Six months ago, my company transitioned from a permanent office in London to a virtual office, setting up shop from our home offices across London, Redhill, Guildford, Tunbridge Wells, Austria and Cambodia. For me, it has been an invaluable working experiment because it has shined a spotlight on my work habits and made me question how I ensure that I stay productive and valuable. It was a bit of a surreal experience for me as a 23-year-old in London.
For the next three months I will be doing some contracting work and so I am required to commute back to the hustle and bustle of Central London - I wanted to give an honest account of how working from home has affected my workload, my lifestyle and my overall opinion of remote working.
The need to be physically present at a company’s offices is decreasing with advancements in cloud technology like Azure and AWS. So if you are a start-up (or even an established business) where much of the work doesn’t necessarily require your team to be present, then this could be an interesting experiment for you too.
Virtual Office Transition
Some of the benefits were immediately obvious. Aside from the money and stress saved, the absence of a morning commute meant that I was suddenly a lot more flexible to roam around and frequently change up my work environment. I frequented walkable locations like Clapham Junction, Brixton and Oxford Circus, and even further afield like Guildford and my home town of Market Harborough. Moving around like this helped me to be more creative and in my technical work and in my engagement duties, such as writing blogs and content.
It was a chance to experiment with tools:
- Skype and Skype for Business have become our go-to tools for arranging meetings and recording them, however we also trialled out other options like join.me.
- Using Outlook to your full advantage is an essential in any office. But I think it became especially important in a remote office to manage your own time and work around others’ schedules, since proximity was no longer a factor.
- Our use of the Atlassian suite (JIRA, Bitbucket, Confluence and HipChat) has become integral – being able to log our time effectively and communicate effectively across different projects was essential considering the distance between us has been massively important to the success of remote working so far.
I had some great opportunities to make better lifestyle choices. Because I wasn’t confined to traditional office hours or the morning/evening rush, I was able to be a lot more flexible with my working hours. Taking time to hit the gym (in theory) or breaking up your work stints with home-cooked food was a really useful mechanism to help clear your thinking when working on a problem.
For the most part, these are fantastic reasons to go remote. They can contribute to a healthier and more active lifestyle, and if you have a family or other commitments that revolve around work then the stress of organising life around work suddenly becomes much less present. I definitely did not miss feeling like a sardine in a hot and packed Underground train, but there are pros and cons to everything, of course. The commute serves a purpose too.
It’s a means of consolidating what I have learned each day, or to think over a problem that had been bothering me at the office before, or even just a time to get yourself together and preparing for the day. Similarly, switching off from work became a lot harder as the weeks went on because my work office also happened to be my bedroom. Associating your full-time job with your home environment was something to be careful of – it’s tempting to do laundry or watch a quick YouTube video when you were supposed to be writing T-SQL!
On the subject of tools, wrestling with technology was a hefty contributor of lost time. Sometimes internet connections fall down, or other people in your house hog the bandwidth. Sometimes technology fails and it takes minutes to fix connections and wait for yourself and others to get to the same stage – minutes add up.
There’s also the social and support factors of working in an office environment. I had originally considered myself as an introvert and so I believed that I would thrive in an environment where I was left to my own devices. On the contrary - the reduced support from peers or team members revealed to me how much I’d underestimated the value of being able to wander over to the resident SQL expert or the team member with the deepest industry knowledge, have quick 30 second conversations or ask questions. I missed being able to bounce ideas of others, without resorting to a Skype conversation or waiting for someone to become free.
In fact, I genuinely missed the team spirit sometimes – we frequently meet up in central London for our knowledge sessions, internal meetings and to bond as a team. But there was something about being in a shared space among your peers that I really began to miss after a while.
Is it for us?
It’s worth noting that for the most part, the experiment has been really successful for us and complements our business needs quite nicely. Even with distractions, the more experienced team members are much better at maintaining concentration and filtering out noise from the environment, from what I have seen! My experience is that I know now that I benefit from a bit more structure, however my overall focus has improved with practice and I have become more productive as the experiment has progressed.
Are you interested in going remote, or do you agree with my experience? Engage with Consolidata on Twitter or LinkedIn and share your experience.