Here at Automattic, we have been doing this work-from-home thing for a long time now. This was actually how I found out about the Happiness Engineer position. My family is kind of spread out across three different continents, and I felt like working from home would help me spend more time with them, see my nieces grow up, and also explore the world.
That said, while I started looking for a remote position because of the flexibility it offers, looking back to the past four years I noticed there are so many more benefits and perks to working remotely. I have learned a few surprising things I would like to share with you.
1 – The time you save because of the commute.
Ok, this is not surprising at all. It’s actually kind of obvious, but I believe cliches are cliches for a reason and this is a wonderful one, so bear with me for a while. I got 360 hours/year back. This is if you don’t count all the subway delays and snowstorms. It’s amazing what you can do with this time. Don’t get me wrong, commuting is not all bad. I used the time I was on the subway to read. But sometimes I was not in the mood to read or the subway was too crowded and I had to stand all the way from home to work.
I’m a morning person. I wake up early naturally, so I keep waking up at the same time as before (around 5:00 AM), start working around 6:00 AM, and I’m done by 2:00 PM. That alone is an awesome thing. But I now also have time to skype with my sister, nieces, and brother in law who are 6 hours ahead of me in Europe. I have more time to exercise, cook my own food, or do absolutely nothing while I listen to music if I want to. Also, I was able to buy a house outside the city where it’s way cheaper because I don’t need to commute anymore.
2 – I can control my own environment
During the pandemic, I have heard from a lot of people that working from home can be chaotic or lonely. I have also read many articles about the same issues and I have to say they bug me a little bit. Working from home during this horrible time cannot be compared to a true work-from-home experience. Working from home in pre-pandemic time meant I got to stay at home in my office if I knew I was going to need peace and quiet. I could control the room temperature, the amount of light (Do I want my blinds open or closed? Lights on or off?), and the noise level (Do I want to work in complete silence, listen to Beethoven or Heavy Metal?). Or maybe I would work from a cafe by the lake if I wanted to see people. Or simply ping a colleague on Slack (our internal communication tool) and work together with them. It meant taking a flight to New York City to visit my colleagues and friends from work so we could work together. As long as there’s a wifi connection or a good data plan, I am in charge of my environment. Is the coffee house too noisy for my taste? I can relocate and work from a park instead.
3 – Communication is Oxygen
Being part of a distributed or remote organization means you need to focus on your communication skills. This is actually part of our creed: I will communicate as much as possible because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. So we do. We are constantly sharing what we are working on, what is on our mind, our successes and our struggles, when we get stuck, and when we need help. And one thing I heard (actually I read because most of our communication here is done through Slack) from a friend is to always assume good intentions. It can be really difficult to read the tone of a conversation via text. To help with that, we often use emojis and gifs, but misunderstandings can happen, and assuming the person on the other side of the screen meant well helps because the vast majority of times they really did mean well. Also, be kind.
Here we communicate not only about work. We have several Slack channels about many different topics. Our watercooler channels range from fitness to Harry Potter, which helps to connect people who have shared interests. We also have a tool that pairs you with a random person from the organization so you can chat and get to know each other. This helps with networking within the company and bonding between colleagues in general.
4 – Collaboration is everything
Continuing the topic above, having the right tools to enable your team to collaborate is extremely important. Google docs is a tool we use often, but we also use our very own P2 blogging System, which is a fantastic way to keep everyone in the loop and share information between team members, different teams in the division, or even the entire company, plus the information does not get lost in anyone’s inboxes. It’s there for anyone to access in a very organized and collaborative way.
5 – You need to take care of yourself
To be honest, Automattic makes this part pretty easy for us. We really care about not only our customers but also our employees. The company is regularly reviewing and revisiting our goals and what can be done to support us in the best way. However, there’s one side of this situation that depends on us. We must understand our own limits and try to disconnect completely from work after we are done working. All of these are things you should be mindful of. You are not physically in the company’s office. Your lead is not actually seeing that you closed your computer and went home. So as much as the company effectively works to build an environment where you can close your computer and disconnect when you are done, it’s really easy to overwork. So you need to do your part as well and know when to stop working.
So, having a “time to go home” ritual once you are done working actually helps to disconnect. I close my computer, change into my gym clothes, and go exercise. It can be going for a run, bike ride, or using the rowing machine in the basement. Any kind of physical activity helps my brain to understand that I’m done with work from that moment on.
Contrary to what some say, most people do not need to be in the office to be productive. There are a few skills that are good to have and you need to be able to focus and motivate yourself. Maybe you need to be more organized and work on your time management skills but in general, it can be a lot easier than you think. If you feel you are ready to start the journey into the Remote Work World, take a look into our open positions. We are hiring!