I kinda hate myself for writing this post like a revelation in the times of pandemic and talking about remote work while it is hot topic . In reality, I have been working 100% remotely for more than 2 years (I previously worked for more than 8 years in the offices) and right now I feel I can tell my experiences about remote work and why I will probably never go back to a regular office job.
Around 2 years ago I got the offer to join MailerLite as a remote contractor. I was over-thinking whether I should start working remotely, what would it mean for me, my habits, social life, and my career progress. There were too many unknowns at that point as I have only done some freelance gigs remotely, but have been involved with distributed teams all over the world in previous companies. I took the red pill and my remote journey began.
All my doubts were cleared right away.
The first one - traffic. I hate the traffic in Belgrade. The city isn’t building its infrastructure (roads, bridges) as fast as it is growing and it is showing. On a good day, it took around 30 minutes of driving to work, which is not a problem. But, in the majority of days going to work and back home took on average 2 hours. I say 2 hours because you have to take into account that you have to find a parking space, probably 10 minutes from the office, and then walk to the office which all adds to 2 hours of lost time each day. If you calculate - it means that you are losing 22 days per year in the traffic.
What could you do with that extra time that you have? I remember one analogy when I talked to one of my friends as he said: “It is like when people are telling that smokers could put all money they spend on cigarettes aside and can buy a new car after some time of saving. Then you see people who stopped smoking and after some time you don’t see them with a new car”. That wasn’t the case for me. I rediscovered hobbies that I have stopped practicing because of lack of time - started playing guitar more, recording new music, and most importantly, I had time to read more non-business related books. You can become dull and get into a work-home-sleep routine because of the lack of time.
Micromanagement was the other thing that I thought could happen in remote work. Fortunately, it didn’t. It is just a matter if you trust your employees or not. If you don’t trust your employees, you either didn’t hire the right people for your company or you are suffering from trust issues and adapting to the situation. Usually, it is the second thing. People who slack off because there aren’t any measures of control because they are working remotely show their faces and bad habits really fast and you can easily filter them.
When working remotely, you are your own manager. You must plan your time and goals, and how much you give yourself to work. Not too little and not too much, balance, as always, is the key.
There are so many tools to make communication while working remotely easy. We utilize Slack, have regular calls on Zoom, write our monthly feedback on 15five, and much more. If we need to brainstorm, we get on a video call or write in Slack.
There is one potential downside of working remotely for one target group - junior engineers. I will explain why I don’t think it is a rule but purely depends on the person. While junior engineers can always sit next to their mentors in a regular office job, here it is a bit different. Your company has to have really good documentation and processes so they don’t get lost. But, on the other hand, at MailerLite we are always looking for persons that are “self-starters” and can pick-up things themselves without or with minimal interference from other colleagues. In my experience, juniors can struggle at the beginning for the first (half of) year, but after that, they are usually stronger with knowledge and work ethics than juniors in regular offices. They are more independent in work and can easily learn new things and implement them.
The key thing in remote work is overcommunication. I can’t stress enough how much it is important. As a pitfall of remote work, you must write and overshare because there is no such thing as over-communication. Why do we do that? We are a remote-first company, but we have an office in Vilnius if someone wants to work from it. A couple of people are working from the office, but as I have been there a couple of times it is the most silent office I have ever been in. The communication is done via Slack or conference calls with everyone, so no one is left out, as this can be a problem when you have a combination of office and remote work in your company.
Productivity, personally, is sky-rocketing once I switched to the remote. I get at least 50% more stuff done as there are no distractions, unnecessary small-talks, listening to office gossips, braggings, and other things that can happen in the office.
Freedom is also an important thing. Sometimes I have to do something personal in the morning, or the middle of the day. Sometimes, I can go to the gym during the day and go back refreshed and start working. I can go to my hometown when I want to and work from there. I can travel wherever I want and work from there. I have become more social as I have more time for my friends and family and am less stressed. No one is looking at how much time you are spending working - but if you did the task or not which is the only important thing.
The biggest indicator that remote work is a benefit for both an employee and the company is that Microsoft and Google are now permanently remote if you want to. Pandemic nudged them in that direction, but they have seen the benefits and adapted.
Times are changing. Gosh, what a cliche sentence. Times are always changing, it is up to us if we want to adapt. Remote work has been around for a long time, but most of the companies resisted the change. I’m happy that companies are now forced to change because it requires a change of mindset, but there is a quote from my favourite TV series of all time, Twin Peaks, “There’s some fear in letting go”.