Six years working remotely, the good and the bad

I always wanted to write this post, but I also wanted to wait until I have enough experience with different companies to share it, be able to explain in why I struggled, what I did right and what I did wrong. As you may have read in many places, working remote can be fantastic, but people use to forget about the pain points.

Working remotely is not the same as working from home, but when someone starts working remotely, the first idea usually is working from home, but before even try, you should consider a few things:

  • What is your work schedule, when are your calls?
  • Do you have a good internet connection?
  • Do you have a separate office in your home?
  • Are you mentally prepare to take this challenge?

When I started working from home, I used to work from my living room, and that was an awful idea. Each time I had a call, someone entered the living room and made noise. When you are in this situation, things are hard because it depends on the maturity of the team if that is valid or not.

When I came back to Galicia, I set my office in a spare room at home, having an office allowed me that everybody at home knows that I’m working and nobody should bother me. I also highly recommend to avoid working from the living room because that will helps you to forget about work and spend time with your family.

One of the good things that I made in these years is having a pre-defined work schedule. In remote, you always feel that you don’t deliver enough and it is super easy to end up being depressed. In all these years I tried to be as close as possible to my wife work schedule, so it’s easy to work only 8-10 hours per day, plus I have the luck to have lunch at home with her so I can interact with someone at my lunchtime.

Additionally, social life can be super challenging, when I worked for London (almost same time zone), my social life happened when I finish my work, that use to be around 18:00. After 18:00 was my social time and I could go to the gym, run, attend to meetups or any other event without issues, likewise all close people knew that I finish around 18:00.

If you work with EDT timezone is ok, you can sync a few hours with them easily, as your 18:00 are they 12:00, so you can sync without effort for more than 3 hours, maybe one day you need to work a bit more, but it’s ok. If you work for PST timezone things are harder, the main reason is that your 18:00 are their 9:00 am, so to sync with them you need to shift a few hours and maybe you lost part of your social life.

The way that is working for me, I keep my social events/family errands on two days per week, and try to keep three days sync more than two hours with PDT timezone colleagues, that is the best way for my family, but I also know people that prefer to work in the night, so the timezone can be a perk for them! The main point, you should consider the timezone and the life that you want to have for your family.

Baiona - Galicia

Frustration

Yes, you heard about that, and it will happen to you, I still don’t know a guy that work 100% remote and never got frustrated at any time, in my experience, there are three types:

Feeling alone

One of the harder things is to set boundaries at work, if you don’t have it, you will never have free time for taking a beer with a friend, do some exercise or enjoy! I use to take coffee/lunch with some friends and I try to keep my friendship relations up to date. The main problem here, if you don’t do this, after six months you’ll feel lazy to be out of home and problems will start.

Friday beers(Estrella Galicia) time! I used to do this in my former company and I loved it. Each Friday before leaving we grabbed a beer, and we did some pair-programming, fix something small for the time that we drank the beer. In that time, we did simple tasks or even spoke about other company related things. That time was super dope for me because I can have more context of what happens in the company and I can share my issues. I highly recommend this one!

Feeling undervalued

This is super hard to know, how do you know if no one takes care of what you do in your daily task? My advice here will be to do some lateral thinking, are we doing the right job to make our work visible to others? This is the root thing, each time that we add some value to the company we need to make sure that the management and the team know that, share improvements in the company announcement system, etc.. this helps a lot. (I use to do terrible at this one)

After that, time to time, you need to speak to someone that it is not your direct manager (or be in your team) and ask a question about something that you did, if they know what you did in the last weeks, that means that you are adding value, but without the day-day communication in the office this is super hard to know.

One of the perks that I currently have is a monthly 1:1 with the CEO, that helps me to ask questions about the company, know If I am in the right direction and be able to know if I’m doing right. I'm sure that the CEO isn't the right person, but someone that it’s not your direct manager is super cool to have.

Feeling attacked

This especially if you work with Pull Requests, it’s a usual thing that developers are too rude in the PR comments, and I think that the main problem is that developers use to think in binary, too many tech books and no a lot of philosophy books! Sadly, nothing in a short-term can be done, teaching and learning as a community(Modern agile is something good to read/listen). The only advice that I can provide is that you should listen “La Macarena” meanwhile you’re reading the review of a PR, and don’t consider PR comments as attacks.

Another thing is those team members that make jokes during other problems; Slack added too many emoji or gifs! If you have an outage and someone is adding a party reaction in slack, you can feel attacked (or a resource) but maybe your colleague does not know that someone is having hard times! But as I said, I think that tech people are too tech and empathy is not developers strong points, my solution, I use to fix the issue and take the easy path.

Keep Learning

Consequently, to not be in the office, there is another hard topic, what is new? How to improve your skills? What is the new language used by other teams? When you are in a shared space is easy that someone says that went to a meetup and they explain a new technology, this will not happen when you work from home. In these years I always follow a rule, each day I allocate fifteen minutes to learn something, and try to keep my knowledge up to date. For example, reading open-source projects issues, reading how X project is doing the test, how to use the debugger, etc.. This fifteen minutes learning slot help me to learnt Golang, write better tests, improved my vim skills, etc.. but keep in mind that need to be 15 minutes every day, I use to do this before getting lunch.

Financials

This is a hard topic, and super painful! The first issue that you may work for an abroad company, and the type of contract can be an issue; there is a good summary from Mitchell Hashimoto about the legal implications and company issues, you should read it! I’ll mention a few things here:

You’re a contractor: that means that you have more work, each month you need to deal with invoices and each quarter with taxes; also you should pay any external tax consultant to deal with that. On the other hand, I would add liability insurance, just if something wrong happens. Another bad thing, if you work for a startup, it’ll be difficult to have stock options.

About equipment, I always followed the $1.5K rule, that means that I reserved every year that money for things needed in my daily job, like screen, desk, chair, keyboard, etc.. This depends of your company rule, but I always feel embarrassed to ask for $400 to buy a desk for my house. Another important thing, you need to buy a good microphone and camera, have a proper video-conferencing solution, and be sure that the lighting in your office is ok, if not people will think that you’re in a cave and will make difficult to work with you.

Another thing that you should consider is to have a proper internet connection, from home you can’t work with your $20 DSL, that use to be super shitty connections and you will need a proper $80 fibre cable and a good wifi router. I also have a backup 4G connection in my router, just because I’m a bit paranoid!

If you work from home, you should also consider the heating and the AC, when you work in the office you don’t spend all the time at home, so you don’t need to use the heating 24 hours. My bills are double from the day that I started to work from home. I also recommend that your office/spare room have an individual heating/AC so you’ll save money.

Tips if you work with remote people

If you working from an office, do you enter sit at your desk and don’t speak with anyone? I don’t think so! If you work with a remote team, please, when you open a chat, say hello! Just a “hey mate, are you ok? I need …” if not your colleague will feel like a resource, and that’s super bad for people, taking care of being friendly in the team chat is super dope for remote employees.

Another thing that you should avoid are those longs conversation in chats, that are horrible! You end up with thousands of written lines, a few hours in the chat, and mostly no-sense. A non-lantency communication(phone) with your remote colleague is the most valuable thing that you can do for both.

If you have an office and remote employees, something that you should have is a good video conferencing system, I highly recommend the solution from Owllabs, is easy to set up and for remote employees are super awesome!

That's all; these are my thoughts about working remotely for three different companies over the last six years, I hope that helps!

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