Working Remotely

I have to admit to being pretty surprised that I’m posting here within a couple of days of my last post, but, uh, hey. When you’re inspired, you’re inspired, right? Right.

So first, new theme. Libretto. It’s pretty and I like it and I didn’t much like the other one. Hopefully, this convinces me to gasp blog even more frequently.

The real reason I wanted to write tonight, though, is that I’ve been thinking a lot about remote work. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last year and a half or so, but most especially over the last three months since I’ve been, well, working remotely.

I’ve been really lucky in life (and I recognize that!) in a lot of ways and I’ve been especially lucky when it comes to work situations. I became the Chatting Online Guide at back in September of 1997 — when it was still The Mining Company — and was in that position for four years. It was a remote position and I not only learned a lot about business (and stocks and shares and options and IPOs) but I learned a lot about how I work best.

For most of those four years (not counting the first 6-8 months or so), I made a great living while working remotely. Of course, the compensation structure was such that I got paid for site traffic, including people chatting in my chatrooms, which is where the vast majority of my compensation came from. It took a lot of effort to moderate and manage those communities, including giving moderation privileges to up to ten volunteers, all of whom took shifts during a given week. Plus I was putting out content on a weekly (and eventually biweekly) basis, along with newsletters, answering emails and making attempts to get people to discuss things in our forums.

Due to the fact that my compensation was based on traffic, every bit of effort I put into my site and my communities translated into actual dollars. (Well, fractions of a penny, to be honest — but you’d be surprised how quickly all of those fractions can add up!) As such, I cannot say I attacked this job in a healthy way.

And this is where I realized, probably for the first time in my adult life, that I am an all-or-nothing person. I rarely go halfway on anything and, if I do, I feel oogy about it, for lack of a better word. I go into a situation and, if I decide to commit to it, I commit to it. I don’t always choose to commit, though. Sometimes I don’t. Heck, most of the time, I don’t. But if something catches my attention, ignites a spark, gets me passionate… I’m all in.

So it was with Not just because of the money, because that definitely started coming in later on.
(My first paycheque for was $6.53 US.) It was writing! It was sharing knowledge! It was answering questions! It was building a real community. I was — I am — passionate about these things.

Due to my silly passion (and, okay, eventually the money), I poured a lot of time into the site. That doesn’t mean I worked 100 hour weeks regularly, but it meant that sometimes I did. It meant that I’d regularly be up until 3-4 in the morning, sometimes later if I had a deadline, then sleep like the dead for a few hours and then get right back to it. It literally paid off. Every day I wasn’t doing something with my site meant a dip in my revenue, meant that people weren’t going to my site (except to chat) because there wasn’t anything new. I would regularly work on weekends and holidays.

Now, let me tell you a secret: I have never been good at consistent effort. Never. It’s pretty much my Achilles’ heel. I can pull all-nighters with the best of them and I can make my deadlines with little sleep and lots of caffeine. That is a lot easier, to me, than doing a little bit every single week or every single day. So I would definitely take days off of working on my site and do nothing (although I’d think about it a lot, usually) and I would spend days (and nights) working my ass off to try to “catch up”. Like, 10am-4am with an hour break, total, sometimes.

Either I was 100% on (always working on the site throughout the day and into the night) or I was 100% off (though, like I said, thinking about the site) and occasionally, I would be on overdrive at 200%.

Yeah, like I said, not healthy.

I was happy, though. Some of the best times of my entire life happened in the four years I worked remotely. Some of the worst, too, to be fair. More good than bad, though. And, over the years, I’ve done other stuff remotely. I’ve been a paid moderator, I’ve been a website developer/freelancer… And I really enjoyed working in my own space, on my own schedule, doing my own thing.

So when I got laid off in late October of 2016, I knew I wanted to work remotely for my next job, if it was at all possible. I’d been applying to various places who hired remotely for a few months by the time I got laid off: Stripe, GitHub, Buffer, HelpScout and more. I got through a few interviews with some and others didn’t even respond to my application. (Which, by the way, is so ridiculously commonplace but so rude! When I was hiring direct reports, I always responded to people in the initial waves of applications, since I always preferred to know rather than be kept in limbo.)

As the weeks (and months!) passed, the thought of going into another office just depressed me. I was sitting there, writing applications for jobs I didn’t want, where I’d have to get up at like, 7, go to work, come home around 6 and then start the whole cycle again. I really didn’t want that. My soul just couldn’t take it. And yet, I applied, because apparently I’m not someone my landlady thinks is cool enough to not need to pay rent. And the utility companies, they insist I pay them as well. And so on.

And then, I got my current job doing customer support — remotely. It was an extensive interview process with coding exercises as part of it! And three phone calls. And through it all, I was like “is this happening? Am I going to get it?”

When I got it, I was still shocked. Stunned. I still am, really. I absolutely delight in the fact that I don’t have a commute anymore. I love that I can do my laundry in the middle of a day when there isn’t a soul in the tiny laundry room of my building. (As opposed to deathmatches on the weekends.) I love that I’m here for deliveries. I love that I can buy groceries and not have to decide what’s for lunch until I want to have lunch, as opposed to making it the night before or the morning of. I love that I don’t have to pay for a monthly transit pass. I love that my company trusts me (and the other employees — we’re all remote!) to do our work and that it’ll get done, whether or not I had lunch with a friend from out of town and took that afternoon off. (Which I did a couple of weeks ago, by the way.) I love that I can leave work at four so I can get to class on time, even if I only showed up for work at 10am, because the other couple of hours will be made up sometime.

It’s that trust that makes me absolutely gleeful.

When I’d occasionally work from home at my last position, I felt like everyone thought I was goofing off. I mean, I wasn’t. Other people did so when they worked from home and I was worried I’d get painted with the same brush, so I really didn’t do it terribly often. But I was always, always so productive at home. I don’t know how people are expected to put in a good day of work when people are always talking to them. At my last job, I was in a big room with five other people at one point (at times up to 9) and it was just impossible to get stuff done. There was always a conversation going. Even with headphones on. It wasn’t rare for me to stay late, ’till 7 or 8. Once, I stayed at work — working — ’till ten at night. It was peaceful once everyone left.

At the same time, working remotely does have its challenges. You do want to be there for your team and you do want to put in the time and get the work done. But the temptation to Work More is always there. That’s why I’ve now turned my spare room into my office. I am in there when I’m working and rarely when I’m not. I try not to log in to work stuff elsewhere — not on my phone, not on my desktop computer, not anywhere. It’s an extremely conscious decision on my part to just … leave work in the office, really. And it’s hard, because part of me wants to go all in and work 15 hours a day sometimes.

The main challenge, then, for me, when it comes to remote work is that I am constantly feeling as though I should do more. There’s no reason for me to do so. It’s not like other people work much more than the 40 hours expected of them. (I’m certain there are exceptions.) But I would work too much at my last job and got burnt out. I worked too hard at and, while I didn’t get burnt out, I’m sure it was just a matter of time before I did. Hell, I work too hard on my classes and am totally burnt out there. Thank God I have three weeks before PHP II starts.

My point is that it’s hard for me to not constantly work when I’m in a remote position. So far, I’ve been very good at setting limits. Having other things to do with my time is also helpful (like class stuff, family stuff, friends, writing, etc) because otherwise that time could easily be filled with work.

Still, the draw is always there.

That said, I gotta say, I break the rules of remote work and I work in my pajamas, at least during the mornings, most days. That is definitely a nice perk!

All right, I’ve rambled for nearly 2000 words. That ought to suffice. More thoughts on remote work at some point in the future.