Remote working is considered the next revolution in the workplace, but I kind of hate it. What would cause me, who wrote an article titled "Why I Love Remote Working", to say that? Honesty.
There are many reasons to hate remote working, and I find it important to recognize those drawbacks. By being open about the issues remote working introduces, we can better equip ourselves to grow the practice.
Many companies are taking a "remote-only" approach. Because of this growing trend, I've been able to work remotely for over 4 years. In that time, I've faced many challenges that hopefully I can provide insight on.
Remote work is lonely business
The number one drawback of remote working is it's isolation. There are no random interactions during coffee breaks, no running to grab lunch with co-worker, and no friday afternoon nerf battles (unless you have kids at home).
While an introvert like myself finds solace in not being surrounded by people all day, it's unhealthy to be isolated from people for extended periods of time.
I believe that companies who support remote work should absolutely pay for a coffeeshop card and/or co-working space. This can easily be justified by comparing it to the cost of having to have office space. It's a small gesture that can have a big impact on someone's mental health. Companies should have an intrinsic motivation to take care of their employees, and this is a good step towards that.
Also, as a remote employee, make extra effort to be part of local tech groups. Also, join non-tech, hobby-related groups in town. Make up for that missing face-to-face time to help stay connected with humanity.
It can lead to a less active day
The joke about remote working is that your commute is the 10 steps from the kitchen to your desk. That's great, except when those are the only steps you're getting in all day.
In an office setting, you're walking to/from the parking lot, to/from the bathroom and jumping from meeting to meeting. While you can certainly still have a low-level of movement overall in the day, at least you're forced to walk some sort of extended distance.
Commit yourself to at least one physical activity in the middle of the workday. Don't feel guilty for spending time being active. It's your health!
Many companies offer gym memberships, so take advantage of that. Also, if your company has an on-site gym (several larger companies do), ask you manager for a similar benefit. Again, you're saving the company money in not having to provide office space for you, so they should be able to find it in the budget.
It can hurt your career (slower promotions, more difficult to break into management)
In some companies, there's definitely a glass ceiling for remote workers. While the company may be okay with Individual Contributors working remote, they want their management level employees to all be co-located. This means, as a remote worker, your promotions will always be limited at that company. It's frustrating, but it is also reality in many situations.
Another unfortunate truth is that if you're one of the only remote workers on your team, your work won't be as visible as those in the office. This means when it comes time for promotions, managers will be thinking about those they've seen in the office producing, not those out-of-sight doing quiet work in the background. Yes, this is a management problem (as they should be promoting/rewarding their most productive employees), but it's also your responsibility to work through.
Make sure you know where you want to be five years down the road. Don't rely on a big management mindset shift happening in regards to management being able to work remote. It may happen, but it's a big shift for many companies who are often afraid of that level of change.
Openly advocate for yourself to grow your career. Good advice in general, but absoutely necessary in this instance. I won't go into detail on what that means, because there are many great articles already written on it here and elsewhere on the internet.
Also, "brag" about your work. In chat rooms, post updates about things your working on and things that are causing trouble. Be visible there because you're not visible in the office.
More competition, less pay
Remote work is amazing because it gives you the freedom to work anywhere in the world. But this also means that anyone in the world can apply for the same job you want. Since cost-of-living differs dramatically across the globe, this means you may be competing with someone who can work for significantly less income than you. As a business, they're motivated to keep expenses low, and if someone can do just as effective job as you for half the rate, they're going to take that deal.
Don't be afraid to ask for the rate you need in order to live, but also consider using your freedom to move to a lower cost-of-living (COL) location. Give yourself a competitive advantage in this regard. There are some very beautiful, smaller cities across the globe. I recently moved from a large city to one a tenth of its size and I love it. The COL is about the same (it was a lower COL large city compared to NYC, etc), but the city feel so much more accessible. I'm able to bike almost anywhere around town and I never run into big-city traffic.
Also, in interviews, really push your soft-skills experience. This can be a major difference between you and other applicants, and many companies will happily pay extra on the bet that they're getting a more mature employee.
Finally, many companies in high COL areas are looking outside their city for employees who won't break the bank in salary. Watch out for those jobs, as they'll happily pay the same or higher than local companies, since it's still cheaper than hiring in their city.
Harder to get started in the morning and end in the evening
Without a commute and walk into an official office, it can be a little difficult to make that transition from waking up to being productive. And then when the end of the day comes, it can be tempting to just fix that one last bug. You don't see everyone else in the office leaving, so you forget that you should probably head out as well.
Find a morning routine that works. Pomodoro is a great option to get started. I do 10 minutes focused work with an optional 2 minute break. Many times I skip the break when I'm in a flow. But knowing that I'm only committing to 10 minutes, instead of that full 8-hour work day, makes all the difference in my getting started.
And at the end of the workday, remember that often, stepping away from the problem for the day can be the perfect solution. Just this morning I fixed a bug in five minutes that I was struggling with all yesterday afternoon. It was only by taking a break from the issue that I was able to break out of the unproductive debugging I was doing and see the code in a new light.
You're constantly reminded of all the work that needs to be done around the house
No one keeps their dirty laundry at the office (well, some co-workers do, but let's not talk about them). But at home, anytime you take a break, you're surrounded by all the house chores you need to get done. "Let me grab a quick snack oh yeah the sink is full of dirty dishes". "I'm going to take a quick break oh no the cat knocked over the magazine stack I might as well pick it up oh and who put that there, let me put that away really quick and I should really organize this drawer so it's easier to find things..."
You get the idea. Those are thoughts we have in an office (most of the time), since we're not surrounded by our never-ending chore list. Aside from watering a desk plant every now and then, most of the office maintenance is handed by a dedicated crew. That's not the truth at home and it can constantly take over what are supposed to your breaks.
And honestly, when facing a particularly tough situation at work, you might actually be motivated to do the dishes instead. Not that this isn't an effective "step back" strategy in some situations, you just shouldn't use it as a reason to avoid the job your paid to do.
Make room for an office space. Have dedicated snacks/water in your office. Have a good break area that isn't a constant reminder of all you need to get done around the house.
If you don't have that as an option, get out of your house to a nearby coffeeshop, hotel lobby, car dealership (pretend your car is being worked on while you pig out on their free coffee and donunts). Stop mixing your personal workspace with your professional workspace. It'll only cause you to stress out and raise your anxiety to unproductive levels.
I really do love remote working
Even with all of these reasons to hate it, remote working is definitely for me. There are always going to be drawbacks of certain working situations, and it's useless to deny them. If you work remotely, take a look at things that bother you and address them. Don't pretend they don't exist, like you're living in some make-believe world.
Remote workers, what things do you hate about the life? What solutions have you found to address them?
Also, this Oatmeal comic on the love/hate relationship with remote working is fantastic!