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Impressions on working remotely

Someone recently asked me:

What’s your impression of working remote in general?

To which I responded “That is a blog post and I should write it 🙂 but I like working remotely very much.”

‘Cause that’s a very big question! “What do you think about this work style” or maybe it’s “workplace trend” or “means of working together.” What do I like about working remotely? There are some concrete things, and some big philosophical things. Concretely:

  • I’m in control of my time
  • I’m in control of where I am physically
  • The things that annoy me about IRL work are non-existent or impossible including:
    • IRL social dynamics/being sad and left out of social groups
    • “Management by presence” annoyance
  • Things that I like in a workplace are incentivized/almost required in remote workplaces
    • Writing decisions down
    • Transparency/visibility of decisions and direction
    • Recognizing that not everyone works the same way you do

On The Things that Annoy Me about Offices

The one about social groups stands out to me a bit as kind of sad, but it’s true. We spend so much of our time (if one works full-time) working and the last office-based job I had, I had a cliche environment where I would be left out of say, the whole group of folks going out to lunch, as in they would generally leave without inviting me. This is a two-way street to some degree; I’m a vegetarian and I also generally make my own food, which doesn’t lend to “let’s go out to eat every day.” That’s just not how I live my life, but creates enough social drift to feel excluded. You couple that with being the only woman on the team, and it’s … not-un-notable.

“Management by Presence” is one that exists in office-based jobs that I swear people will deny up and down, but I’ve rarely seen an office-based job without it. Symptoms of this are: managers pay attention/note what time people come into the office (or leave), other team members note this and rat out their coworkers (why people don’t mind their own business, I will never understand).

Years ago, I had a manager say “if you could come in closer to 9am, that would be great” and I asked “Why?” which is probably the least-favored question of “Management by Presence”. The answer was essentially “Because I said so” which is, in fact, a dumb answer. I make things on computers. I don’t have to physically be in a particular office to do that.

Other things that annoy me about offices: most of them aren’t nice? I visited PagerDuty in Toronto for example, and it was such a nice office. I can see the work that’s gone into creating a pleasant design, and it shows. I think most offices aren’t nice! By that I mean: you feel depressed when you walk in. What a way to start your day. I also hate feeling “trapped.” As in, once I go to the office, if I want to take a few hours to work on an art project, and get back to what I’m doing later, or, dare I say it … stop working early, because sometimes that’s how brains work or I’ve accomplished what I intended for the day, thus I can stop… I hate feeling like I need to stay at the office until an arbitrary end time. Aaaand this is why last office-job, I went to the gym in the middle of the day on a fairly regular basis 🤷‍♀️

Things I Like Are Incentivized or Required

Ah, for my own preferences to be “the right way to do things.” It’s the best!! You know what I hate? When you have many people in a room, and they all leave that room thinking that a different decision was made. This happens all the time in office-based jobs!! Like, scary often! To be honest, it happens working remotely too, but it comes out as more of a Problem working remotely, because people from the meeting don’t leave and end up forming their own narratives, based on interacting with their coworkers in physical space. That is less possible working remotely (all parties involved scatter, essentially) and so Writing Things Down becomes So So important!

“Recognizing not everyone works the same way you do” might not actually be true, but I’d like to think it is. This is the evolution of “as long as things are getting done, I don’t really give a shit how.” This means, if someone isn’t “online” (aka “in the office”) that much, if the things they say they are going to do, and the things that you need them to do as part of their job are getting done … why do you care? (also, really really want to make shirts that say “Why Do You Care”). Results-oriented, to me, is the way to run a workplace (isn’t that the point?? we’re doing things??) but it seems in office-based jobs other things fill that priority slot.

Philosophy: Autonomy is Key to Happiness

Philosophically, I believe working remotely, and creating remote work cultures, is a key to happiness, if we’re basing an assumption that people are working at jobs. Autonomy is key to happiness at work. Now, when I think about working remotely/pitching it, I think, now, “where I physically am” is a huge part of my autonomy. So when I work an office-based job, I’ve given that away. And as I wrote earlier about feeling trapped, or being annoyed that  a manager seems to value my physical presence in the office more than they value what I am doing as my job, autonomy about where I work is absolutely very very important to me.

One of the questions I ask myself on a fairly regular basis is “Would I ever work in an office again” and currently, I think the answer is yes, actually! Providing it’s a nice office (see above) that doesn’t make me hate myself for existing when I’m there. But I don’t think I could ever give up my autonomy about where I do my work. Since I can, I want to use the privilege I have to move through the world and work where I feel like it/where works for me, the person doing the work, especially considering all the tools at our disposal.

More on remote work

I’ve heard of people who’ve been working remotely since the 90s as graphic designers, and I can only see remote work growing. If you’re in Philadelphia and interested in connecting with the remote community here, get on the list at remotephilly.com — we’ve recently conducted a survey to get a sense of who’s working remotely in Philly, and plan to release a report in a few weeks.

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