I don’t like.
  • I’ve managed to outgrow the ‘guilt’ stage - employers thinking I’m not putting in the whole N hours a week.

Hard aspects

  • Some people think I’m just fucking around on my verandah with no pants on. The most frequent comments are: “you could be working from a beach right now if you wanted to”, and “come over, let’s get a drink” somewhere around 1200 - then I try to explain I’m working, they think I’m getting worked up about it, they like that, so they continue the teasing, up until it starts to become actually annoying.
  • “When are you coming over next?” I’m online practically all day now. I’ve got a webcam, two if you count my smartphone, which is always connected. Skype, G+, IRC. I’ve installed the piece of malware you use for IM. If you feel like you can’t talk to me, it’s your fault, because frankly I am always available. However, please refrain from calling me around 2300 and complaining about all the noise coming from the bar patrons.
  • Keeping a tight schedule - not in terms of delivery, but in terms of consistency to my “rituals”. Some days I’d wake up earlier to get a head start on a task or get on a Skype call with somebody and “pair program”, 10k km away from each other. I don’t see keeping a tight 9-5 day possible for me.
  • IRC / instant messaging: I think they’re horrible, invasive and completely unhelpful - yet they’re the “best” we have. I’d like a medium where I could easily and readily express the sentiment “shut up, and give me 10 minutes to think about this idea I just had, undisturbed”.
  • Synchronization - at the first gig I tried working remotely, it became increasingly hard to be consistent on a daily call, or find out about the things that were going on on the other side, if you will. I’m still not quite sure why - maybe it wasn’t even necessary in the first place.
  • I feel like there’s a huge issue of trust with working remotely - some employers definitely don’t trust you to do it, thinking you will just slack or maybe because they just can’t measure productivity. It’s another one of those cases where we are required to prove time and again we have certain skills and that we are professionals. This is attrition warfare, to be honest.

Overall, working remotely has been good to me so far. The one thing I miss the most is the ability to just meet with someone and bounce ideas off each other, which is probably the reason I haven’t gone into any research work yet.

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