Figuring out “Remote Work” is Figuring out “Work”

Credit: Xisco Bibiloni /Wikimedia Commons

There’s a category of Remote Work Think Pieces (by men) that is all about how they personally have had to adapt to remote work (different from the “remote work is the answer” think piece). These annoy me not because I don’t love reading about other people’s workflow and productivity (I do!) but because they are presented as the One True Way of being an effective Remote Worker.

These pieces invariably talk about schedules, and home offices, and the importance of regular exercise.

I don’t think these are things that you don’t need to figure out when you go to an office every day. It’s just going to an office every day provides some strong defaults.

How am I most effective?

The office default: arrive in the morning, leave in the evening.

The new remote worker: omg what should I do? I can work anywhere at anytime?

The remote workaholic: I’ll work everywhere and all the time.

The thoughtful remote worker: I’ll have a default setting, somewhere I’m comfortable and effective and hours that work for me. Sometimes I’ll change them to mix things up, or allow me to do something during my “normal” working hours.

I have worked with plenty of people who are expected to show up in an office most days who could have stood to ask themselves this question. People who never arrive before lunchtime, for whom social engagements (usually occurring in the evening) are stressful events occurring in what they consider to be “peak” working hours. People who are erratic, and seem to be working a lot and yet never feel like they are working enough – maybe because their working day has no rhythm, and often starts with an “emergency” (e.g., a meeting occurring before lunchtime).

This is not just a question of remote work, but of flexible working hours (and, btw, not all remote jobs have that flexible hours – plenty are remote by location but on similar timezones). Waking up every day and having to decide when you’ll work and where is exhausting.

If we sleep enough, work takes up more than half our waking hours, and is more time than we can work effectively in one stretch. This is a hard thing to schedule every day, and it turns out it’s easier to schedule things around it rather than try and schedule 8-9 hours of time around everything else – especially if we need larger blocks of time to be effective.

 

How do I build relationships with my colleagues?

The office default: I’ll sit next to them and have lunch with them. Sometimes we’ll go for a walk and get a coffee.

The new remote worker: omg who are these people? How do I talk to them?

The remote workaholic: sometimes when we’re both on Slack at 11pm, we talk about our favourite whiskey.

The thoughtful remote worker: I’ll make sure we spend time together in person, and I’ll make an effort to include some chit chat and not just be all business all the time.

It’s worth getting to know the people you work with as people, because it turns out they are people and not faceless automatons. This is one thing that I actually love about being a woman in tech – there’s always some kind of group, and women generally welcome each other (this is not always true, but has mostly been my experience – which I’m grateful for).

How do you do this? Well you make an effort and take an interest. Not everyone wants to talk about their life at work, but most people will appreciate being related to like they are a human being with other interests than their job. This is also true in an office.

The worst manager I ever had treated me like I was a faceless automaton (that he was trying to reprogram). I hated when we had to talk about anything remotely personal, because that just wasn’t the relationship I had with him and I didn’t feel like it was his business. I knew almost nothing about him personally, because he never opened up himself. Eventually, he made an effort to get to know me but it felt fake and made me really uncomfortable. We worked in the same office, within 10ft of each other, every day, for over a year. We ate lunch as part of the same group, frequently. I never knew anything about him other than he had a cat (which showed up in a meeting when he was working from home, one time).

A little rapport goes a long way.

How do I balance my personal life with my professional life?

The office default: when I leave the office, I mostly manage to leave work behind.

The new remote worker: omg when is work time and when is me time?!

The remote workaholic: I can have a personal life later. Maybe next year.

The thoughtful remote worker: sometimes work kinda dominates (like before a big launch! Or when I have to travel), but mostly I have a really rich personal life, too.

Here’s a thing you can do when you work at an office: leave the laptop behind for the evening. Or the weekend. It’s hard to do that when you work remotely. I guess you can leave it at the coffee shop, but that’s pretty frowned upon – and who knows if it will be there the next day?

Working in an office doesn’t mean people take time for themselves outside of work. But if you work from home, this often shows up as lack of social contact. Plenty of office workers don’t have enough friends outside of work, and would benefit from taking up some hobbies.

But perhaps it’s that much clearer when you moved to the mountain six months ago because you can finally live wherever you want, but you still have no local friends. Or when you haven’t left the house in 3 weeks because you finally set up the gym in your basement.

We all have needs (and wants!) outside of our jobs, especially social needs. Prioritising our personal lives is figuring out what those are, and how to meet them.

3 thoughts on “Figuring out “Remote Work” is Figuring out “Work”

  1. I think you’re totally spot on with your critique of “change your life to work remotely” blog posts. I try to tell everyone that “Remote Work” may highlight problems or high & low points of your existing work, but it isn’t necessarily a different animal. I’d love to see more perspectives on Remote Work that aren’t just, e.g. how to setup your office or what monitor to buy, and from more perspectives than straight, white, cis-gendered men. +1

  2. +1 I’d love to see more “Remote Work” posts from groups other than straight, white, cis-gendered men. I feel like a broken record when I tell people that working remotely is still working, and while it may highlight particular strengths and weaknesses of your work life, it isn’t necessarily a different thing altogether from just “work.”

  3. “I try to tell everyone that “Remote Work” may highlight problems or high & low points of your existing work, but it isn’t necessarily a different animal.” — EXACTLY!

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