The perks and pitfalls of remote work

A little over a year ago, I left my job in the education marketing sector and started working for a tech startup. A tech startup based in Sydney. While based in Melbourne. That’s right, I entered the wonderful word of remote work.

Remote work often means working from home, but not in my case. For me, remote work just meant working remotely from most of my team. The bulk of my colleagues are in Sydney and go into an office together there, but my manager is in Adelaide and others work from elsewhere across the country (and a couple from even further afield).

Working remotely is a pretty good deal, but it does come with its challenges. It’s very different from any other working setup I’ve had before so it took some getting used to. Thankfully my company is pretty well set up for remote work, with tools and processes in place to make it close to seamless (internet connectivity willing).

Perks

Flexibility – This is the number one perk of working remotely. Some of my colleagues work from home every day, others do it a few days a week, or just when it’s convenient. I work from home every now and then, when the plumber needs to come over, when I have a doctor’s appointment, or when I’m feeling a little under the weather but not bad enough to take a sick day. I know that some of my colleagues in Sydney who walk or ride to the office work from home on days when the weather is uncooperative. The option to work from home as much or as little as you like is the best way to make work fit around the rest of your life, and not the other way around. Of course, you still need to get your 40 hours a week in, and you need to be available for meetings during business hours, but where and when you do it is up to you (within reason).

Nice environment – Working from home every day would drive me bonkers, so I only do it occasionally and most days I go into a coworking office with a couple of my other Melbourne-based colleagues. Everything you hear about coworking offices is true: there are nap rooms, there are table tennis tables, there is funky wallpaper, indoor plants and free food. All of that stuff doesn’t bother me so much (though I must admit the chive scones with tomato relish we get for breakfast every Monday are pretty good), but having a nice work environment makes a huge difference. Whether it’s a funky coworking office or a quiet corner of your spare room, enjoying the physical environment where you spend most of your waking hours makes a surprisingly large difference to your overall wellbeing.

Freedom – As well as the flexibility to move your hours around when you need to, working remotely means you have freedom to get things done in a way that works for you. My manager is 750 kilometres away, so there’s no standing over my shoulder or micromanaging (not that she would, anyway). The volume of work we all need to get done and the geographic distance between us means everyone has to just trust that others will get the job done, in whatever way works best for them.

Everyday is casual day – I think it goes without saying that no one working at a tech startup wears a suit and tie to work. There’s a lot of jeans, shorts, thongs – honestly anything really. I truly believe that I could turn up to the office in my pyjamas and no one would bat an eyelid. And it’s not just the dress code that’s casual: joking around and eating in meetings are perfectly acceptable, and if I said I’ve never turned off my video while in a whole team meeting so I could stuff my face with a delicious banoffee pie doughnut I’d be a liar.

Pitfalls

It can be lonely – With only a few colleagues in the same building, the social side of work is a bit of a challenge. Having others in the office definitely helps, but as someone remote from the bulk of the team I’ve learnt that I need to proactive in building social connections with colleagues. We have a fortnightly social game where we get automatically matched with someone else every two weeks to have a 15 minute non-work-related chat. Our instant messaging system also has channels where you can post funny or interesting things you’ve found, and we get together as a whole team a few times a year. There are opportunities to connect, but it’s never going to be the same as being in the office with all your colleagues every day.

You can be left out of the loop – Because so much happens in Sydney, I have found that I’m often one of the last to hear news. This is not so much new about big company projects as they tend to be discussed at team meetings, but more things like staffing news. I often don’t hear about new hires until the day they start (or later) and there’s been more than one occasion when a staff member has left the company and I haven’t known for weeks. I think there’s definitely more the company can do to make sure that news gets spread to everyone, but it’s also one of the things I’ve had to accept as being a pitfall of remote work.

Travel can be required – Let’s be real: travelling for work is not as glamourous as it sounds. Being away from home, airport security lines, living out of a suitcase and feeling out of routine isn’t fun when you’re not on holidays. I only have to travel three or four times a year, and only for a few days at a time, so it’s not a huge toll. I also enjoy the opportunities to be in the Sydney office with everyone else and have a bit more of a professional social life. But I also don’t enjoy being away from home so I’m glad I don’t do it more often.

You need buckets of motivation – I listed freedom as one of the big perks of remote work, but the flipside is that to be successful you really need to be self-motivated. I have regular catch ups with my manager and the rest of my team, but without others nearby to push me along I’ve had to rely on my own organisation and motivation to keep plowing ahead with my tasks. That hasn’t been a problem for me – I’m naturally very organised and like to work hard – but there are days when it’s hard to keep motivated or push through when I hit a road block. In a normal office environment I would just turn around and ask someone for help, so I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to do that as a remote worker too. It just means picking up the phone or starting a video call instead of walking to the next desk.

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