Remote work in IT —Part I — Advantages & Disadvantages
In a few months, it will be 17 years since I started working remotely. In reality, from the start I worked more than 40 hours a week, especially in the early years which were very demanding, sometimes there were weeks and months when I worked for about 16 hours a day, it made it possible to work on a few projects at the same time. In the first year, I thought more time means more productivity. More hours => more code. Without decreasing quality and accumulating fatigue. I realized very fast, it’s not so simple and from that moment I started to treat myself as a laboratory rat, where I could test what I can do to work not only more but also what I can do to spend my time more productively. Everyone who knows me should remember that sometimes I went to these strange extremes in testing these ideas. However, this is a slightly different topic and rather not the most important at the moment.
Today I can say that I can sleep only 5 hours a day and can be productive for over 220 hours a month. It was more stable a few months ago than now., but the improvement is still in progress so it’s natural that sometimes I make bad moves that can decrease, inhibit, limit my productivity, or work gets boring for me and I want to focus more on my life for a moment.
Getting back to the subject. Around 8 of the 17 years I’ve spent having a full-time job for corporate companies, 4 of those years I felt rather like a contractor, so it was normal after hours I spent working on other projects, the following 4 years I wanted to focus all my energy on the place I worked and there wasn’t much time for remote work. I had a lot of different ideas I could explore, so it wasn’t problematic for me.
From the beginning I was sure, the remote work could be more productive than local. From another point of view now I know that it’s not for everyone and sometimes we can lose perspective and start to feel that we are always at work and our work results are close to zero.
It’s been around a year since I decided to change my career path, start my own companies and work only remotely. This has forced me to make a few important decisions. Now I have 7 long term subcontractors. When I’m talking “long term” I think about the unmutual cooperation which means that I pay them regularly every two weeks or monthly and I hope they never let me down and always fulfill their obligations.
During my ‘Corpo career’, not only did I have to focus on the design but also to make sure that the team could elaborate and expand on these ideas by trying to effectively combine various elements of methodologies and monitoring a project in such a way as to introduce changes quickly. Privately, I constantly monitored what was happening in remote working companies, what they do and how they do it. Sometimes I went through the recruitment process just to see how something works. Sometimes I asked people who had experience with remote models during my interviews. Softwaremill was for me a very big source of knowledge and inspiration.
I have to admit, however, that as usual, I took what I managed to remember after reading their book and was not concerned about analyzing whether it was a good company or bad, it was not my goal. From the outside, however, it is a company that has been on the market for a long time, has a completely remote model, low employee rotation and does not have to retain employees by paying the highest rates on the market. Also as a whole, I fully respect them.
How do the realities in building such a company differ from theories?
During the last 4 years of work before returning to my ideas, I have seen how the labor market and technology has changed. Developers have become much more specialized, and rates have risen sharply. Attempts to use agile methodologies have appeared more open, sometimes with good and sometimes with tragic results. In my projects, I always strongly rely on JIRA trying to act like in Event Sourcing (ES) and I hope that later on, I will always be able to go back in time and recreate the moment. The disadvantage I have is that if my client does not require anything from me and does not use the practices that I have introduced, after some time I will stop supplying them. Each practice has a cost but also a profit. If nobody profits, then there is no point in bearing costs. Of course, some minimum requirements must be set, so that the ES approach can be applied at least to some extent.
What are my conclusions after almost a year after switching 100% to such a model?
Additional costs in regular office work
In recent years I have had to travel to work by a car. In total, about 25km a day. Optimistically 30 minutes to work, 30 minutes after work. In addition, some time to prepare before leaving in the morning. The time after work is no longer included in the cost because after work I try to have free time. Now it is difficult for me to determine if I have any fixed cost for remote work. I start work as soon as I get up, I usually spend only 10 minutes on stretching exercises. Sometimes I have a meeting within 30 minutes of waking up, and sometimes I can wake up a little more slowly. Anyway, in real-time, the start time is a maximum of about 30 minutes, so definitely better than for stationary work. Thanks to this I gain 5 hours a week, I don’t pollute the environment with a car and I even save some money.
This is probably the hardest topic. I highly recommend the book “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. This is generally a big problem, the time it takes to focus on creative work is quite long, and there are a lot of distractions, especially in stationary work. Not only emails and messages, but also continuous meetings and people with questions. Overall it can mean that there are days when no results can be achieved.
In remote work, the sources of distracting are much easier to track. I am browsing on Facebook and the Internet, reading emails, texting, maybe I am talking on the phone? The plan of the day in remote work becomes simpler, I have no one to drag to a coffee break in the kitchen or have dinner with. Fewer sources of distractions result in easier monitoring, which results in better awareness of why we are more or less effective. However, something else is crucial. In life, people feel best when they have measurable effects at the end of the day, the effects visible to them personally. If we can organize work so that the day has specific small goals, then our motivation to optimize should grow. Of course, the goal should not be to sit around for 8 hours at work without falling asleep.
Another factor strongly affecting efficiency is the project and tasks organization. After years with local teams, I was getting the impression that the preparation of tasks and their precise description should be crucial before starting work. Now my opinion is completely different. Everyone who worked with me knows that I’m not the best at describing what to do, on the other hand, in cases where I focused and described something very accurately, the effects were that people accepting praise at the beginning and the end often differed from what I expected. Now I know that the problem is more with the size of the task than with the description. It is better to construct a project with small tasks and often make decisions than to do large waterfall tasks and count on a miracle. In this way, we move from efficiency to work organization.
In the next part, I will focus on motivation and tasks organization.