The Pressures Of Being A Remote Worker

photo credit: kelly.sikkema - cc

photo credit: kelly.sikkemacc

After being a remote worker for over a year, I have a couple of things I’d like to talk about. The first is that it’s a lot tougher than I thought it would be. As a remote worker, all of the responsibility of getting the job done is on my shoulders. It’s actually an enormous amount of pressure since the measure of work is output.

The Self Guilt Trip

When I walk the dog during the evening with my wife, I’m checking the phone to see if I’m missing anything. At night in bed, I stare at the ceiling wondering what I’m going to write about the next day. When I wake up in the morning, I check Facebook, Twitter, and my email, not necessarily in that order. By the time I get out of bed, one or two hours have passed without typing a word.

Work surrounds me. Everywhere I go, work follows. Moderating comments, reading RSS feeds, chatting on Twitter, is work and can be done on the phone. When I’m not in front of the Macbook Pro or the desktop PC, I’m thinking about my job. In many aspects, I’m the boss of me and at times, my own worst enemy. I’m sure that’s a musical lyric in a song somewhere.

I’ve often read that bosses don’t want to allow their employees to work from home for fear of them not getting anything done. In my experience thus far, I think the boss has nothing to worry about because productivity rests on the shoulders of the employee. If the output isn’t there, there is no one for the employee to blame but themself.

The Reality Check Of Being A Remote Worker

Being a remote worker has been an enormous reality check. It’s hard to complain about my job because I have the freedom and ability to make it suit my life, not the other way around. If work doesn’t get done, it’s my fault. If I sleep in too late to get a full day in, it’s my fault. If I spend most of the day enjoying life instead of working, it’s my fault. If I work for 10-12 hours during the day, it’s my fault. At the end of the day, if my output is not noticeable, it’s my fault. Thus the pressures I’m constantly exerting on myself to get something done.

Lessons I’m In The Middle Of Learning

Sara Rosso, who has worked at Automattic for four years, published her list of lessons learned from working remotely. I’m in the process of learning some of those lessons myself. One of the most difficult lessons I’m learning is putting my health first before anything else. If I’m out riding a bike, the only thing I can think about is what I’m missing or could be writing at home, sitting in a chair, in front of the PC, generating output. Spacing out an hour or two a day for bike riding, exercise, etc makes me feel guilty. I know there are ways to be fit and work remotely, I’m just personally in the middle of trying to figure it out.

This post serves as a documented effort of trying to overcome the struggles I’ve encountered being a remote worker. If there is one thing I could tell people thinking about becoming one, it would be that it’s not as glamorous and kick ass as you might think. There are benefits for sure, but there is also a lot of self-reflection. Depending on how you react, so much self-reflection can either make you a better person, or constantly eat away at you. Right now, I’m in the middle.

6 thoughts on “The Pressures Of Being A Remote Worker

  1. chrislema says:

    One of the dynamics, which you correctly articulate, is that you’re very clear on what’s being evaluated. It’s output. It’s accomplishment. Not activity. And many people, when working in an office, can get away with very little accomplishment and a heck of a lot of activity. So working remote shines a light directly at what you’re accomplishing – which takes focus and directed energy. I think it’s good for people to make that transition (whether they’re remote or not), but I know it’s hard work!

  2. I have worked from home as a freelance web developer for 10 years in 4 different homes with wife/2 kids. Here are the recommendations I have:
    1. No one touches my computer or desk but me.
    2. Make sure your family knows and respects when its work time and be sure they leave you to it during those hours (if you have small kids, plan on waking up at 5am during the summer to get some quiet work time while they are out of school). But also be sure when it is family time, you are not running off to work all the time.
    3. Learn to have phone conversations with mute on. What I mean is when your not talking, have the phone on mute, in case the occasional yelling/laughing/loud music happens in your home.
    4. DO NOT do business in your home, meet at another location.
    5. don’t turn on the TV until after 5pm, it can be tempting to relax
    6. Limit your facebook time (these facebook games are addictive!)
    7. Take breaks every hour or so from the monitor (I usually clean up around the desk 10 mins at a time, go down and do dishes or something productive, but give your eyes a break).
    8. Exercising regularly and healthy eating gives you more energy throughout the day without overdosing on caffeine.
    9. Keep photos of your family around. Know WHY you are working hard.
    10. Make sure you unwind, the entire point of working from home is to avoid all the crappy bosses and unwanted stress. Enjoy your free time. The work will never end so you have to choose to end your work day.
    Best of luck…

  3. Hey Jeff,

    Great post. I’ve been working from home for 3 months now and I’m struggling with switching off. Answering emails in bed (morning and night), reading the latest post on WPTavern at 1am, etc.. :)

    Can’t be good for the health – I’m hoping to tone it down a notch, but it’s not easy!

  4. These are some of my favourite posts from you as I can totally relate. I remember going through all of these things. Balance was difficult and a factor in why things didn’t work out with my Ex. I think you are going to be okay because you feel the pressure and didn’t immediately run back to a standard job in an office or other facility.

    Be patient with yourself. Having your work follow you around can’t be seen as a bad thing, or you’ll start chiding yourself for it. Realize instead that your work is part of who you are, just as much as sleeping, eating or going for a bike ride.

    Lastly, the guilt you feel is normal. What you need to do is get a better sense from your employer about your output and if it is meeting expectations. If you are, then you can feel confident knowing you are doing as much as you need. If that isn’t sustainable then that discussion needs to happen. If you aren’t doing enough by their standards, then you have to figure that out too. Having a bar set helps a great deal!

    If there is no bar being set by your employer, then make one of your own. I’m not going to tell you to just work 8 hours, but instead find out what stat is valuable for output, set a goal (daily and weekly) and then work towards meeting it. Once you have, you know you are “done” and until you have, you know you have more to do.

  5. This is a great read, thanks Jeff. It’s been a while since I’ve worked remote but these were all things I ran into as well. Finding the balance is key.

    From what I’ve read your employer is a great place to work with great people. I’m sure they can help you find that balance so that you can continue to get the work required done, but also not to be stressed when you aren’t working.

    I agree with Chris above that more people, office, remote, doesn’t matter, should be judged on work output.

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