On Working Remotely

I have been working remotely for nearly 15 months, almost as long as it’s been since I last wrote in this blog. For many who commute five days a week to their employer’s office, working from home sounds like a dream. In a lot of ways, it is. Once you do the math, you realize just how many hours of your life you spend sitting in traffic on your way to and from work, and you perhaps start to think of ways in which you can prevent that from needing to happen.

Many years ago, when I worked in an office in Downtown Minneapolis, I switched to a four-day per week flex schedule: four 10-hour days, three days off. The long weekends were nice; the long workdays, slightly less so. I drove less in rush hour traffic (especially since I would leave two hours later in the day than usual), but I also ended up having far less time to interact with my co-workers. Eventually, I switched back to a regular 9-5 schedule, as being present at the hours when my co-workers were actually in the office and not having to catch up every week and what I missed on that fifth day was more important to me than saving some time on the road.

Lesson learned: I am a social being. I like building relationships with others. I value camaraderie, partnership, and collaboration. I want to be at the table when decisions are made. I want to be present. Traffic is a reasonable exchange for these things.

And, on that note, beginning a career in web development four years ago has been one of the most rewarding and personally challenging decisions I’ve ever made. I absolutely love the work I do. When the problems are hard and I feel like there’s no way I’ll ever figure out how to solve them, and then I do? There are few better feelings in the world.

At the same time, the work can be extremely isolating. In these four years, projects have often been handed off to me once the design phase is completed and the expectation has been that I’ve got things from there. And I have! Hopefully I’ve served my clients well, and have guided their projects skillfully along the full path from local environment setup to deployment, like a true “full-stack” developer. I’m proud of most of the sites I’ve built. The ones I’m less thrilled with were usually due to budget restrictions combined with the requirement that I wear all the hats.

Working remotely can double down on that feeling of isolation. It’s not for everyone. Thankfully, just as I realized I needed to make a change when a four-day week of 10-hour days wasn’t working for me, I understood that I needed to make a change here, as well. As much as I love working on the web, I don’t enjoy the whole process. And, more importantly, I still crave collaboration and interaction; the opportunity to work on projects as part of a team, not just on my own.

Four weeks ago, I began working as a Backend Developer at WebDevStudios. We are a fully-distributed company, which means that every one of our project managers, designers, product managers, and developers works from home. And we work together on big, big projects. When I write code, it’s primarily in a language I enjoy (PHP), and one or more of my colleagues reviews it to make sure it’s up to snuff so that we can deploy with confidence. We discuss potential ways to tackle a problem, we assign tasks, and then we work together to get them done. It’s completely unlike anything I’ve experienced since becoming a developer four years ago, and I’m already hooked.