From Office to Remote (During a Pandemic)

4 mins

Background

I wanted to write my thoughts on remote working as I enter my sixth consecutive month of it. This remote working situation I am in is special because it was not a personal choice, nor would it have been allowed by my company under normal circumstances. As you may have guessed, I am working remotely due to the global corona virus pandemic. Before mid-March of the year 2020, for 5 days each week I travelled to the office, worked there for eight hours, then travelled home.

In the ~12 years since my first ever job, I've never worked remotely 100% of the time. Until two years ago, I'd never worked a single day remotely (I became a web engineer around three years ago).

I want this post to compare my experience working as a web engineer in an office versus working as a web engineer remotely. I want to note that while I was still working in the office, I had the occasional (once every one or two weeks) work-from-home day. However, I have found that this is not comparable to working from home 100% of the time.

Comparisons

I hear a lot about companies that have always been remote, or have been for a long time. Most of these companies seem really happy, and say great things about working remotely! I can't tell whether the experience of working in a team that has always been remote versus working in a team that pivoted incredibly fast to working remotely during an emotionally-straining global pandemic is similar. I have a feeling it is not, but I can only guess at that.

For me, the there are some quite strong comparisons between my experience of working in an office, versus half a year of remote working. Some of these lean towards being negative. I'll mention these first so that I can talk about the happier, more positive things I have gained from the experience, and what I would like to see in the future.

Minus points

The first couple of months into remote work, my new working situation was still a novelty and I didn't have many things to say against it. Half a year in, I am finding that the biggest challenge is the lack of socialising with my colleagues. I can be quite introverted and can get exhausted when lots of people are around me for an extended time. However, I do thrive on meaningful social interactions. Things that I am personally really missing include lack of day-to-day interactions, physical meetings (versus switched-off cameras/staring at screens), and team activities.

Due to all of this, the way my team works feels more "fragmented" to me, although it's hard to explain exactly what I mean by this. I feel like it's a shame that we can't really share small coding victories, or voice sponteneous ideas to each other. I worry that my team members and I are less able to improve on our professional development, whether from lacking opportunities for informal feedback or being less able to share our needs/wants with each other and get advice.

To be clear though, I still think my team works really well together and we are still getting features out, making fixes, and moving along with projects at a similar speed to before. I also personally feel like I am still learning a lot, particularly because without a neighbour to ask, I have been solving more problems by myself.

Plus points

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, I am learning more, becoming a more independent web engineer, and am still able to work as fast (sometimes faster!) than before. Not having to commute any more (which took away 1,5 - 2 hours of my day) is one thing that helps me finish work faster and remain a lot more focused. Also, I can start work earlier if I feel like it, which also means I can finish earlier if I need to.

If I am struggling with a code issue, or I am stressed, or I really need a break, I can go and take one. And the break can be in any form I want. I can either take a nap, look at my phone, have a snack, go for a walk, chat with someone outside of work, etc. Ok, so I can do all but one of those things (napping) in an office, but I can do them at my own pace and without being disturbed or feeling pressured to go back to work within a certain time frame. Taking these breaks has helped me solve coding problems and made me much less stressed in my general life.

My work-life balance has improved a lot due to the removal of a long and often stressful commute, and being trusted to work and get features completed without feeling pressured to appear like I am working. I feel more like I can conduct both my work and life on my own terms. In the last six months as a web engineer, compared to the last three or so years, I am generally calmer, more focused, and less anxious during working hours and non-working hours, thanks to working remotely.

The future

I can't tell how working remotely during a pandemic is going to feel after another six months. I haven't read anyone else's take on this subject, so I am writing blind here. So then, if asked the question whether I would want to continue working remotely in the future, or join a fully-remote company in the future, what would I say? I think I'd say... "Yes"! But, to continue working remotely I'd want some conditions to be in place. Most importantly for me, I would want a strong team event calendar to be in place. Or some way for the team to bond.

Team bonding is definitely harder during a pandemic but not impossible. For example, in the past six months that I have been working from home, I've attended three remote team event evenings (where we played online games or simply chatted), an in-person meetup with my immediate team, and will soon meet up outside with a few team members to go on a socially-distanced guided tour of Berlin.

I've looked forward hugely to each of the few team events I've been a part of since working remotely, although they have all necessarily been quite short, or remote. I look forward to a time when me and my team members can meet for longer periods of time again, like going on a whole-day offsite with the web team. Anything to help my team and I feel more connected!