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Remote Work

Corner Office?

I read and enjoyed this article by Jim Grey: Too soon to declare victory on distributed work

“A group of voices in our industry has said for years that we would all be more productive and have a superior work-life balance if we all worked from home. Now that we’re all working from home and it’s basically working, they are crowing victory.”

Jim Grey

The article linked is to is a NY Times article, ironically printed on paper, of an interview with the CEO of the digital publishing company where I worked remotely for over three years.

“This column is called Corner Office, and most people who choose to have offices are usually the bosses. And I’ve been to the offices of billionaire C.E.O.s that have their own private bathroom, beautiful art and couches. But these are all things that you can have in your house. What I love about distributed organizations is every single employee can have a corner office.”

Matt Mullenweg via the NY Times # (emphasis added)

What Mullenweg doesn’t state is that this is a rich person’s view of distributed work. What isn’t mentioned is the cost of having a dedicated “corner” office in your home, a private bathroom, the cost of beautiful art and couches (and no Automattic wouldn’t reimburse art, nor couches, nor home renovations, only a monitor/desk/chair, at least during my time there).

I wrote about this aspect of remote work in my essay:

“Housing costs are very high in Australia and we’re moving to smaller and more expensive houses so it’s increasingly harder to justify having a dedicated office at home. If you were building a house to live in here in Australia adding a 15-20 square meter dedicated home office for remote work could easily add $30,000-$40,000 to your build costs.”

The future of work? An essay.

As a single-income family-of-five our rented home is much smaller, more humble and basic than the office our company leases. Even as an individual contributor at work I can sit and eat my lunch, or wander around with views like these:

Our office view – accessible to all employees

Another interesting angle on having an office space available to all staff is that it makes a safe, comfortable and productive work environment available to everyone regardless of personal circumstance.

I wrote about this in my essay also:

“If you don’t have a suitable place to work from home, and co-working expenses are too expensive, or not available or too far from home, this means that there’s a whole group of people who can’t consider remote work which reduces the diversity of the workforce.”

The future of work? An essay.

This concept was recently mentioned in an article in Australia about a tragic domestic violence case:

“Ms Foster says for many people experiencing violence their workplace has been a sanctuary — somewhere they can escape “the horrors they’re experiencing at home”.

She says women working from home have been sharing with her how they are being constantly harassed, threatened, and assaulted, only to have to then join a video conference and act professional.”

Sam’s mum was killed while working from home. He hopes his workers compensation win will help others facing family violence #

Conclusion

I still think it’s naive, borderline dangerous, to crow victory on working from home as a one-size-fits-all solution to the world’s problems – and pretend that every person in the world can afford to have their own “corner office” in their home, when for a lot of people, a working environment for work can be a better or only option to work safely and productively.

Categories
Remote Work

Back in the office

I’ve been back in the office for a few weeks now. Only about 10% of our company can work in the office and even then only about that percentage are keen to return (at present).

I find myself enjoying work again and regaining the ability to mentally separate work from home has been energizing me for when I am at work. Also having people around motivates and recharges me at work.

I read an interesting article written by Justin Qin, a year 8 high school student, who reflects on returning to school after many weeks of home-based learning:

“Lockdown and home schooling had been a lonely environment for me — even with two energetic brothers for company, and Instagram on repeat.

And after days at a time like this my friends and I chatted constantly when we saw each other, flushing out the loneliness of isolation and reviving the joy of face-to-face chat even though we had to maintain that all-important distance.

Being in the classroom, and the ease of talking to my teacher and other students, makes school a place where I can actually learn and be engaged.

My school day was spent stuck at a desk at home, with tiny breaks and no time to chat to friends as we transitioned between lessons. I often felt as if I had not stood up for hours at a time.

The result was that learning from home was seriously affecting my physical and mental health.

Mentally, I wrestled with finding the meaning of my life when so much of it was spent alone at a desk.

Physically, I ate significantly less food than normal.

With these struggles I cannot see a strong future for online classes replacing school.”

Justin Qin on returning to Year 8 at School #

When I look at my LinkedIn feed it’s full of articles, comments and observations that many people can’t see themselves returning to the office in the near, or far, future.

I put this down to one of two possible things:

  1. People are still in the “honeymoon” period of full time working from home; and/or
  2. People are confusing working from home with having flexible working conditions

“The first six months were a dreamlike period, where everything you’d ever hated about office life – underlings, overlords, sharing bathrooms with people who you’re thankful aren’t your family – morphed into amusing memories.”

“It’s all fun and games at first, a novelty, the home work thing, and being close to your own fridge is great, but the slow evaporation of the mental distance between your home life and your work one is an insidious one.”

Stephen Corby : You might love working from home now, but give it a year

As I’ve stated previously, I personally don’t find myself healthy, happy or productive working from where I live. I prefer to separate work and home, and to have people I’m working with around in real life.

But I’ve also said we need more flexibility in the way we work, working from home doesn’t have to be the only way we can have flexible working conditions.

I’ve also seen a somewhat disturbing trend to encourage everyone to act like they’re working remotely even if they’re in the office:

“If everyone sits at their desk on an individual video call screen, the playing field is equal. Everyone’s faces are easily distinguishable, it’s easy to know whose turn it is to talk, and it simply puts everyone’s input on equal footing.”

6 Rules To Live By When You Work In An Office But Have Remote Team Members

I’ve tried doing that and the audio feedback from having someone sitting near you talking on the call and also near you is terrible, it’s loud and distracting for other’s in an open plan office, and it feels weird to pretend we’re not in the office when we are.

Conclusion

I still think it’s too early to declare that ever working from an office again is not going to happen. As I have previously stated – it’s been good to show employers that employees can still be productive when given workplace flexibility – however I think there will be recognition that working 100% in physical isolation from colleagues isn’t necessarily a good thing.

“A world in which people who want to can do a bit of both, working home alone some of the week and sharing an office with other humans the rest of the time, might just be the perfect balance, for those lucky enough to swing it”

Stephen Corby : You might love working from home now, but give it a year

Categories
Remote Work

The future of work? An essay.

“The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human”

John Naisbitt – Megatrends
New Yorker Cartoon

Introduction

There is a lot of reading available about distributed and remote ways of working but a lot of this is written from the perspective of an employer (Basecamp, Automattic etc) and the benefits it can provide to those employers. Things like gaining access to a global talent pool, more productive employees, workforce diversity, lower office costs, more dedicated staff, and broader timezone coverage.

Remote was an early manifesto for distributed work from the perspective of founders, and highlighted the value the practice provides to open-minded employers”

Working Smaller, Slower, and Smarter

I haven’t been able to find much material that’s written purely from the perspective of an employee that provides a balanced view of distributed and remote ways of working. This essay aims to provide an employee’s perspective of how remote and distributed ways of working compares to traditional office based roles.

Categories
Remote Work

Three Years of Working From Home (Tips & Tricks)

Update March 2020: I no longer work remotely but I consider these tips are still relevant, particularly since COVID-19 has meant that many employees around the globe are now required to work from home. I also wrote a higher level essay on reflection of working from home from an employee’s perspective.


September 2018 marks my three year anniversary (Matticversary) at Automattic, which  means I have been solely working from home for three years now.

Working from home every day can at times feel like either, or both, the best thing in the world, or the worse thing ever invented. I personally don’t believe that full-time working from home is suitable for everyone as I’ve found it orders of magnitude more difficult than working in an office environment.