Working remotely

A few years ago we decided to escape the high cost of living in the Boston area and move south. Wound up in Raleigh, NC. Once we’d decided to move I asked my manager if I could work remotely. He said he was willing to give it a try. Honestly I was hoping I could get 6 months or so out of the deal: enough time to find local work.

Four or five years later, I’m still working remotely and couldn’t be more grateful for it. I haven’t set foot in the home office for years.

The up-sides of working remotely are obvious: no commute, you have complete control over your working environment and you, in theory, can work in your PJs. (I don’t, though. I find that ‘getting dressed for work’ is a ritual that helps flick my brain over into working mode.)

There are some downsides, of course. I miss out on a lot of back-channel communications; those “over the cubicle wall” meetings that happen spontaneously and which co-workers often overhear. Conference calls aren’t great when you’re the only one on the phone; it can be hard to hear what’s going on and I’m always aware that I’m inconveniencing my comrades when they need to set up a call just for me.

I actually spend more hours in front of my PC than I did when I worked in the office because I don’t have the distraction of chatting with co-workers or walking across the street with them to get a coffee.

Also while my manager is cool with me working remotely, the owner of the company and a couple of the highest-level execs don’t trust remote workers. They assume anyone who works remote is just goofing off. Because of this, I’m pretty anal about being available all day, every day. That means replying to emails or chat messages as soon as they come in, whenever possible. Still, it’s a small price to pay.

Since I’m the only member of my team that is remote, I don’t work unusual hours. I start at 8:30 or so and work until 5. I usually take a break at 5 to walk the dog then come back to finish up any lingering work that either won’t wait until tomorrow, or that is stuck in my craw and is going to distract me until I finish it.

I also have to be self-reliant. If I’m having a problem with hardware, I need to be able to fix it myself. In theory I guess I could ship my laptop back to the home office and ask IT to remove a virus (or whatever); I know there are less technical remote workers that do that. Our one IT person is over-worked enough without my doing that, so I go to great lengths not to ask for help. As a web developer I feel like you should be able to fix your own issues anyway (short of actual hardware failure, of course).

I use a couple of different systems so that if a problem crops up on one and I can’t fix it quickly, I can switch to working on another system until I have time to address the problem.

I do have a proper desk set up and I spend 95% of my time sitting there working. Every once in a great while I’ll feel the need for a change and I’ll take the laptop and sit on the couch in the living room, or even out on the balcony (though in NC there’re about 10 days out of the entire year that are warm enough to sit outside without being uncomfortably hot).

My Internet connection is 200 MBPS down/ 20 MBPS up. It’s effectively faster than the Internet I had at the office (theirs is faster but of course a lot more people are using it). Fortunately it’s pretty reliable. For a few years I paid for a back-up cellular system but I very rarely had to use it and when I did it was horribly slow. So now on the rare times our Internet goes out, if I don’t have any strictly local work I can focus on, I just take PTO.

Of course the very best part of working from home is my morale officer. She spends most of the day laying on the floor in the office, but if I’m getting stressed or frustrated I can always count on her to make me laugh or smile. Every office should have a dog.