The Tao of Remote Work

The Tao of Remote Work

Jun 16, 10 • In Philosophy

A meditation on the qualities of remote development by guest author Evan Light.

I can only attempt to explain the beauty of remote work.  You need to determine the value of it for yourself.  If what I describe does not strike you as a way to live a better life, then perhaps it is not for you.

Remote work is a choice.
It is not about fame.  It is not about fortune.
It is about being where you are.  Wherever you go, there you are.
Remote work means sacrificing some opportunities for the sake of place.
If, like a plant, you have taken root then relocating is traumatic.  Remote work is the outcome of choosing to do only what you can in place over transplanting yourself for the sake of work.
Remote work is putting yourself before work.
Remote work is caring for yourself, your family, and for your community over the career ladder.
Remote work is implicitly personal.
Remote work is accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions.  It is entrepreneurship.

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16 Responses to The Tao of Remote Work

  1. bryanl says:

    Sounds interesting.

    “Remote work is caring for yourself, your family, and for your community over the career ladder.” — not sure how I feel about this.

    • Avdi Grimm says:

      What’s your first reaction to it?

      For me, I’m not sure if it’s so much about putting family over career as finding a way to make the two more congruent. But that’s just me.

    • Evan Light says:

      Caring for yourself over career is about taking a holistic approach to living. Remote work facilitates this.

      • bryanl says:

        I don’t see what remote work has to do with caring for myself, my family, or my community. I’m a huge stickler on 8 hour work days (with the obvious exceptions of course) because I have a family. I’m also choosing to work close to my house because I think there is value of face-to-face interaction.

        Those are just my opinions of course. Viva La Revolution!

        • Avdi Grimm says:

          Bryan, I think it has everything to do with the kind of home life YOU value. For some people, they want to think about nothing but work for eight hours, then go home, and think about nothing but family. For me, on the other hand, I’m OK with working for 10 or more hours of the day if that’s interspersed by frequent interactions with my family; holding the baby while I code, etc. Sometimes I sit at the kitchen table and share a little of what I’m doing with my older kids. For me, the ideal balance is a kind of organic intermingling of passions. For you, a stricter separation may be ideal.

          I don’t think anyone is saying that remote work is the *only* way to put family first; but if your idea of ideal family involvement is constant proximity and interaction, remote work is an essential enabler.

          And, of course, for those who are also caregivers to aging or disabled family members, remote work really IS tied directly to putting family first.

        • Avdi Grimm says:

          Oh and far as community, I think that’s pretty straightforward. Dave Troy has written better about localism than I ever will, But in a nutshell, if you want to grow the community where you are instead of letting work availability determine your community, remote work may be the only option for making a living and pursuing your passion while still being a rooted part of the local community.

  2. Marc Esher says:

    I’ve been remote working for a little over a month. One tradeoff is that, working from home, I do not get the exposure or “face time” that would enable me to more easily climb the ladder, as it were. The flip side is that I take a bike ride for lunch, see my kids throughout the day, and when I close my IDE, I’m done. No commute.

    So far the most surprising finding is that work is *much* more intense. Without the hum of the office, constant meetings, coworkers dropping by to talk, heading to the lunchroom for coffee, etc, my focus is astonishing. 4 hours of working from home feels like 8 hours of working at the office, in terms of productivity.

    Mostly, though, life feels more balanced. It’s as if this is what work should be like, and what I did for the preceding 6 years — get up at 4:30 to beat the I-83 traffic, drive 50 minutes each way, spend 9 hours at the office, get home and be tired as hell — is unnatural.

    • Avdi Grimm says:

      Getting up early to avoid I-83 traffic? Boy, that’s all too familiar. Thankfully I haven’t had to do that for over a year. One day soon I’m going to have to write some articles about the lost time and environmental impact of a daily commute.

    • Evan Light says:

      “Mostly, though, life feels more balanced.”

      As it should be.

    • Chris McGrath says:

      As someone relatively new to remote work how have you found stopping work at the end of the day? When I first started remote working I found stopping much harder than getting started, the complete opposite of what I expected!

      • Evan Light says:

        When I’m working with a distributed team, I tend to find myself starting at the same time of day due to daily standups. Ending time does, yes, vary wildly for me. In some cases, I work ten or twelve hour days because I’m experiencing Flow.

        I find Flow easier to achieve when I’m working in an environment of my choosing. I would rarely choose an office.

    • Adam Bachman says:

      “The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting.” : http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/opinion/30brooks.html .

      I moved from a 25 mile, 45 minute drive (Parkville Columbia) to a 1 mile walk and it was beautiful. Right now I’ve got a bikeable 3 miles / 20 minutes. Quick enough, but still more lost time than I’d like.

      I cringe when I hear someone justify a 20 mile commute with “podcasts”.

      Commuting creates a buffer between “work” and “life” where there shouldn’t be one. I cannot be two people, why should I live two lives?

      • Marc Esher says:

        Adam, it’s nteresting you mention podcasts as a justification. I never justified a commute with podcasts or podiobooks, though I would often say that they helped keep me sane. Now that I’m working from home and riding 30-45 minutes at lunch, I am a bit more judicious about what I listen to because I don’t have as much time, but podcasts definitely keep me company while I’m on the road. It’s kind of the best of both worlds

        • Adam Bachman says:

          I’m not putting down podcasts, they’re one of the better uses of time I’ve seen. Best, I suppose, would be actually working while riding public transportation.

          It’s the “helped keep me sane” that is the clue (but you know this). It’s a coping mechanism. I’ve never heard of someone who took a longer commute so that they could listen to more podcasts (or see more cars, or listen to more talk radio), but I’ve met a lot of people who use them to lessen the stress of a long commute.

          Podcasts’ supply and my capacity to enjoy them eventually run dry, but the commute is always there. Relentless sucking, breaking down my enjoyment of my job in a way that nothing can fully build back up. (Unless the job is really great, I suppose. I had a double whammy of long commute / lousy job.)

  3. Marc Esher says:

    Chris, Oh yes, I definitely noticed it. I also noticed that it’s way too easy to get up early on a Saturday morning and work on a problem that I didn’t solve on Friday.

    When I worked in the office, I had a real incentive to get out of the chair on time: if I didn’t, I’d hit rush hour traffic and turn a 50 minute commute into a much longer one. Now, taking an extra half hour at the end of the day has no such drawbacks. Fortunately, my wife’s been keeping me honest.

  4. Rob Bazinet says:

    Great points Evan. I totally agree with all the great reasons to work remotely.

    I left the daily commute several years ago because I could not stand a commute any longer. The stress of traffic each way was just not worth the so called “face time”. If this time is important than get a video conferencing system and have a chat.

    Benefits for me being a remote worker and freelancer as well is I can take our daughter to school, pick her up at the bus stop and take my dog for a walk at lunch. No way I can do any of this while stuck in a cube.

    I wouldn’t trade this for anything, the freedom to choose the work I do and the much-improved quality of life over commuting to an office, no matter the job, is priceless.

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