Why I did a 180 on remote work
Amy Writes Words, #22
Well, hello, Amy Newell here with another down-to-the-wire newsletter issue. How can I have five thousand ideas, 17 different drafts of essays, and not a single one that feels ready to send? Clearly I need to tune my production process, but what this means for me now is that it’s Friday afternoon and I have to make up something on the fly in the same way that I make a dinner out of random stuff I found in the cupboard.
Today’s on-the-fly newsletter topic is… why I went from never wanting to work at an all-remote company to why I now think I’d only want to work at an all-remote company.
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Okay, let’s talk remote.
I spent 2010-2018 at a company where engineers could work remotely on Tuesdays and Thursdays if they wanted to. I liked this a lot, in particular because it meant we bunched up meetings on MWF. Later we had one engineer move away across the country, which generally worked okay but of course sometimes we forgot about him.
What I did not like about this policy was all the work engineering leadership had to do to justify it and retain it. And then, by the time I left that company, it had merged with some others and so was in hybrid mode as a result but not really doing it well, because from what I’ve seen hybrid mode is not easy to do well, even in non-pandemic conditions.
At that time, in 2018, I still believed that I needed an office to go into every day because I am an extrovert and I liked to meet in person when possible and I also needed the structure of having to go somewhere almost every day in order to propel myself out of bed. Plus I like cheez-its and I didn’t stock them at home. From mid 2018-March 2020 I went into the office almost every day. Sometimes I couldn’t get up till exactly 20 minutes before I had to be across town to a meeting, but then I did it.
Then came the great quarantine. From March 2020 through May 2021, well, I learned to structure my day and get things done without having to go to an office, since there was no office to be had. That significantly opened up my options for future work, but I still wasn’t sure I didn’t want to go back to an office. What about the cheez-its?
But, like everyone else, the things that were important to me and how I wanted to spend my time shifted a lot as a result of this cataclysm. My cat is getting pretty old and I like spending all day with him. While I wouldn’t like working at the same job as my partner, I do like sharing space with him during the day. I like fitting errands, laundry, and time in the sun on my roof every day. I like not having to waste spoons getting somewhere on days that my spoons are very limited. And, while I am not always pleased to be at home when my 14 year old gets home from school in whatever freaked out state they are in, it’s probably good that I’m around to see it and I can sometimes be helpful.
I missed the snacks, of course, but one of the other things that happened during the pandemic is that like many people I thought “wow I have but one life to live and I don’t know how long it may be so I no longer care what other people think of my personal choices.” I can buy myself any snacks I want.
What I definitely didn’t like about remote work (under pandemic conditions, in a company that had been inching itself toward hybrid before the pandemic but certainly still had a lot to figure out about remote work) was 8 hours of zooms every day. It felt soul-sucking.
So here I am now. I’m mainly doing my own things and spending very little time on zoom. I like that. I mostly want to spend time alone or with the small group of friends and family who are most important to me. This is very different from before. I am doing a lot of work that requires time and focus and creative energy, and it’s much easier and more comfortable to do it at home.
So…I don’t want to go back to an office now. If and when I take another role as an engineering leader, I want to work somewhere that has been 100% remote for a while already and knows how to do that efficiently. I do not want my brain to get sucked out of my head via zoom, and I am not particularly interested in solving the problems of a hybrid workplace for a company that is now hybrid but struggling with it, and I do not want to work at an in-person first company where I’d constantly be having to ask for exceptions because of the market realities in engineering hiring. I would want to work at a remote-first company and just get to join something that is already effective.
Of course, I remain unsure whether I would like to be employed by someone else at all right now. I have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment (maybe more on that next week) and I guess I’d like to see what pans out and how much income I might be able to generate from some of those projects before I commit most of my brain cycles to someone else’s business.
There, I did it. I wrote a thing. I can send it. It will be done. I will not get a 0 that will bring down my average for the semester. I will spend some time thinking about how better to close on some of the essays that are lingering. It might be that they linger because the ideas in them are simply not fully baked, and that I just have to let them linger. But maybe I need to do something like Kanban so I’m not allowed to have so many open projects at once. Except that I actually like and need to have at least a few very different things going on at once, that’s my happy place. So we’ll see.
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