In February 2012 I made the move from the 4 million person metropolis of Melbourne to a country town with a population of just over 25,000 in the Victorian high country. This tree change signified a significant adjustment in my life, from the place I was born to a place where I knew barely anyone. Not only that I started a new job shortly before hand (within the same company I’d been working at for almost 4 years) and got married. Since then many challenges have presented themselves, but I have continued to prosper in my career and even changed jobs 11 months ago. There is a growing trend to remote workers, in particular in the IT industry, where hands and feet work are limited. But there are many pitfalls, especially in the change I encountered, that can catch people out. The Oatmeal sums this up really nicely and I’m going to try and expand on the “The Horrible” and provide some advice on how to counter them.
Degradation of social skills
I have not always been the most sociable person, I don’t describe myself as introverted, I enjoy social interactions and rarely need “alone time” to recover, but I suffered from bullying throughout Primary and Secondary school so I guess you could say my development was a little stunted. So beginning to work from home presented a new set of challenges; I couldn’t lean on work mates to provide the bulk of my social interactions. This forced me to find new avenues to interact socially, I joined non for profit committees and started training in Muay Thai at a gym full of very friendly people. I see this as a very positive step in my wellbeing overall, I learnt new skills and was forced to take action rather than relying on others to interact for me.
I found this pretty easy to cope with as long as I had a clear set of tasks I had to work on and my work was challenging and interesting. I’ve known people who null route reddit.com to break the bad habit of browsing idly to it, but mostly I found I worked too much, which I’ll talk about more later.
My wife and kids are the biggest distractions to me, even without knowing it. Despite the fact my wife asks me a question and it takes me two seconds to answer, I loose my train of thought. Context switching is hard for humans (and especially hard for me).
This is why I always ensure I have a dedicated office space to work in, locking myself away from the distractions of home life. I make an effort to do housework for my wife and help her out with the kids when needed, but I do so during set tea breaks as much as possible, like emptying the dishwasher while the kettle is boiling.
Stress on relationships
I can’t speak for my wife in this context, who’s a stay at home Mum, Baker and Tutor, but I think she enjoys having me around more than when I’m not. Mostly because of how much she can get me to help out with the housework and when the baby has been clinging to her for 8 hours straight and she needs a break RIGHT THE FUCK NOW! I think it would be more stressful if we had to work together say in small, self owned, business. I was speaking to someone the other day who commented that they couldn’t imagine how their marriage would survive running a small business with their spouse. I know my parent’s marriage did not. So overall the stress on relationships can be hard at times, but it’s far from unbearable.
Loss of Regimen
This was a big problem for me at first. I would work first thing when I got up and continue working well after 5pm. I always feel I’m a highly motivated person and that has downsides too, I spent too much time working and not enough time with my family. I found it easy to be consumed by my work problems and failed to appreciate the amazing family I have at home. Someone once told me they used to finish working at home and go outside to the mail box then return inside to signify the end of the day. Regimen and routine are absolutely critical to working from home. As I said before I ensure I have a dedicated work space to work from home, so when I finish for the day my laptop usually stays in the office. If I do work after hours to make up for time off during the day it’s after the kids are in bed.
Having a routine such as training Muay Thai on Tuesdays is also really helpful because it helps break the monotony of the workday. It helps me destress, but I suspect this is the same for people who work in an office too.
Lack of employee banter
This is what I miss the most. When I go to the office I get very little actual work done, most of my time is spent talking to people. This is enjoyable and important not just for relationship building but having face to face conversations that generate more insight and better outcomes than they would have over a video call.
But most of my banter happens on conference calls during team meetings. Your team is your best anchor and having a good relationship with them is as important when you work from home, but harder to achieve. Through my work as a Delivery Lead I’ve tried to ensure our team knows one another by throwing in little exercises during our retrospectives to get us talking about our past jobs and projects. Life maps and timelines are just some of the tools available to help with this.