Tell me about working remotely
July 29, 2017 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Thinking about applying for a job that's remote only, so I'd love to hear from people who've done it/are doing it? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Did you hate it but figure out a way to make it work? Did you hate it and quit? What was good? What was bad? Do you have tips for making it work?

Assume that the job I'm thinking of is remote only and that this is not negotiable. I am a person who likes going into the office. I like being around other people. I like having my day job physically separate from the rest of my life, which involves being a serious artist. I live alone (well with a cat), and I have a tendency to get isolated, which makes me depressed, though I haven't been seriously depressed in years. Except for the remote part, this is pretty close to my dream job with my dream organization. Assume that this isn't going to lead to a non-remote job with the same organization. So have at it, MeFites. Let me know your thoughts.
posted by FencingGal to Work & Money (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You sound like you're already half convinced this job won't suit your personality type. If you like office chat and get depressed when alone too much, remote work is not for you.
posted by zadcat at 10:33 AM on July 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

I worked remotely for several years. I personally loved it, because I thrive on alone time and don't easily feel isolated. I also had the option of going in to the office if I wished, so WFH was voluntary. I really liked the ability to do stuff around the house while I worked, so my weekends had more leisure time. I also didn't have to worry about things like catching colds from, or giving them to, my coworkers, so I had fewer days where I was sick. I listened to music or played movies in the background while I worked, which had a similar effect to working around people, I chatted online to friends while I worked, and I also had a gym membership, so I did in fact see people regularly.

If you're thinking of a remote job and you do better in an office environment, consider a co-location option where you go *somewhere* and do your work around other people. But if you really prefer being around YOUR coworkers (as opposed to just the company of other people), then I'd say remote work would not be a good solution. I will also say that, now that I'm back in an office on a daily basis, that it is harder to distinctly separate work from home in a remote job than in an office job.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:41 AM on July 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

The past year I've been working mostly remote from my team. I still put on work clothes, commute via subway and work in an office on a floor with 300 other people. I don't really work directly with most of the people most of the time. My direct colleagues are in another office. I see them every other week for 2-3 days.

It sucks, to be honest. You don't want to do this.
posted by sandmanwv at 10:41 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

My wife’s solution to not having a physical place to go to was to sign up for a coworking space. Not quite the same in that the people there are not working for the same organization, so interaction will not be about directly work related issues, but otherwise is scratches the same itches: gets you out of the house, social interaction, and so on.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:42 AM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Remote work is good in that you can do things like throw the laundry in or start the dishwasher during the day, and the commute is awesome. If you prefer to be alone all day, that's a plus too.

Regarding your specifics: If you have enough space in your home, you could manage to have your day job physically separate from the rest of your life - but it sounds like you would not be happy socially. I'd suggest thinking about whether there is a way for you to meet your social needs such as working in a shared space or coffeeshop (which may or may not lead to actual social interaction vs just having people around), or with evening social activities. If not, I'd lean against taking the job.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 10:44 AM on July 29, 2017

I love working remotely. It gives me a chance to do all of my chores during the week, and transitioning from work-life to home-life is as simple as changing my clothes, or changing rooms.

It is important for me to get out and do things, though, or I get isolated. Establishing yourself as a regular at a coffee shop, library, co-working space or other semi-public location might be helpful. Building or having community in other areas of your life, like a gardening group, book club, public service organization might also be helpful.
posted by dancing_angel at 10:45 AM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: No threadsitting after this, but I should add that while I like going into the office, I frequently spend the entire weekend without socializing and I'm perfectly happy being by myself then.

Also, I really want to eventually move across the country to be closer to family, and the kind of work I do doesn't make me very mobile.

I think I stressed potential negatives in my question because I tend toward being anxious about change.
posted by FencingGal at 10:49 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been working remotely for almost two years. I'm an introvert who likes being home, and I was shocked at how isolated I started feeling after working from home for a while.

Also, I never get that "ahh... I'm home" feeling anymore, because I'm always at home. That kind of sucks.

The only way I can see this working for you is if you can either negotiate for the company to pay for a coworking space, or you're willing to pay for it yourself.
posted by Automocar at 10:49 AM on July 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm finishing off my fourth consecutive year of remote-only work. Did a few-year stint in a different place before.

I'm a research scientist, and mostly use my computer and read papers and write. I don't technically need a lot of other people for my work, and we get by via email and Skype.

The remote work was great for maybe the first year or so each time, but honestly I am growing to hate it. It's very isolating. Before a recent change, I'd often not speak to a single human all day spouse came home. It looks like you might go days without speaking more than a word or two to a real co-located human. Even for introverts I don't think that's very healthy.

My house is small and cramped, coffee shops get old (and expensive), and I'm allergic to the code bros filling up the hip co-work spaces, which often aren't present/available anyway. It's nice to not have a commute, but I'd never tolerate an actually bad commute anyway, and I really miss my ideal 2-4 mile bike commute. In principle I could ride around each day anyway but I don't.

I really miss the casual shop talk at work, the water cooler chats, even just making friends and acquaintances. Some people try to simulate this with Slack etc. but honestly that feels like a chore in a way that chatting at work doesn't for me. I don't do well with total self motivation, having a real boss really present keeps me more productive.

So for me, personally, I tolerate it, and it's better than no job, but I'd like to move back towards having an office and going in most days.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:53 AM on July 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

I guess I'll be the opposing voice here. I am on my third consecutive fully-remote job (the first started out as an office job that turned remote; the next two were remote from the get-go). I love it and would not go back to working in an office unless I had no other choice.

I don't find it more or less difficult to separate work from non-work home stuff than I did when I went into an office—I mostly work 40-hour weeks and have a fixed schedule.

I think the isolation aspect really depends on the specifics of the job—"remote" covers a lot of territory. If you'll be setting your own schedule, working solo, and only checking in by e-mail once a week or something, I can see how that could be very isolating.

None of my jobs has been like that. They've all had a fixed workday which all of us on the team shared, and constant real-time discussion with coworkers (via group chat or videoconferencing) throughout that workday. Much of this is job-related, some of it is informal water-cooler-esque chat. I don't feel isolated, and while it might be nice to be able to get an after-work drink with colleagues now and again, I've always found most of my friendships and social engagement outside of my job, so I'm fine missing out on that.

The only downside I've run into was when my partner's job involved heavy social interaction every day. After work I'd want to get out of the house and be around people, and she'd be ready to be at home for the night reading or watching TV. I found my own social outlets (and made a point of going somewhere with people for lunch every day) and it wasn't a big deal.
posted by enn at 11:13 AM on July 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

Given your update, I'd say it's definitely worth considering in that it would allow you to move, but I still think it's also worth actively thinking about and planning for your social interactions. Another question is: what's the worst that will happen if you do it and end up disliking it? If that's manageable, then give it a shot.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 11:28 AM on July 29, 2017

I love it, but I think that's in large part due to the type of work I do, which requires a lot of focused concentration. Working remotely allows me to remove a lot of the distractions to that and enables me to be exponentially more productive than I could ever be at the office.

Moreover, I have the discipline to do it, and the communication skills to reach out to my colleagues via remote means if we need to collaborate on something. The latter is really key to not feeling isolated, because I'm not really. I'm collaborating with people all of the time. I'm just not colocated with them. I'm also a task oriented introvert with a life outside of work who does not need a lot of in person office socializing, so YMMV.

Plus, I genuinely enjoy my work, which is also really key. I can see how someone who didn't love it, was relationship focused, and needed a lot of office socializing would be miserable doing it.
posted by jazzbaby at 11:31 AM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I love it! I am very introverted and working from home means that after work and on the weekends I have the emotional energy to spend on being social. When I have worked in an office around people, I tend to hibernate at home during all of my free time to recharge myself for being around people during the week.
posted by ilovewinter at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Remote work is great UNLESS there your work has relies on twitchy tech tools where you will be disadvantaged by not having access to onsite IT, and/or it needs to involve a lot of "influencing."

I had an absolutely terrible experience in a remote role that had both of these aspects. When you can't get your work done without input from folks whose desk you can never stroll by to get facetime and develop a relationship with where they care about working with you, it's a big challenge. It can be done, but the ramp-up is much harder.

For work that doesn't rely on time-sensitive team cooperation, and where the tools are simple and reliable, being remote is fantastic.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:13 PM on July 29, 2017

I work half in an office and half remotely, and I looove the remote work. I get to manage my time myself, be able to get housework done in times when my computer is rendering (time which is wasted when I am in the office) and I don't need pants. fuck pants.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:49 PM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, I really want to eventually move across the country to be closer to family, and the kind of work I do doesn't make me very mobile.

How quickly are you thinking about doing this? Working remotely in a place where you don't have much social/family interaction and working remotely in a place where you do are two really different things. If this job would allow you to move somewhere that you'd have much more social interaction, that might be a big advantage.
posted by lazuli at 12:52 PM on July 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm a freelancer and I occasionally work on clients' jobsites, but usually I'm remote. Working from home wasn't really working for me - I get too distracted by household chores, and I get cabin fever - so I rented a desk at a workshare location less than a mile from my apartment. Their tagline is "Work for yourself, not by yourself!" It has all the benefits of working in an office (kitchenette, activity, wifi etc.) plus an interesting and diverse population.

It also has all the bad parts (noisy/ocasionally inconsiderate people etc.) but on the whole it helps me focus, get more done, and generally be happier. I pay $200/mo for a dedicated desk where I can leave my computer & other office stuff. They also have small private offices of varying sizes as well as some lower-priced options where the space is first-come first-served, but you can't leave stuff there with those plans. Plans come with some free conference-room time so if I need privacy for a phone call I can just find an empty one and go in there for the call.

I don't have an employer who pays for it (some of the people there do) so I just factor it into my business overhead and all my clients pay a tiny piece of it.

I have another computer at home so I can work from there if I need to be home to meet a service person or something.

Depending on where you're located there may be several such providers near you with different pricing and levels of added services.

The main thing is it really helps me compartmentalize my time. I have a bit of trouble with time management in general. Having a dedicated work space outside my home lets me be at work when I'm at work and home when I'm home, so I'm not distracted by the other thing.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:18 PM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I do this and so does my spouse! In our case, the remote work arrangements meant we were able to move closer to family and friends, which has made up (for me) for a lot of the downsides of remote work. I, too, like being around my colleagues, sharing ideas, etc., and remote work has meant I've had to get more comfortable picking up the phone to do that. But the big plus for me of working in the office had been being around people because where we lived, I didn't know many people. Now, I get my people fix on the weekends (and evenings). It's been so much better for my mental health.

It also has all the benefits others have mentioned - no commute, do small chores during the day, eat more healthily at home, etc. I do visit my main office every month for a couple of days, but my husband doesn't ever go into an office and doesn't miss it.
posted by devinemissk at 2:01 PM on July 29, 2017

To make this work well for you, you'd need to be willing and able to seek socializing outside of work. That's going to be the biggest determinant of your happiness - are you willing to make the effort to satisfy that need in another way, and leave work time for work?
posted by stormyteal at 3:31 PM on July 29, 2017

It saves you money and time because you don't need professional office attire, you don't have to commute and (presumably) you'll be eating your lunch at home rather than eating out.

The only thing I didn't like about working remotely is that my apartment is not big enough. I would definitely prefer to have a dedicated room for working. I didn't miss daytime socializing as long as I got enough of it in the evenings and on weekends.

I highly recommend doing your morning routine (shower, dress, make bed) as if you were going to work in order to get you in the right mindset.
posted by AFABulous at 4:37 PM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

one downside - assuming your work depends on an internet connection, it's more frustrating when your home internet goes down. In the office there's an attitude of shrug, whadyagonnado, let's go get a coffee, but when you're the only one it can make you look bad. I would upgrade to a business service if you can (especially if your employer will pay for it) because they guarantee uptime and a service at a level they don't for average schlubs.
posted by AFABulous at 4:43 PM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've just finished nearly two years of working remotely. I left it for an office job that pays about the same. I much prefer the office, but remote work has some terrific perks that I'll miss. I left because the new job is more focused on the skills I want to use, not because of the office-vs-home split.

Nothing beats the 45-second commute, and being able to actually start work in pajamas. Being able to arrange your office space to your preferences is also awesome. (I got a calendar, which pretty much no real office would've let me put up.) The flexibility is terrific.

Downsides: It can be hard to focus on work because nobody else around you is focusing on work; this applies whether or not you're alone in the house. You can feel out of touch with work projects - you're only as connected as you force yourself to be; you can attend meetings and be involved with the email chains and have phone calls, but can still wind up feeling like those are just pieces of what's going on.

If you like the social aspect of offices, working alone will be horrible. I didn't miss that at all; I never cared to be social with coworkers. However, it can be hard to feel like you're "at work" even when you have an office space; it's doubly hard if your work-office is also your home-business-art-projects office.

I worked with a boss who respected and trusted me; I didn't have to fret about anyone breathing down my neck demanding to know how many hours I'd worked on X project. If you're working remotely, find out early - in advance if possible - what kind of supervision is involved. Company computer? Remote login to company sites? Tracking hours in a database somewhere? How often will you report, and to whom? The key issue is: how will they decide if you're "slacking," and what kind of warning will you get if they do?

The office flexibility is terrific - choosing your favorite chair, whatever music you like (or none), having snacks and meals done the way you like them, nobody pestering you about the screen resolution you want or what you read on your breaks. The isolation makes it difficult to connect with corporate culture unless the company is actually good at that - has regular meetings that include some social aspect, maybe has a slack or other chat channel, encourages phone calls instead of emails to ask questions. (Emails are more reliable; there's a paper trail for accountability. Phone calls help people feel more connected with each other. I prefer emails and can still see the value of the calls.)

I'd say - unless office-water-cooler-social is incredibly valuable to you, give it a try. Make some lists of what you prefer about office life and how you can either bring those aspects into remote work or find ways of coping with their loss. Because really... it's amazing to go from dead asleep to staggering to the computer with coffee in hand and your hair in tangles, flipping open the laptop, and declaring "I am now officially making money; yay."

If you're going to keep the job, you won't do that often. But the few times when you can be alert and awake but not remotely presentable, it's terrific to have as an option.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:14 PM on July 29, 2017

How other people feel about working from home has absolutely no bearing on how you'll feel about it. But from what you've said, I'll predict you'll wind up isolated, depressed, and working most of the day and into the night with no set time to "go home," and no one there to talk to, so why not just keep working. But hey, give it a try.
posted by Joleta at 8:38 PM on July 29, 2017

One thing that hasn't been said yet: As a woman who's also genderqueer, larger, and very introverted, I've found working from home to be incredibly democratizing. I don't have to worry about my appearance and demeanor throughout the day nearly as much as I did when I worked in an office regularly, and I feel like this gives me much more mental space to focus on my work without being judged on the basis of things that are beyond my control. I feel like I've advanced faster and also been able to be myself much more while gaining the respect of my colleagues for my abilities, rather than my more superficial qualities.

Also, I'm a caregiver to someone who's frequently been ill for a few years, and this has gone much better with the flexibility of my current remote position. I've successfully worked from a hospital for entire weeks at a time, for instance, even through product launches.

So those are a couple of things to think about as well. I have considered coworking spaces, and I may still go to one, as my company will cover the cost. I've also been coworking from my company's office in another city this summer, in part just for a change of scenery. If those are options for you, that can help alleviate some of the stultifying nature of being on your own a lot.
posted by limeonaire at 9:19 PM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've worked from home for the better part of the last 20 years, although it's in my own business. I used to have employees here in my home office, but I've now downsized into a consultancy so I'm the only one in the home office now. My spouse works away from home. Here are some things I've noticed that might give you some things to think about:

* I ended up having to put glass doors on my office because I struggled to ignore the office phone when it would ring after "office hours". The doors helped me compartmentalize when I was at work and when I wasn't. Now the doors don't matter, but they were important in getting me used to my new working environment. They're still good for when I'm having work conversations on the phone and my spouse is home , though, or when the washing machine is in a spin cycle.

* When I used to work in an office, I spent a lot of time secretly annoyed about all the time we all spent celebrating a co-worker's birthday, having to break my concentration to chat with someone who had dropped by my office, and sitting in meetings that lasted far longer than they needed to. Once I started to work from home, I exited all that and - literally - got my work done in 1/4 the time it took in an office. I felt guilty about that at first, but quickly saw it for what it was - a wonderful freedom.

* I love being able to multitask while working at home: change the laundry, water the garden, start dinner in the Crock Pot, let the dog out, and put things away while talking on the phone (using wireless headphones). Being able to complete those tasks while also doing business tasks freed up my nights and weekends.

* I love being able to not worry about what I'm wearing, working from the deck, having my lunch on the desk (or deck) with me if I want.

* I've begun "virtualizing" my office so I can work from anywhere, especially forwarding my office phone to my cell phone and storing business documents in the cloud. I just always answer my phone as my business - my family and friends understand.

You sound like you count on your office environment to fulfill your social needs, so you should really think about how you could make that adjustment before removing yourself from your current work setting. It's not impossible, but it takes some thinking through. For me, I meet clients at local coffee shops or at their offices, get more involved in community organizations and events, and meet colleagues for lunch more often than I did while working in an office.

Long story short, I've come to love working independently and I don't think I ever want to go back to a daily office routine.
posted by summerstorm at 8:42 AM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I absolutely ADORE working remotely. I'm a very social person and also have felt that isolation and depression, but also ultimately desire and need a ton of alone time, and I feel like remote work actually gives you the best of both worlds here.

When you're working remotely, you basically need to restructure how you spend your time to fulfill those social needs. Your evenings and weekends become that social time. When I worked in an office, I generally felt so fatigued from the workday and my commute that I wanted to melt into the couch for eternity every night. This year, I had the time and energy to sign up for a martial arts class 2-3x a week, I've started hitting up a local coffee shop regularly every Sunday, and will throw in the occasional social activity like dinner with friends or camping. I'm living alone this summer and this has totally struck the right balance for me. Going out in the evenings to replace being in the office all day is the key, and you also get to spend it doing fun, relaxing stuff!

My main pro for working remotely is how much time and flexibility you get back. No commute, if you're stuck on a project you can hop up and wash the dishes, and you never have chores or a dirty apartment piling up at home with no time or energy to get to it. I get much better and more sleep, and am also SO much more productive without office distractions. I use Slack and social media quite a bit during the day to also help feed that office vibe and it works really well for me so far.

You also don't mention in your question, but if the company itself is very pro-remote or is a fully distributed team, they probably have company retreats and should be very adept at fostering a friendly team vibe with everyone via Slack/what-have-you!
posted by caitcadieux at 1:53 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of genuine anecdotes on working from home in the comments on this new yorker article on the blue.

Working remotely is NOT for me for all the reasons above - I felt very alienated, I missed casual information-sharing, I found it hard to keep myself on track, and (as someone who turns out to be fairly extroverted) I never got the full energy jolt that I get from working with others. For some people I worked with, though, it was the best thing ever. I think it's extremely YMMV, although you might think back to your studying style as a student (was studying alone effective? enjoyable?) to get an idea of things.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:30 AM on July 31, 2017

I've been working from home for about 2 years and love it. The things that make it work for me are 1) a separate office space where I work, and 2) an active social life to make up for being home all the time.
posted by tryniti at 4:38 PM on July 31, 2017

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