I worked 1 year remotely from the countryside for an agile software company. How did it go?

Summary: this has been a life changing experience to extract from the office and work remotely from the calmness of the countryside. Here is what I learned about working remotely in the process.

Zoomed view from my home office window over the landscape and forests of Karula National park.
Zoomed view from my home office window over the landscape and forests of Karula National park.

Information about the position

Position: IT Operations Specialist (release manager, alerting and monitoring manager, project manager, PCI DSS compliancy manager)

Time worked in office: 0,5 years

Time worked remotely after blending in: 1 year 

Remote working in home office. Two big screens, a laptop in a dock
Remote working in home office. Two big screens, good sound option, a laptop in a dock and a coffee mug

 

The silence (lack of critical information) can and will happen

One could say silence is the best thing in this world we are overly exposed to oncoming information. And you get plenty of it working from your own comfortable workdesk in your nature-bliss wherever on the globe your are located.

But that is not the case when you are in the middle of a staging environment deploy that your key customer is waiting to start implementation tests and then *boom* something goes wrong and error messages start flooding the logs.

The office guys jump on to solve the issue as angry workbees. But you remotely don’t know what’s going on, so you ask questions in Slack, you ask channels and people in person and there is SILENCE. Time goes slowly. You investigate on your own but people haven’t left too many traces in their Jira issues about what has been done or what needs to be done…

Finally you get some conversations going. Usually something has been happening and problem got solved. You, if any, get the notice, because the problem got solved in a way they normally do in the office – people gather in a group and have a conversation while hacking the issue – everyone does something.

In time I got used to this occasional left out feeling and can not remotely do anything against the word of mouth happening in the office.

For remote working to be successful everyone needs to document every step they did to work on or solve a case.

But the lack of information does not only include work. It also affected several times important news in the company. Someone leaving or changing positions were a good example of this as the news were always shared in-person in the office.

The remote colleague in underwear can and will happen

Normally I get all the morning routine done as needed – wake self and kid up, get coffee, feed kid, have a morning snack if possible, dress kid, take her to kindergarten, get back home, finish breakfast, shower, get dressed and move to my workdesk.

But at 25.02., after the long weekend for Estonian Independence Day the routine stopped when back at home from kindergarten, ready to go to shower, finishing breakfast. I opened my laptop on kitchen table, while wearing nothing but underpants. And I stayed there for the following 5 hours like this, beardy, unwashed, in underpants.

But despite my outfit, still managed to be productive. Which is the biggest win in this form of working.

Missing out on the office fun will happen

But I know there is life happening at the office that I am missing.

Clean the toilet in the office - Slack chat
The #office chat (makes you miss the office)

Things like that are how the office connections are made.

Office life is still office life – human to human interactions are something else than talking in the chat or a call / video call. Well, on the other hand, the rule mentioned in the above image applies at home too 😉 Funnier if it happens in the office though.

How productive can working remotely be?

As long as the tools (office VPN, own internet connection) work and colleagues respond in the communication tool there are no limits.

For myself I can say working remotely (without in home interruptions) has higher productivity in general than working in the office. Having done it for half a year this is my conclusion. Working interruption free keeps the mind steadily working on a given task and results are coming better if possible to focus interruption free.

In the office you might even be considered rude or cold or a work animal if you are working frozen eyes on a task and don’t have a talk to everyone passing your table. So the burden of having office relationships comes for me at the cost of productivity.

 

How working from home affects family life?

Being at home all the time will mean for the family that you are seemingly always available for the family. There is no denying that this will happen, it is expected.

Be it watching the ill kid or accepting deliveries or arranging other household tasks – they will shift towards you because, well, you are at home. This will become more and more natural and at times you need to defend yourself – because you are “at work” during the work hours.

Be aware – your attitude towards family and the home in general may suffer. Spending all time at home – working and relaxing may cause the following:

  • clear boundaries between work / home may be lost
  • home related matters may be seen as interruptions to work; need to work on self to hold proper attitude
  • family might not be missed so much (they are always present); is this good or bad – negotiable
  • the family will expect work to end when the workday has ended, working after hours may trigger conflicts

So in conclusion it’s a chance to spend more precious time at home with family BUT it could turn nasty very easily because of colliding interests.

The remote worker needs to stay in control and have rules set in place for self / family. Going out and seeing other people is recommended every once in a while for keeping it fresh.

remote call to the office
Calling in to the office meeting from another side of the country

Conclusion: pros and cons

PROS

  • uninterrupted work environment can result in higher productivity
  • no commuting costs / time
  • more perceived freedom
  • no possibility to get any illness from ill coworker
  • some coworkers will start missing you and relationships may even strengthen
  • it’s just … modern
  • you can drink beer if you want during the workday

CONS

  • social distancing from coworkers, might feel lonely and cut off
  • some colleagues may not like you working remotely
  • missing office fun and direct chats that build relationships
  • missing information that is shared verbally in office
  • limits more vague between home and work life
  • some days you will skip shower
  • you can drink beer if you want during the workday

Final note

Working remotely requires an in-place working procedure, full trust or a good control mechanism on the employer side. It requires self control from the remote worker. It’s super easy to get distracted and misconceive remote working with freedom or free time which it’s not! It’s work, just not dependent on the physical office location.

There are several companies that are remote-only and thousands of job offers for full-remote positions, thousands.

It works. This is the working form that will be adapted more and more because if there is no direct need for working in-office then why go there. According to Buffer’s state of remote work in 2019 remote work was not a trend but was here to stay.

Once gotten used to working remotely, the liberty to work from anywhere is something to be considered self-explanatory or obvious when working in a digital company. It is a good time to live when you can be employed, but basically work one week from this, the other week from the other side of the world. Or just from the comfort of your home that you maintain and are paying full time for anyway.

The value created is location independent in a company that creates or maintains a digital product or service. But going remotely in a company where it is not widely accepted can be a struggle and mentally a bit exhausting.

But then again, maybe working remotely is just a craze that needs to be lived off. Only way to find out is to … try it out.

 

Post Author: Tom Pai