The Value of Remote Work
In my 21 years in tech, I have worked in several industries and bounced between working from home, and working in various types of offices. I've worked in dull beige cubicles and "cool" modern offices. I've had short commutes and commutes that had me spending almost the same amount of time in a car as an office chair. I've taken my dogs to work, had beers at my desk, played ping pong in the office and had to wear a tie every day. I've seen it all, and without a doubt, regardless of the industry, my work from home jobs have been where I've been the happiest.
Since the COVID pandemic led to a lot more remote work, I think we've seen that for certain jobs (most tech jobs, certainly) being in an office isn't necessary. Now that some society has largely decided to pretend this isn't a problem anymore, more and more companies are starting to ask and/or force their employees back into offices. I personally think the timing of this is terrible, and it makes me more than a little sad that so many people in positions of authority seem to think putting people together in a single building, or multiple buildings is still somehow necessary, even for the individuals and teams who have proven quite productive without this arbitrary colocation.
I doubt anything I write here will make a difference, but I thought I might share some of my personal feelings and experiences with remote work. If you happen to end up reading this, and you happen to be someone who can decide not to force an arbitrary return to office, then maybe (just maybe) this will help you understand the value of remote work.
The time I get back in my life from not commuting is HUGE! I've had commutes in the past that were 2 hours in each direction. That's 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. 20 hours every week! That's an insane amount of time to be sitting in a car, burning gas and polluting the air just to sit at a desk for 8 hours.
There is a real financial cost here. Not only are you paying for the gas, you need more frequent oil changes. I had tires wear incredibly quickly when I was putting all those miles on my car.
This is also just horrendous for the environment. Could you live and work in the same city. Sure, but the reality is that we in the US have created a world where a ton of people live in suburbs. When I had the longest commutes, I lived in one suburb and worked on the outskirts of another suburb so living in a city wouldn't have solved this issue unless I chose not to entertain jobs outside of the city.
This last point brings me to my next.
By working jobs that allow me to do so remotely, I am not tethered to a specific geographic location. My previous job was based out of Boston while I worked from my home in NJ. That job also enabled me and my family to move to Michigan back in 2020. Since moving, I have changed jobs to a company based in Philadelphia, a job that certainly would have asked me to commute if I had still lived in NJ, so I dodged a bullet there 😅.
When a company allows remote work, you remove artificial restrictions to your hiring pool as well. I've built a pretty amazing team of people in my current role by hiring the best candidates, regardless of location. I currently have folks spread across the US in each of the timezones in the contiguous US. If we all worked in an office in Philly, I'd still have to live in NJ, so I'd be pretty unhappy and I would have a completely different team. I wouldn't have been able to assemble the team I have today and our products would likely suffer as a result.
Being home with my family means that I don't miss out on things. Not even big things, but little moments. I get to step away from my desk and eat with my wife and daughter. I can make my own lunch rather than eating out. I eat healthier food as a result, I get to enjoy the process of cooking that food, spend some time with my family, and all of that fits into a normal lunch break.
In comparison, when working on the city I might pack a lunch, but often I would eat out. That meant spending more money. I would head out with coworkers when everyone else was heading out and lunch would either be some fast, unhealthy food, or it would be higher quality (likely still pretty unhealthy) and lunch would take an hour and a half or longer.
Working at home isn't for everyone and it can certainly come with its fair share of distractions, but when compared to an office environment, I find that I have far more time where I can stay focused on work. In an office, people want to "collaborate" and often that comes in the form of constant in-person interruptions. I have no issues collaborating with my coworkers, the difference is that we use async communication to find a time that works for all of us. If one party is in the middle of something, we collaborate later instead of derailing someone's productivity because we could just walk up to their desk and annoy them into breaking their focus and paying attention to us.
My home office is exactly what I want it to be. I have the exact desk that I want configured with the exact gear that want, setup just the way I want it. I have all of this because I invested in my own setup and I put thought, time, energy, and my own money into making this the most productive environment for me. This will vary from person to person and in most office environments, you don't get to make these decisions. Everyone gets the same gear, setup in the same way, in neat, mind numbing rows of homogeneity.
The advantage for me of my office being setup my way is that it works for me. The advantage for my employer is that all of this productivity and all the infrastructure and utility cost that comes with it costs them nothing. I don't expect my employer to provide me with anything beyond a laptop. I supply the space, the power, the internet, the water and sewer, the peripherals, and the furniture. In my mind, this is a win win.
My preferences aren't for everyone, and even if they were, I know that isn't going to "fix" the desire to force everyone into matching nested boxes to do a job that doesn't require a particular geography. But, this was on my mind and thought that maybe by sharing I could get it off my mind, let likeminded folks know they're not alone in this potentially frustrating time, and share a different perspective for folks who might not "get" the desire to work remotely.