When “working remote” means “working from home,” we deprive ourselves of life’s rich texture. Most people weren’t made to do the bulk of their computer-based jobs in the same building that they sleep. A daily commute is a mandatory ritual for most of us to retain our sanity and to experience the harmony and fullness of life. I’m not a fan of celebrating the number of miles saved by working in our houses. Just because we don’t have to travel somewhere to do our work doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
It’s great that more jobs are going from in-office to remote. It’s not great when we decide that this means we will work from our houses 5 days per week. I’m saying this as someone who did exactly that for years. I’m now working out of a coworking space, and I’m never going back.
Having spent the better part of this year with a 25-minute drive separating my pillow and my desk, here’s a list of things I’ve learned in retrospect:
- Before, I was experiencing a common melancholy in my home office that resulted from working in isolation. I was starting to ask myself questions like, “Is any of this real?” People who work around others are immune to this. As someone told me a couple months ago, software developers are usually introverts; introverts need to be forced out of their hermit comfort zone, and working from home does the opposite. It compounds the problem.1
- The boundaries of work and domestic life were blurred and under-regulated. There was never an official, consistent time I started and ended my work each day.
- Similarly, it was difficult to keep my sleep schedule consistent year-round. Ritual and routine are very important. Almost all high-functioning people have lots of this in their lives.
- I had convinced myself that because I had fewer human-factor distractions, I was able to get more focused work done. I’ve since learned that this was offset by my freedom to go down useless rabbit trails. It resulted in a zero-sum game. Getting held up in the break room for 5-10 minutes will save you 45 minutes of programming when you get back to your desk. It’s worth having healthy doses of human distractions. Especially if a big part of your job is problem-solving and creative thinking.
- I’d formed my outlook on working from home by influential thought leaders such as Mullenweg and DHH. But there’s a difference in experience between leaders who work from home and their helpers. Leaders travel a lot, and they talk a lot. They have positive feelings about working from home, because they experience it from a leadership’s lifestyle. Just because Mullenweg and DHH think working from home is great for them doesn’t mean it’s great for you or me.
- I thought I had more free time since I didn’t have a commute. But I was also upset that I still couldn’t find discretionary reading time. The commute solved this frustration, thanks to a monthly Audible subscription. I’m now using the commute to learn about new things. I’ve listened to more high-quality books this year than I’ve read in any other post-college year. I’ve learned to embrace the commute. It’s helping me implement better habits. And it’s allowing me to let go of my day’s work before coming home to my family. There’s nothing wasted about that drive. I need it.
Granted, I could force myself to begin my workday around 8 or 9 if I worked from home. I could force myself to minimize distraction and be done (really, actually done) by 5 or 6. I could force myself to spend an hour per day reading a good book. But who does that?
You want a system in place that brings the lifestyle you’re after with the least amount of effort (not because you’re lazy, but because you want to save your effort for other things). You achieve a healthier, fuller lifestyle with less effort by introducing a commute.
If you have a remote job, be thankful for it. Remote is great! Now convert your home office into a guest bedroom, and find a coworking space.
The gentleman who told me this commutes voluntarily from Atlanta, Georgia to work in physical proximity to his constituents. He could work from home if he wished, but he puts a high dollar value on not doing so. ↩︎