As developers, we are extremely lucky: the demand for our skills is high, the job is cool, the salary is good. But most of all, we can work from home!
The rise of new ways of communicating has deeply impacted the work environment. While our grandfathers used to work on the assembly lines of Ford industries, we are lucky enough to see our assembly line is dematerialized: we can build cars without being in the same physical location.
And this is not the beginning: some companies, like Gitlab, have already made the full transition with all of their employees working remotely.
So, ready to jump in?
Why is working remotely so in vogue?
Before considering remote work, let’s see why it has become a thing. Is it just a trend? What’s in it for you and for your company?
As an employee
Working from home is not just a hipster trend. A 2018 report from Owl Labs shows that, globally, 56% of companies allow remote work, 16% being full-remote and 40% hybrid. With individual surveys, we learn that 52% of employees work from home at least once a week and 68% at least once a month.
It’s not that surprising as there are obvious advantages to working remotely like the commute time savings, the increased flexibility, the reduced disturbances and context switchings, which are thoroughly covered by tens of articles on the subject:
Instead of reviewing these perks, I will talk about my own experience and how working from home helped me on a daily basis.
I practice rock climbing but mostly triathlon and regularly train for long distance races like Iron Mans. Planning training sessions for three sports every week is like trying to solve a NP hard problem. The volume of exercise ranges between 8 hours and 15 hours depending on the period; often waking up at 5:30 am to swim, then leave the office at night for interval training on the track and field.
All in all, a flexible work schedule is essential to cope with so much exercice. Bad weather? Just reschedule the training on another day. Tired after an intense session? Have a quick nap and start working fresh. Good weather? Let’s go for a ride and finish working in the evening.
Working from home improved my recovery and reduced the daily pressure, making me more efficient in my trainings and in my work. In the end, it was beneficial for me and the company I work for.
As a company
That’s right, working remotely is also good for the company! Offering this opportunity to its employees has a direct return on investment.
First of all, a company with remote workers may not have a strict schedule. Fixed hours are less necessary when people don’t meet up in central offices.
I personally wake up at 6am and start working at 7am, sometimes riding in the morning and finishing work later. But others, who are rather night-owls, would prefer working late in the evening. Having this mix of working hours is a strength: more time frames to follow operations, to develop, test and review stories asynchronously, to collaborate with colleagues in different time zones.
Secondly, as a company develops a remote friendly policy, an atmosphere of trust sets in. Employees feel valued and independent. It’s a give and take agreement between the two parties: the company states “we are confident the work will be done on your own from your place”, employees honors this with a “we will do our best in respect of this trust”.
The report by Owl Labs shows that companies offering remote-friendly options see 25% less turnover than those that do not!
It makes a lot of sense: if companies want to develop the best working environment for their employees, what’s better than home?
Finally, with more and more remote processes in place, companies can start hiring from any location around the world. Its head hunters can now track the best of the best in the tech industry, and diversifying the working time frames, the profiles, the cultures, the education by doing so.
It is a key competitive advantage in the fast-paced tech market.
Still skeptical? Then hear from Dave Negovt, CEO of Hubstaff, who reported about this in a survey by Buffer:
"The reason we were able to build a bootstrapped software company is because we could hire the best global talent available at the rates we could afford to pay, allowing us to grow the business with the revenue. It’s clear to me that remote employees stay longer, work harder, and offer better ROI over co-located employees."
Why should you work remotely?
Working remotely has a lot of perks, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are drawbacks and it requires a specific state of mind. What do you need to consider before taking the leap?
Perks and drawbacks
Remote workers have reported different struggles, the top five being:
- Collaborating / Communicating
- Distractions at home
- Staying motivated
- Timezone challenges
This list sounds obvious, but its effects can only be felt when experienced. The main cause: no physical or visual interaction.
The loneliness only kicks in after several days; you don’t get interrupted anymore but you start realizing how much humans are made to group up and take on challenges together as a community. With loneliness comes a motivation drop, it’s the difference between running a marathon alone or in a race. Being surrounded with fellow runners, sharing the experience and the pain, having people cheer on you, all these factors help you reach the finish line and beat your record. Humans work better as a group, that’s how it is.
As you work/run alone, the mind wanders to other occupations. It’s very easy to lose focus and forget the daily goal. You don’t have eyes on motivated colleagues fixing bugs like tech gurus and developing new algorithms like mad scientists. No one is around to remind you of the product deadlines.
Separation obviously impacts collaboration as well. The simplest interactions become tricky. Peer-coding, reviews and quick knowledge transfers take much more time because the whole communication process becomes asynchronous.
If it’s better for the company as a whole, it can feel depressing for employees desperately waiting for an answer from the other end. Add to that the misunderstandings that come with text communication: ever realized how easier it is to understand someone when he/she is talking face to face? That’s because our senses work together. A good internet connection, audio and video systems are prerequisites for remote work.
A state of mind
Because of the aforementioned struggles, we can safely state that working remotely is not for everyone. It’s the same for education: some people learn better without peer pressure, weekly exams and follow-ups, others prefer being tested and ranked among the class.
How can you know if it’s made for you? Well, remote work requires three specific personality traits: independence, self-management and an asynchronous mind.
Being independent is the most important trait. First, you must be fully proficient in your daily job. Therefore, it’s easier to start working remotely after being properly trained. Second, you must be able to progress without relying on others and look for answers by yourself. The least interactions you need to be efficient and satisfied, the better.
Self-management derives from independence. If you need a manager around you for guidance and motivation, you better stay in the office. Remote workers keep the goals in mind, avoid distractions and quickly report blockers.
Even though we are looking for the least amount of interactions, there will be a time for collaboration, this is when the asynchronous mind comes into play.
Imagine a well-oiled multi-tasking brain that handles several tasks in “parallel”. Not waiting for a reply or an answer and always trying to advance one of the tasks. This is the kind of brain you are looking for because most communications will be asynchronous.
A few tips for a successful work day away from the office as a developer
Excited about coding from your couch? Ready to give it a try? Then let’s see key organization tips for a smooth, efficient and happy remote experience.
As we mentioned, staying motivated and avoiding distractions can get tough. But you should not blame itself for getting distracted one in a while, quite the contrary! It’s important to take breaks throughout the day. A single metric matters in this environment: get the work done by the end of the day. You may plan your day freely, start early or finish late, spend one hour on your chores or go out for a lunch with friends as long as the work is delivered.
That’s why you must set a daily goal and plan out your day around it. Doing so keeps you motivated to reach this goal and you will freely take breaks as you progress as expected. Having a clear separation between your working station and the rest of your life is essential for this organization to work out: 100% focus and dedication on your goal at your station, complete rest when you’re out.
Now that you’ve set your day, you can share it with your colleagues and managers, typically during a daily standup. Being transparent ensures trust and collaboration.
It’s fine to go remote for personal reasons, like waiting for a delivery or training at lunchtime, as long as your team knows when they can and can’t reach you.
On the other hand, you must be available when needed. You can’t just disappear when a global meeting involving 20 team members across 3 timezones happens. You must seek a mutual transparency relationship with your team in order to deliver in time. Again, the same metric: getting the work done.
The human touch
We’ve mostly talked about being organized and efficient but let’s not forget about the loneliness that comes with work remotely. Indeed, 21% of employees reported that loneliness was the biggest struggle when working at home, on par with collaboration and communication issues.
Humans have always built communities, first to hunt and survive, then to build and live a good life. It’s vital to be part of a group, see other people, create meaningful connections and feel included, even more so in the stressful and challenging environment of the workplace. As you leave office, you end up a lone hunter; the feeling of being kept apart will be even more present if part of the teammates gathers at the office while you stay at home.
Establishing a remote-friendly environment should not be another cause for burnouts and depressions, that’s why it is so important to keep the team spirit in such environment. First, make sure camera is on for all calls: seeing the face of friendly colleagues makes a real difference on moral. Also, you can set up calls that are not work related. Gitlab has always encouraged 15-minute “coffee breaks” during which people share about their personal lives. Even in work related communications, don’t forget the human touch; just take a few minutes to joke around and build connections with your colleagues.
When you’re working remotely, but still relatively close to the office, make sure to include them in social events like meetups and after-works. There’s nothing worse than being explicitly left apart. If the team is spread around the world, plan two to three major team building events in a nice location.
The key mindset for managers is to create one inclusive team, a caring family with no distinction of origin, gender, or work location.
When your team members feel the same working home or at the office, you’ve made it!