Hack the Backyard I

Ben Collins
October 21, 2015


YARWPPO

Well, it seems like everyone I know is writing posts on working remotely1, so I should do one too. I’ve actually been doing this longer than almost everyone else I know working remotely, so it’s probably past time anyway.

actual remote worker

So does remote working mean you just play video games in your jammies all day, answering calls and email occasionally to make it look like you’re working? What does remote working actually look like? Do remote workers actually get anything done without supervision? How can a remote worker be successful? What are some best practices for a remote worker?

Yes, It’s Awesome

Working remotely is really awesome. Truly. I can put in 8-10 hours days just like any other worker, but then instead of taking two hours of my life2 and flushing them down the toilet, while simultaneously contributing to poor air quality, traffic congestion, and paying for the privilege in the form of fuel and vehicle costs, I can:

  • eat all three meals with my family every day
  • drink coffee made by my 6-year-old who is stoked to get to come into my office and push the french press plunger down
  • start work at 9am, but have already had 2 hours of time to do things that matter to me
  • work until 6 (or later, as often as not) but still get to have time for family or yardwork or other things that go off best with daylight.

…and much more.

Dem Tradeoffs

As much as it’s awesome, there are some downsides as well, including some that any people don’t consider.

Isolation

It took me a long time to realize that this was affecting me. People are social, even anti-social ones (if there is nobody around to see how anti-social you are, how can you ever be satisfied that you are anti-social enough?). I love the quietness of solitude. I really, really do. When I used to visit my girlfriend3 in college, it was a 3.5-hour drive. I often made that drive without the radio on. My girlfriend thought that was bizarre, but I easily filled the time with thoughts. Even a man who is totally comfortable being left alone with his thoughts for hours on end without even background music needs human contact, and more than you might think. I need to talk to people more than once a day. It doesn’t have to be super personal, face-to-face, or even video chat. Even just chatting on slack is good enough most days - I just need to feel connected, like I belong with the people I work with in some way.

This is really important. What’s dangerous is that this is different than loneliness, so you won’t feel isolated until it’s already impacting you. You need to be connected to your company, your coworkers, your team - or you will have very little passion for what the team are trying to accomplish. You won’t believe in the mission, and you won’t be as successful as an individual contributor as you could be because you just won’t care as much.

Distraction

I think many, many managers think this is the biggest risk in working remotely. They’re wrong. This is not a bigger risk than it is for people who work co-located, but it is different.

People who are co-located are horrific distractions for each other. Their managers are distractions. The conversations that come floating over the cube walls are distractions. Remote workers generally don’t face these kinds. They face distractions more like: the UPS delivery; your wife can’t open the pickle jar and could you please come; kids who want to show you their latest drawing; flexing a little time to run a 15-minute errand.

Both remote workers and co-located workers face the temptation to lose time to cat videos4.

Dialup Communication

I love Slack (but I really wish they had replies). I think Google Hangouts is really very good at video conferencing for small groups or one-on-one calls. GitHub issues are good for coordinating work. One can always write an email.

But let me tell you something: there simply isn’t a technology that give you the same kind of communication bandwidth as a face-to-face conversation. It simply doesn’t exist (although VR has come a long way; it will be interesting to see what happens in that space). Subtle facial expressions, tone, and body language get lost to varying degrees when using technology to communicate.

This isn’t a big problem, just realize that it is what it is.

I’ll get to tips for success in part 2, coming soon…

*[YARWPPO]: Yet Another Remote Working Post Part 1


  1. well, like two people. [return]
  2. I live an 60-75 minutes from the nearest tech hub, ergo most local jobs [return]
  3. Good news! I wifed her nearly 13 years ago! [return]
  4. or any social media [return]
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