Allowing employees to work remotely has become increasingly common and controversial in recent years. Companies like Buffer and 37Signals (aka Basecamp) completely embrace the benefits of allowing employees to work from anywhere, going as far as adopting a strategy of completely distributed teams. Melissa Mayer famously banned remote working at Yahoo when she assumed the CEO role, claiming “people are more collaborative, more inventive when people come together.”
At Geniuslink, we don’t necessarily subscribe to any particular ideology. The majority of our team works from our main office in Seattle, but as we’ve grown a small handful of us are now working as remote employees scattered across the United States. It’s been about a year and a half since I started working remotely for Geniuslink, and it’s forced me to learn a lot about how to work this way. After my experience, and talking with some of our other remote employees, I want to share my perspective on some of the pros and cons of working remotely for a tech company.
Pros of Remote Working
Remote working often conjures up images of being in your pajamas all day or working from a beach on some tropical island. In my case, and what I presume is the case for most people working in this capacity, this isn’t really what the typical day looks like. It’s still a job, and I still work a pretty routine schedule spending most of the day at a desk in my home office. Although I don’t have to look quite as presentable as people with jobs that require them to go out into the “real world,” I still wear pretty normal and (usually) clean clothes, and have a typical work routine fairly similar to the average joe.
But just because I’m not lounging in my pajamas or soaking up rays on a beach doesn’t mean I don’t realize some incredible benefits by working remotely.
Perhaps the greatest perk of working like this is the complete absence of a daily commute. According to research by WNYC, the average travel time to work each way in the US is 25.4 minutes. That is nearly an hour a day and 220 hours per year I don’t spend commuting. It adds up to about 9 entire days every year that I save over the average American just by eliminating this single aspect of the typical job. This means more time with family, friends, and doing the things I love outside of work—arguably making me a better employee.
Aside from the time savings, there are also enormous financial benefits to eliminating the daily commute. Lifehacker estimates that every mile you live away from your job costs you $795 per year in transportation expense. That means a 12 mile daily commute takes roughly $10,000 of your pocket every year. If you work remotely from home, as I do, this cost is eliminated entirely. I look at this number as extra salary that my employer is putting in my pocket by allowing me to work from home.
Living where I want
I grew up in Colorado and always loved being in the mountains more than cities. Typically, working in the tech industry means living in a major metropolitan area, but remote working is allowing people to live and work anywhere they have a decent internet connection. I get to live in the beautiful San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, a place where there isn’t much industry or career opportunities, and still work for an awesome and innovative tech company. With hiking, mountain biking, skiing, kayaking and rafting right out my back door, I have to thank my lucky stars every day that I get to live in such a place and actually have a great job. Even if I decide to try city living for a few years, my job will move with me anywhere I go.
Although I sometimes work from a coffee shop or my local public library, the vast majority of my working days are spent at home. Besides avoiding the commute, this is obviously a huge luxury. My home office is setup just how I like it. I don’t deal with loud office noises or worry about bothering anyone with my own noises. With a refrigerator full of food just a few steps away, I don’t have to worry about packing lunches or eating out. If I need a power nap or want to take my dog for a quick walk, remote working makes it super convenient.
Cons of Remote Working
Although remote working carries some serious perks as I just described, there are some inherent downsides to working in this capacity. Some of the negative aspects of allowing employees to work remotely have prompted companies like Yahoo to completely ban the practice.
Missing In-Person Collaboration
The nature of working with a small team in a very dynamic environment means we’re always collaborating. Since our team isn’t completely remote, it’s impossible for the remote people not to miss some of the conversations that inevitably happen in-person at the office. Although we do a really good job staying in constant communication with tools like HipChat and Skype, not having the ability to turn around and ask a coworker a question or get lost in a deep conversation of where our company is going next is an inherent detriment to not actually working together in the same space.
This has personally been the biggest challenge for me in working remotely. Humans are social creatures, and I really like the people I work with and collaborating with a small team to solve some big problems around how to grow our company. Enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s way easier to get lost in the emotional excitement of working in a dynamic environment when you’re physically present with your coworkers.
Our whole team convenes in Seattle to work together several times per year, and it’s always extremely refreshing to sit down for a few days and work face to face instead of over an internet connection.
Aside from collaboration, working together in-person with other people is a very natural thing for human beings. During the cold months of the Colorado winter, I often won’t journey too far from my house for several days at a time, seeing few other beings besides my wife and dog. I never realized how much of a social outlet a job can be until I started feeling the cabin fever of working remotely. I try to remedy this by getting out of the house every so often to work from somewhere like a coffee shop, but it can’t be denied that working alone removes one of the most social aspects of the typical human’s life. I often worry that my already marginal social skills might be dwindling from my lack of human interaction.
Separating Work and Home Life
Working primarily from home can make it hard to shut off the work part of your brain at the end of the day. Even if you’re lucky enough to have the space to have a dedicated room as an office at home, you’re still largely in the same environment you worked in most of the day when you “go home” after work. Without the actual physical separation from home and work, it can be easy to slip back into full on work mode after calling it quits for the day.
Similarly, home life is always there when you’re trying to work. There are a plethora of distractions that the typical office employee leaves at home when they head to work. Laundry, dishes, yard work, and other household chores have a way of getting intertwined with your work life.
Although there are certain tactics that can be pretty effective for maintaining a work-life balance when working from home, it can’t be ignored that remote working has the inherent side-effect of blending these two parts of life.
So there you have it. I’m a year and a half into my first experience working remotely, and overall it’s been very positive and forced me to learn a lot about working this way. I still don’t have a firm opinion that one way to work is any better than the other. There are pros and cons to each way of working, and my happiness as an employee ultimately comes down to working on a product I believe in with people I like and respect. Fortunately, I get both of those things with my job at Geniuslink—no matter where I’m living.
Now excuse me while I spend my lunch break kayaking :).
Taylor Ripp is the head of Business Development for Geniuslink, and one of several employees working remotely on our staff.