Dispatches from a Full Remote Veteran: Unpopular Opinions About WFH and How to Stay Sane If It’s Not Your Thing

TL;DR – If you aren’t one for unpopular opinions and just want the advice part, start with the “I Also Call BS on Anyone Who Says Full Remote Makes People Less Productive, But with One Caveat” section.

Alright, 87 Followers of my blog, you’ve had 3 straight technical posts, so it’s “opinion” post time.

I know I am probably late to the table on the whole, “working from home” take, but since “going back into work” is still quite a ways off for most of us, I figured it’s still relevant and that maybe I can contribute . . . something.

Disclaimers? With an Opinion Post?

Yes. My first disclaimer is that I don’t have kids. I mean. . . none that I know of anyway . . .

I include this disclaimer because in these times, having kids at home is a big factor in this conversation, especially if they are at home with you and need schooling. Still, there might be some insight you can get from what I say here. Keep reading.

The second disclaimer is that I am going to break one of my rules: I am going to swear once somewhere later, because it’s fitting and I couldn’t resist. You can start your pearl-clutching now if you like.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Bryan, you’ve sworn in posts before!”

No. I have not. The word “douchebag” does not count. That is not a swear word. It’s crass, but it’s not a swear word.

My WFH Status

I am full remote now, and have been mostly working from home (aka “WFH”, aka “Full Remote”) since 2009-ish. Subtracting my more recent stint where I went into an office, that means I have been Full Remote for the better part of a decade.

What I have found is that for most of my IT peers, a status of “Full Remote” has been something of a Holy Grail, as it were, and therefore it is perceived as a good and novel thing for many.

Furthermore, my current employer, after having a 3-day per week requirement for working in the office, has enforced Full Remote since March 2020 due to the pandemic. And for reasons I won’t disclose here, this status is indefinite. It will be at least a year before I go back into any “office” most likely. For the record, I emphatically believe that the decision to do Full Remote is the right decision. I support it 100%. Every company who can do it, should do it.

And as anecdotal as this may be, the mood about Indefinite Full Remote status where I work has been, in a word, celebratory. Most of my peers who have previously never had Full Remote status are ecstatic about it and have been lobbying for it for a very long time.

I am happy for them, and I would never be so bold or dickishly (that’s not the swear word, but it’s coming) condescending to rain on that parade. What I say here are only my experiences, and I would not be so bold to think that what happened to me is going to happen to you. Your mileage and results may vary.

My First Unpopular Opinion

My experience is that working from home full time isn’t for everybody. My first piece of humble advice is that WFH is a constantly changing, “boiling frog” scenario. The negative effects, if there are any, will sneak up on you like a ninja.

And the next thing you know, you will find yourself binge drinking and crying on the kitchen floor in the fetal position, otherwise known as “Tuesday Night” for me.

Yeah, I used that joke again. It’s a good joke!

If you get anything from this post, the recurring theme is that I advocate frequent self-reflection; then act accordingly.

My Story

In the early 2010’s WFH was a more novel idea, and becoming uncomfortable with it was a slow burn for me. The first three years for me were freaking great! But before I realized it, rounding into year 4, it had an effect on my psychology.

I found myself getting angry at the drop of a hat and I didn’t know why. I was gaining weight, putting my chronic back issues back into the limelight. I felt some loneliness, in the form of missing face-to-face interactions. I was tired of the work grind.

And like many IT people, I thought I was the “Curmudgeonly Lone Wolf IT Antisocial Leave-Me-Alone-and-Let-Me-Work” type. I found out the hard way I that I am not that type after all.

In fact, most IT people are not that type, which brings me to my second unpopular opinion:

I Call BS On the Whole “Curmudgeonly Lone Wolf IT Antisocial Leave-Me-Alone-and-Let-Me-Work” Type

I hear it from IT people all the time: “Yeah, I hate people.”

No they don’t. They’re just saying that because it’s the cool thing to say. What they really mean is that they don’t like talking to some people, but who doesn’t? It’s just funnier and easier to say “I hate people” and it fits in with the, “I’m not good with people so it’s better to leave me alone” IT Stereotype.

It’s all a ploy to be left alone while they work. And who doesn’t want to be left alone while they work?

It’s also easy for them to make the mistake of believing themselves impervious to the trials and tribulations of working from home:

“Everything’s all good working from home. . . . I hate people anyway.”

I call BS.

There’s a word for people who really do hate other people. They’re called assholes.

. . . . Aaaaaand there it is.

** takes bow **

I am not saying that the Curmudgeonly Lone Wolf type, as defined, does not exist. They are out there. I just have not seen them in the wild as much as has been reported. They are a rare species.

In fact, I would argue an endangered one, given current trends. Outside of technical knowledge, you know what the biggest in-demand skill is right now in the year 2020? Dealing with people.

If you don’t believe me, read any book about DevOps and/or the importance of de-siloing the Enterprise. You think you’ll be a success at that if you’re a, “keep people at arms length and don’t trust anybody” Curmudgeonly Lone Wolf?

I don’t think so.

I Also Call BS on Anyone Who Says Full Remote Makes People Less Productive, But with One Caveat

I can say from my own experience, depending on how you define “productive,” by and large, people are actually more productive when working from home. I definitely “do more work” when I work from home.

The problem is it feels like my work is done more in isolation. So, I do more work, but I do sometimes feel like what I am doing is not always 100% in line with what we’re doing as a team.

Where I work, management does a pretty good job of making sure we’re marching forward as a team, however I think this aforementioned feeling is a natural part of the Full Remote phenomenon.

How do you fix that? Well, there are two ways, and documentation alone doesn’t cut it:

  1. Don’t be afraid to elbow your way into things that you would not ordinarily be brought into the loop on, even if just to be, “in the loop”. As a member of our on-call rotation, I do this all the time in the name of troubleshooting, which I will argue vehemently is a legitimate reason. If you have a lot of people on your team saying, “when did that happen?” your team needs to communicate more.
  2. More Meetings that Promote Team Synergy – I know this one’s tough to swallow. I get it. Having a healthy aversion to meetings is usually a good thing. I am not talking about marathon/gauntlets of meetings; I am talking about short meetings as updates in the larger scheme of team unity. Not just “here’s what I am working on,” but more, “here’s what I am working on that has value for the team,” and let’s have discussions about relevance, improvements, and synergy.

Staying Sane While Working Full Remote

So, to continue my story, how did I cope with my 3 year funk, and how have I been able to cope with Full Remote since? I started to come up with my own coping mechanisms, and I still use them now. Here they are in no particular order. Once again, it’s a good idea to constantly assess your attitudes and well-being. Don’t get complacent:

Separate “Work” from “Home”

I know this one seems obvious, but there are a bunch of WFH (bad) routines that you may not realize are blending Home and Work life. Figure out what qualifies as “work” vs. what qualifies as “home” and separate them. Here’s what works for me:

  1. Every workday I get up and take a shower and get dressed as if I am going to work, even if I know I am not going anywhere. Staying in my pajamas all day (even though I look super hot in my pajamas) . . . led to a blend of work and home life, in my mind.
  2. I have an office. Furthermore, while I am in there, I mostly do only “work” things, with a few exceptions. Like, my XBOX is in there, but I play that on a separate Monitor altogether.
  3. Logout when you are done working for the day. When I am done working, I literally logout of my work laptop and use my personal devices for personal things on my personal time. This gives me the ability to say to myself “OK, I am not working anymore.”
  4. Also, I tell my S.O. not to bother me when I am in my office and the door is closed. I know this is hard if you have little ones, but even with fellow adults, you may have to be explicit about it. Unless the house is on fire, it can wait.

Self Care is Important

Try not to will yourself into telling yourself “everything’s fine”. Do some self reflection and think about what qualifies as mission-critical self care:

  1. Proper Diet and Exercise – Again, I know this seems obvious, but your commute to work routine and your WFH routine has a profound influence on this, especially with the proximity of you to your kitchen. I noticed some people have better self care routines while at home naturally. Good for them and I am jealous! When the WFH order came down back in March, I thought it was going to be temporary, so I didn’t flip back to my old WFH routine. I gained 14 pounds. I was eating lots of junk. So once I put my old WFH diet and exercise plan back into play, I have been slowly but surely getting back to my former Greek God of a body. I have tips and tricks for that, but that’s another blog post. . . . Not the “Greek God” part. The staying-in-shape-adjacent part.
  2. “Always Be Doing Things” (ABDT) that aren’t related to work. Have some side projects that break from what you consider “Work”. Notice I didn’t say “Hobby”. The only qualification is that it’s not work related. Maybe you have some Open Source code projects that have nothing to do with your job, and you enjoy it. Go for it. That’s not for me though because I associate that with “work” one way or another, but that’s just me. I destress by reading some Russian Literature, or some Literary Criticism thereof. There’s always my XBOX, or occasionally I work on my drumming. I tried learning magic tricks, but I suck at it, so I dropped that one. There’s $30 I’ll never see again. I have always wanted to get back into Tennis, so that’s probably next for me once we turn around into Spring again. ABDT.
  3. Take Time for You Outside of the House – Continuing with the super obvious, but again, this may be more difficult with a WFH routine. I am fortunate enough that I live in a place where I can get in touch with nature right outside my door. Here’s where I like to read; this was taken from a park bench I frequent:
My reading place.

It’s soothing for me to just look at that picture.

Some At-Work Advice for Companies and Managerial Types

I am fortunate where I work that we have some real freedom to have some at-work de-stressors or ways people can make this WFH situation better:

  1. Don’t Micromanage. Full stop. Stated here with no additional commentary because this one makes me angry.
  2. Be OK with working hours that aren’t necessarily the 9 to 5 we’re used to. I sometimes take a 2 hour lunch, but I make up for it elsewhere in the week. Exhibit A is the fact that I willingly worked 5 hours this weekend because of a script that I ABSOLUTELY HAD TO GET WORKING EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO DEADLINE FOR IT.
  3. Encourage internal online communities – Let employees use Slack channels to talk about things outside of work, as long as they follow the corporate guidelines (mutual respect, etc.).
  4. Have Virtual Happy Hours – This has helped us a lot, after official work hours of course. And no shop talk, just like at a real happy hour.

And last but not least, frequent readers of my blog, what’s my secret weapon for staying sane?

Say it with me now . . . .

BINGE DRINKING!

Hit me up on twitter @RussianLitGuy or email me at bryansullins@thinkingoutcloud.org. I would love to hear from you.

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