Before I forget all the associated details around various working from home experiments, I’ll write them down here. I’ve had the first-hand experience before Covid hit the economy which forced a bunch of people to work in their bedrooms, I did that sometime before and from my own volition.
Why would I want to work from home?
There is a bit of context to the subsequent decisions and manoeuvres. I swear it’ll be short.
It all started 9 years ago when I had to move to the capital to start my new job as a software developer. The office was almost in the middle of Dublin, sounds a bit vague, I know. The immediate effect was to move my family somewhere close, so we rented a place, and if I walked, it took me around 40 minutes to get to the office.
After a couple of years working like that, we decided to move out of the city to a cheaper, better location, which would be better suited to raise kids. The obvious issue was the necessity for me to be in the office all the time. But we still did it, and I ended up commuting to the city and even spending a couple of nights there (every week). It was not feasible to commute every day due to commute time and costs involved. It was also cheaper to rent outside and commute and stay overnight in the city 🤯.
Long commutes, being away from home for days, exhaustion and the silly requirement for me to be in the office (a bit about it later) forced me to push for a request to work at least a day from home. The proposal got accepted, so I continued to commute but was in the office for only 4 days. The day when I worked from home was either Monday or Friday, we changed it a couple of times due to various reasons - it did not affect me much. This arrangement continued for a couple of years.
My long commute and overnight stays still bothered me as I was not able to “live” in two places. Overnight stays shifted from place to place due to pricing. It was challenging to adjust and relax after finishing days work, so I continued to do some Open Source development as there was nothing else to do. It led me to regular burnouts - I could not find a way to balance my time. Tried meetups as well, but it was a bit challenging when you are an introvert and depressed and whatnot 😭.
An elephant in the room
When you push yourself hard, it forces you to see things differently. Most important is that you cannot tolerate some things that bother you anymore. One of those is the requirement to be in the office. Primarily when the communication amongst people sitting there is mediated through a chat 🤭.
A bit of explainer here. As a software engineer, I spent time writing/editing code, the requirements would be communicated through chat or some project management software accessible via a browser. There exist small conversations, and chit chat is limited to an extent where it feels awkward. You could be in the office for days and not talk to a colleague sitting next to you at all but only saying “hi” and “bye”. For those who wonder where our daily standups were, I can just say they did not work for us. All the details, issues, concerns were logged and transparent enough, there was no real need to talk. And if an engineer spent a week on something he knew what he was doing (if not then it was a matter to read about it in some RFC or blogs).
Why are you burning in the office then? I asked myself multiple times.
The big push
There was a moment a couple of years ago, the time of contract renewal. I find it is the best time to change things around, not only to raise the rates 🤐. It is also great because the hiring company would not want to lose you immediately as it involves costs. Therefore you have the leverage to ask for various things, and the just negotiate or just observe the reactions.
I was pretty much exhausted at the time, and everything irritated me, it was getting harder to concentrate at work. At the time of a chat about renewal, we figured the increase of work-from-home-days could be something we wanted to try. It was increased to 4 leaving one day when I’d come to the office.
It was absolutely substantial now that I think of it. I was able to take my kids to school, to pick them up, to have lunch together. The phrase “quality of life” springs to my mind when remembering that period. My partner in crime was able to spend more time herself. She started climbing the career ladder after spending time raising small kids, continued education and failed ventures (oh my what times 😜). It was a win-win for all of us.
Although not everything was roses. I had to naturally take up more home duties. The time I would usually use to read books or listen to podcasts or work on side projects was surrendered. It got a bit harder to carve out some time for myself, the time I took for granted when I stayed overnight in the city. The most ridiculous thing is that it is easier to argue about personal whims with a spouse when you’re away. Nobody can argue against “It’s for work”, that same phrase does not work when you’re in pyjamas in the kitchen having a snack.
The work-life balance was at the all-time high for me. One day in the office meant that I’d think about it in advance and would naturally have conversations - casual and work-related. One day felt like a breath of fresh air sometimes - seeing the city, having lunch, taking the train. It was more like a trip rather than a mere commute.
So Uhm… there was another consequence of taking this trip to work from home for 4 days. To my mind, it acted as a catalyst for other people that remained in the office. I’m not close to all the details, but our director began working from home as well, not all the time though. But sometimes there was only one colleague left in the office, and I bet that felt quite awkward. It might have even been one of the reasons why he took up another job (if you’re reading this thanks for all that I could learn from you, you’re an example of an engineer).
The office became a sort of place we rarely visited, it also had an effect on accounts. So it was closed - there was no office in Ireland anymore. All new engineering hires were supposed to work from home from that moment.
100% from home
This is what I do for a while now, like many people at the moment.
There were some immediate challenges I began to face. Where do I get my “breath of fresh air”? Do I want to rent a hot-desk? I joined a local public speaking club as a challenge to overcome fear and to meet other people. As for the hot-desk, it was a bit hard to find one in the locality I am, but soon enough someone saw the gap in the market and opened a place. It was not entirely suitable to me, and I did not enter into a rental agreement.
Concerning work, some FOMO developed along with a sense of detachment. Sprinkles of paranoia were falling on me after misinterpretation of chat messages. As a chance for actual conversations was entirely removed. There was no easy way to have those random insightful fantasies about the business, issues and else - regular calls became drier.
The work-life balance changed again, and it is obvious something needs happening to reach that equilibrium. To my mind, it is the absence of the friction which drives me nuts. As there are no real boundaries between the bedroom and an office, then something needs to happen. Usually, you’d be forced to wake up early and run for your commute or cycle among cars. Lunchtime would be a challenge after smelling somebody’s fish heated up in the microwave. At the moment I’m trying to compensate for a variety of issues with walks in the mornings, expensive coffee purchases at lunchtime (if you’re a millennial it should help) and weird background music.
Lockdowns. Who could have guessed this book/movie plot will become a reality 😯. Now there’s no turning back. It is such a coincidence that we were all remote at the time.
I’ll leave you with a list of things that helped me, some of it might help you as well 🤞.
Making it all work
- Taking walks before/after work to simulate the environment change, like when you actually go to the workplace;
- Having strict time for yourself, reading/listening books, podcasts;
- Taking an online course. This proved to have a weird effect on me, I felt like I’ve done something outstanding despite the practicalities of content being questionable.
- Join a local club, nowadays people use conference call apps like Zoom to keep in touch. There is no exception in my local Toastmasters club, you might try it as well, guests can join for free.
- Doing an entire course. I got my motorcycle licence and now fantasise being on a trip around the world.
- Using your hands more. Buy that IKEA set and enjoy building it.
- Experiments with the food - try fasting.
- Try eliminating one habit.