I’ve just returned to office work after almost two years of remote working - or to give it its more realistic title - working from home. It’s got me thinking about the day-to-day difference between the two and reminded me of an post I read last year from The Guardian (you can read more on this here).
I won’t rehash everything stated in the article, but having been a commuter for the first 8 years of my professional life I feel well placed to give a personal account of the differences. We’re fortunate enough to work an industry which is perfectly suited to remote working - almost everything we do ends up online, so what does it matter where you are when you do the work in the first place?
Unless you’re one of the lucky few, working in an office (or similar) means at least a half hour commute each way - for many much longer - that’s at least an hour of your day spent in monotonous travelling, usually at the worst time, when everyone else is also trudging their way to work. Working from home occasionally allowed me to spend that time doing a other sorts of routine task (namely cleaning the house and cooking dinner - much to my wife’s delight). The key word there, however, is occasionally - which leads me on to my next point; working from home blurs the lines even further between work and life.
Mention to people that you work from home and the immediate response is always one of two things: “Oh working in your pants must be amazing” or “I could never do that, I’d never get out of bed”. For me those things were never really an issue - believe it or not I didn’t once work in just my pants (maybe I was missing a trick there) and found that ironically it’s easier to get out of bed knowing you don’t have to leave the house! The trouble comes at the end of the day - you’re already home, so calling it a day and stopping working at the right time was actually the more difficult thing for me.
Without doubt the most problematic part of working remotely is the human side of things - the day-to-day interactions with the outside world and, of course, collaborating with colleagues. I am far from the most gregarious person in the world, but given a week working from home and you can find yourself in serious need of some human interaction.
The internet is making remote collaboration easier all the time, but we’re not there yet. There’s no substitute for sitting in and among your colleagues; bouncing ideas off of one another, asking for advice on a particularly obtuse bit of code, even just sharing a joke - it all goes a long way to building a team mentality, which really comes in handy when you're staring down the wrong end of a critical deadline and everyone needs to get on board and help each other out.
I don’t see the office becoming a thing of the past - at least not any time soon - instead the real change that the internet is bringing about is increased flexibility. Last month it was reported that companies in Sweden have started experimenting with a 6-hour work day in a bid to improve work life balance and generally make life a little happier. A fine goal indeed - and one I’d much prefer to see become a reality than the end of the office.