One Week of Remote Working: The Good & The Bad
Released in late 2013, Remote: Office Not Required by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried (of Basecamp, formerly 37signals) immediately struck a chord, particularly in our industry. Suddenly it had become acceptable to want to work in places other than the office!
The work/life balance benefits of remote working are pretty obvious; it affords you the ability to do a job you love within a great company, whilst also giving you the opportunity to place greater focus on your home life by simply allowing you to be there, or somewhere very close, more often. Also, no arduous commutes!
As a company, we've been indulging in remote working for quite a while now. We're not completely remote by any means, but in a typical week we normally find that around half of us take a day or two to work remotely, and the rest of the time we're in the office.
Because we're a team of people who get on really well, have a lot of fun and put a lot of passion and enthusiasm into our work, we know that we have a great environment to work in already, and as a result there hasn't been the desire to fully embrace the idea of remote working.
Even so, we wanted to see if we could make the switch to being completely remote, so we recently ran an experiment to see if we'd be able to cope with an entire week of everyone in the company working outside of the office.
The one caveat to the experiment was that, obviously, clients are the priority. Remote work had to take a back seat if there was a meeting with a client to attend or we'd arranged to, as we've done on a number of our projects, work on-site with a client.
The goal of the experiment was to find out how it would affect the company culture, whether we were more productive, and whether it was something we could actually see ourselves doing more of in the long term.
What We Learned
Be Seen AND Heard
Remote work makes being literally face to face impossible, unless you happen to be working in the same location. It's important to do the next best thing and talk via video chat, you want to be able to see the people you're working with, rather than have them be a disembodied voice emanating from your laptop.
We recommend checking in with your team at least once a day for a quick daily catchup in the morning, not just so everyone knows what others have done and are planning to do, but so you're also getting some human contact.
Big Group Meetings Don't Work
We used both Skype and Google Hangouts for our meetings, with varying degrees of success. On the one hand, Skype is great for smaller team meetings of around four or five people. On the other, we had a meeting with the entire company via Google Hangouts and everybody hated the experience. There's an energy you just don't get when the meeting room is virtual and not physical, making it hard to bounce off each other.
Because the technology made it so difficult to hear what was being said when two or more people were talking at the same time, a lot of us became reluctant to talk at all, and led to huge periods of silence while we were each waiting for somebody else to chip in.
Research Remote Work Locations
You may already be familiar with a number of places you know are good for working in. If you decide you want to branch out, it's useful to know ahead of time whether a place can offer you the fundamental things you'll need if you want to work uninterrupted.
Look for reliable wi-fi connections (some coffee shops restrict you to an hour), power sockets, find out what the noise level is like, and how busy the place can get. If you can remain focussed and productive whilst working there, great.
We found Work Hard Anywhere to be a useful tool in looking for potential places to work.
Beware Of Spiralling Expenses
When working from places such as coffee shops, pubs and bars, there's a creeping obligation to buy something every so often to justify your setting up camp on their premises. Keep an eye on this as, left unchecked for a few days at a time, you'll find your wallet has taken a big hit on what is likely several cups of overpriced coffee.
Libraries Are Your Best Friend
Libraries tick a lot of boxes when it comes to remote work. People go there to study, so the atmosphere encourages you to focus, making it easy to be productive. Wi-fi and power sockets are in ample supply, though be warned that libraries blacklist a LOT of websites. That said, blocked sites are all along the lines of Reddit et al, so you could say they're doing a favour by removing access to distractions.
Also, don't be the one who forgets to put their phone on silent. The reaction is not pleasant:
"Remote Work" Doesn't Have To Mean "Work From Home"
Working remotely means you're given the freedom to work wherever you like and, for most of the team, even before we began this experiment, that often meant just not leaving the house in the morning.
Working from home can be a great, refreshing experience in short bursts. The novelty of not needing to commute, being able to work in a place you feel truly comfortable (and can get the laundry done) is enticing, but a big problem in this scenario is finding that separation between work and life.
It becomes easy to start working earlier and finishing later, because you don't have that ritual of getting to and from work at a similar time as your colleagues. You don't get those same cues at the end of the day that it is the end of the day, so you never close your laptop. Similarly, because you know you're working these longer hours, it's tempting to work at a less productive pace, on the understanding that you'll get the same amount of work done anyway, despite this being the opposite of what remote work wants to achieve: a healthy work/life balance.
Put A Shirt On
During the experiment, when we absolutely had to work from home, this was one of our mantras. Though it started out as a bit of a joke, there's truth to it in the sense that there should be some sort of ritual you engage in before starting work at home, to try and create that separation.
Get dressed as you would for work, go to an area in your home you don't necessarily associate with relaxing (i.e. somewhere there's no TV you can put on in the background), and check in with your colleagues.
Not Everyone Wants To Work Remotely
It's so easy to get swept up in the excitement that the concept of remote work offers, that it's also easy to overlook that there are people who genuinely prefer to work in an office environment. At the end of the day, remote work boils down to you being able to choose the location in which you're the most happy and productive, and in some cases that is the office.
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