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The Stress of Remote Working (hackernoon.com)
100 points by madewulf 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments



I am 100% fully, completely remote. I love it so much. I don't mind the office but the distractions are brutal and I never get momentum going. Plus the commute. Oh god, the commute. No, I think working remote is much less stressful than the office. If someone calls me and I don't want to talk to them, I don't answer the call. Responding to every ping and call as if your job is on the line is going to stress you out no matter what the environment.


Also most of the "remote stress" can be compensated by home food or lying in your bed for an hour.


IMO, still much better than the stress of driving in rush hour traffic 2x a day to go to an office where everyone is looking over your shoulder all the time and won't hesitate to interrupt you, or the guy right next to you, or anyone in the room, for a quick, disruptive chat that everyone can hear.


My work days and quality of life in general improved dramatically when I stopped driving and started taking the bus. Two hours total round-trip each day, plus walking about 2 miles to/from bus stops, but I can't imagine ever wanting to drive to work again. Let someone getting paid to drive handle the stress of the road, don't put that shit on yourself. Public transport can be stressful in its own ways, but at least you have some free time to think about how to improve your outlook. When you're driving, you might accidentally cause a pile-up if you do that.

And the lack of ability to "get around" all day is a benefit, let me tell you. Your mind would be thrilled if you said "no, I can't do that" more often. It sounds like your workspace is pretty noisy but your rush-hour commute might be contributing to your bad days more than you think.


Oh I can't wait until self driving cars exist for real (zero interaction required, I think you have to keep a finger on the wheel now). The commute definitely aggravates me both to and from work, preventing a good day at work, and a good wind down after work.

As far as workspace, we have that new fangled open office (read: too cheap for even cubicles). Granted it's a startup and there are much better things to spend money on, plus rapid growth, etc. Everyone has to wear headphones and the biz always comes in to talk.

I'd still rather remote. It solves all problems, and I can walk and socialize on my own time. Let's be honest, most work chit chat is either about work, or petty and shallow.


If your workspace is inflexible then I would say making some changes to your commute asap might be important for your well-being.

Chit chat at work wasn't always annoying and disruputive. Well maybe to some it always was, but the workplace is usually an intersection of some interesting parts of your personal community, ie the mutual suffering everyone else goes through for whatever reason, to be here in this office 8+ hours a day. Sitting around all these people existing in chairs, who in their digital worlds totally forget about the noises they're making in the real world.

Your work chit chat is what you make it, is what I'm trying to say I guess. If your office is totally extroverted and won't give anyone any peace, look around for other people who aren't into the prescribed "work culture" and work together to make one of your own. At least your work days might be better.


I've solved half that problem by living within walking distance from work. I do understand that it's not possible for a lot of people though.

I've never worked somewhere that I couldn't get to within 20 minutes by walking or cycling.


eating, fiddling with things, kicking the back of their desks, typing too percussively, sniffing...


I would prefer a mix of 2 days in 3 days remote if I had the option. I think it is important to see some face to face. But I think as someone who programs if you get more quiet focus time, you can get bigger things done.


I worked remote for 4-6 months in 2010, and really hated it. My team of 3—I was the most junior—were all local and met at the office once every couple weeks.

I felt a pressure to always respond to pings and phone calls instantly, lest it be thought that I was slacking off. I felt guilty about going to the bathroom, let alone eating lunch or—god forbid—getting coffee from the Starbucks right outside my apartment building.

Yet at the same time, I wasn't very productive. If I hit a question or wasn't sure what to do next, it seemed to take forever to get "unstuck" without being able to walk over and have a conversation with my boss live. Phone and IM just didn't cut it. As a result, and beyond the "on-call" pressure, accountability felt low.

So it was the worst possible combination of a high pressure to be "present" for long/strange hours (some of our bosses were in Europe) combined with boredom and low productivity. There were instances where I didn't leave my apartment for days, and I looked like the guy in the second frame of the Oatmeal comic in the article. Thankfully, I lived with my girlfriend (now wife) who probably kept me healthy and sane.

It's only looking back that I realize how unhealthy this was for me, to the point where I'm typing this comment and thinking, "Holy shit, that's bad."

Years later, as a people leader, I'm a proponent of remote work, though feel strongly that there's no replacement for sitting physically* next to someone 20%+ of the time. I'm also extremely aware of the need to enable remote workers with process, technology, and culture to help them be successful. Without that foundation, people may have the same experience I did, and I don't want to put others in that position.

(* Video technology has made this better, and I know there are virtual presence technologies that can replace physical presence, but I still don't think there's a replacement for in-person human contact.)


Sounds like you were quite junior and working in an environment that didn't support remote working well, which obviously wouldn't end well. Great that you are able to take that experience and use it to help others and your organization grow remotely though, I can see why you are a people leader.


I've worked 100% remote for nearly 4 years now and I can definitely say that I'll never go back to working in an office if I can help it.

Yea there are different challenges. You have to over communicate and be available, but availability doesn't mean 24/7. It really only applies to working hours and the occasional on-call shift. If your boss wants to get ahold of your on a Saturday night, that sounds like a company culture issue, not a remote work issue.


I've worked remotely for a company in another state for the past 5 years, I can relate to many of these issues.

On socialization, I can understand the feeling there, but for me the solution was to find social circles beyond work. For me I have my church community and also meetup groups with other developers in a similar field. If you don't have those already you will definitely be feeling the loneliness.

Other things I do is have a dedicated office space that I only use for work, to create at least a semblance of home/work separation. I also have a pretty disciplined morning routine that involves working out (at the very least, taking a walk), reading and actually getting dressed. I've found just jumping out of bed onto a call is a recipe for disaster especially if it becomes ingrained as a habit.

I also work partial days from coffee shops (I also feel bad if I spend 3+ hours in a seat after just buying a bagel and an americano.) I'll often go there in the morning to also promote the work/home separation.

The other thing is that I work for a relatively small company and they bring me up to the office every few months for a few days, so there is a time to connect with people in the office. If you are 100% remote and never meet people in person I feel it could be a bit more difficult to make connections with people.

Overall, I really enjoy it, I do wish I could go into the office more often. Having a 2 office/3 remote weekly schedule would be my ideal situation - do meetings and socialization in person then have the distraction free time provide via remote work. I'm not sure how many companies would be into that idea.


> for me the solution was to find social circles beyond work. For me I have my church community and also meetup groups with other developers in a similar field.

I think you are exactly right. Additionally, I think having a variety of social circles beyond work can help broaden one's support network, which can reduce the disruption of changing jobs or being let go. And it's fun to have a wider variety of friends with common interests.


> On socialization, I can understand the feeling there, but for me the solution was to find social circles beyond work.

This should be the norm not the exception.

The impression that I get is that this idea of socialising at work is stronger in the US.


I've been 100% remote for almost 6 years. I don't think I can go back.

I have a family and a stay-at-home wife, though, so I'm really not looking for socialization through work.

My work is very strict about keeping normal work schedules (it's not flex schedules) to avoid issues like this.


I work remotely, and it can definitely get lonely. To combat this, I do martial arts. I get my 'social fix' and am good for the day. I don't need constant conversation throughout the day with people I may or may not like ;-)

What is most difficult for me, is getting inspiration. I work remotely for myself which is different than those work work remotely for others, and have a boss to report to. So...I'm struggling with how to get unstuck right now.

As far as 'never leaving work,' I change up my work locations. Sometimes I'm at Starbucks, other times Panera's, and sometimes I'm at home.

As far as degradation of social skills, I'm going to assume that was an attempt at humor, and not really proven lol :) Seriously though, yesterday I realized that I definitely don't socialize the way I used to. I went to panera and ordered at the kiosk with my card. Later on in the day I went to Target's 'self check-out.' It's almost as if we don't have to interact with humans as much these days.


My social skills have gone down after I took an office job. When I worked remotely I would go out in the evening and do things and meet people. Now after 9 hours of noisy office and 90 minutes commute I am exhausted and do nothing after work. I feel like a work machine.


> I work remotely, and it can definitely get lonely.

I used to work remotely most of the time, unfortunately in my current job this isn't very practical. I really miss the solitude though. Having to sit in an office surround by humans is the worst part of having a job in general. It wears on you and after a day at the office I am completely exhausted to the point where I feel like a zombie most evenings.

As for the loneliness thing, that's something I've never understood. I don't even know what it feels to be lonely. There have been times in my life where I've been alone for months and I never felt anything that I would classify as 'lonely'. If anything I would call my current condition the exact opposite of loneliness: I have way more social interaction than I can deal with and that's with me actively trying to reduce it to the absolute minimum possible.


It would be great if there were some sort of small group of people that you could call on to help get unstuck; perhaps to have a short video chat with about your problem and brainstorm solutions.


If you want to succeed working remotely, this helped me:

1. Focus - learn how to 100% focus on your work, filter out any distractions

2. Socialize - find some nice hobbies involving other people with completely different backgrounds for the time you saved by e.g. not commuting

3. Pause - don't overwork yourself; having computer in front of you is enticing to cram more algorithms, experiments etc. into it - just put a firm boundary on the amount of work you do in a given day or you risk long-term overworking issues

I was following this for over 5 years and had the best time of my life working remotely with 0% office time.


95% remote for 5 years now and enjoying it. I agree with all of your points and have some to add:

* Create a really pleasant and tidy work space for yourself. My work life improved considerably when I did: http://ma.rtijn.org/2016/01/03/standing-desk.html

* Be among people. This is part of 2. but worth pointing out. I work at a co-working space 2 days a week, and at cafes some mornings. I don't care that I don't actually interact much with folks there. Being among humans is enough to break the isolation.

* Take care of your body. Don't do any work before you have given yourself time to wake up, shower, get dressed, have breakfast. Set a timer to go for a walk around the block. Have a glass of water on your desk at all times. Eat healthy. These things apply to all desk workers, I just feel it's even more important being remote.

* Start the day checking in with a colleague. Doesn't need to be about a work problem or question. Just see how folks are doing at HQ, anything special going on? Just having a laid back conversation with a colleague before you head into the day helps start me off with a positive, social attitude.

* Build confidence that not being always-on is okay as long as you deliver. Work on trying not to read too much into the phrasing of chats / emails.

* Insist on good practice in meetings. It's very easy to ignore someone not in the room. If you can, have them project your video on a screen so you're "there". Remind people to speak up and to point a camera at whiteboards etc.

I'm probably forgetting a bunch of things. Good topic for a blog post that focuses less on the drawbacks and more on recipes to make remote work a joy. Any links folks can recommend?


#1 is key. I've turned off most of my notifications. It's amazing how we live surrounded by so much digital noise.


For me, #3 was key because when you start deviating from the 9-5 it's easy to work a few hours later into the night to finish up the task before all the working memory is lost to sleep. This inevitably causes adverse sleeping patterns which can cause all sorts of malaise


> To summarize, the main problem for me is to feel like a text processing machine, receiving mails, Jira tickets and chat messages as input and writing code as output, without the human interactions needed to make it more meaningful. I do not like becoming a kind of a remote developer black box.

This sounds fantastic, where can I get such a gig? There's really nothing better than being given a more-or-less defined task, and being free to just go get shit done, without interruptions, or waffling, or hemming and hawing about whether it should be done this way or that way, by people who have no understanding of the technical realities.

Thank god it's a work-from-home Friday. I predict I will get far more accomplished in four hours today than I did in the 40+ I was in the office Monday-Thursday.


It seems to me that one reason you are able to sit down and just get shit done on Friday is because you've been in the office Monday - Thursday to get context, discuss implementation strategies, understand the business goals, and ask/answer any questions. Then by the time Friday comes around you're ready to sit down and bang out code.

But whether you're in the office or not while writing that code is completely orthogonal to whether you have the context & requirements to do it. A good organization that's built for remote workers can communicate all of that without people having to be together in person. Likewise, a bad organization will have bad development & requirements practices whether you're in the office in person or remote.

The big difference is that it's easier to ignore distractions when you're remote so once you have your work (mostly) defined then it's easier to get into flow when you're by yourself.


Ah, gotta have the requirements to get things done - right, I’m with you on that one. Where would all software dev be if we didn’t have requirements? ideally printed out and distributed in neatly packed binders. </s>

Seriously, do you really think that something that cannot be worked out over slack/confluence/phone call can be worked out in person sitting in the busy office with all kinds of distractions and stress caused by commute in/out....


Yes. Get a meeting a room and do a proper meeting. The thought of having a 1 hour long meeting makes me sick. The thought of having a 1.5-2 hours long phone call (adjusted for inefficiency of the phone call) makes me want to kill myself. I will not get anything done ever after that.


The person writing the spec should actually be able to think it through a few times before needing a developer in the room. If the spec writer can't think through a spec by themselves for at least 95% of it, they aren't qualified to be submitting tickets, IMO.

The most efficient way to communicate specs is through a document, so I have something to reference. I'm not going to remember everything said in a meeting unless I immediately start working on it. The spec document should be exhaustive, clear and easy to follow with no dangling questions unanswered.

If you can get a spec writer that can do that, you're golden.


You have never written a spec have you?

Not only is the 5% important, as every "only 5% left" tends to be, you are completely ignoring possible developer questions.


I've read my take of shit ones. Most of the time, the writer hasn't bothered to think about it past the initial idea and needs the developer to help them understand what they want. That's not the developer's job.


Remember this when you'll write your first spec one day.


We're Agile, why do we need spend time on requirements and architecture? That's so Waterfall </s>

You do realise you do actualy need some form of requirements, otherwise what are you doing, just writing code with no goal?

Granted it doesn't need to be a big up front document, but some of those slack/confluence/in person meetings will ultimately be around "so, guys/gals for this next proposed , feature, story (requirement), w/e, this is how I'm achieving it". Oh, and as for non functionals..

Having spent years working remotely with office focused teams, the nuances of these discussions are the ones that get missed by the remote attendee unless everything is set up correctly.


> about whether it should be done this way or that way, by people who have no understanding of the technical realities.

This will most likely still happen, just over Jira, chat, and code review comments, making it more painful (as the bandwidth is lower) than in real life.


Those are much easier to ignore though.


The non-essential stuff (ex. people asking to "take a quick look" at something) yes, but for anything that still pertains to your task at hand you'll still need to respond. You get the benefit of being able to respond asynchronously, but so does everybody else, which can make a simple conversation (on which your task depends) take days.


Maybe you find this talk interesting https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBGalP3jBwU


You just described my current gig, and I'm in heaven. It's literally the best thing ever. I hope it never ends, I never want to go back to working in an office.


I've been 100% remote also for the past two years. IMO the most important thing about remote working is communication. I'm still not perfect at it but I try to improve everyday. Even though there are issues you can't avoid (e.g. childhood sickness as OP pointed out), most of the problems can be solved by communicating clearly with your co-workers.


Everything has trade offs. I've mostly worked remote for the last ~15 years (last job was partially remote, this one is all remote except one meeting a sprint typically.)

This article does a pretty good job bringing up the issues I came across early on, but there's way to mitigate all of these. Some of them are cultural fixes for the company; don't hold it against people when they are slow to respond to chats. It doesn't mean they aren't working hard, it might just mean they needed to poop. Stuff like that.

Some are things you have to do yourself if you need a change; for me going out for lunch is a big one that helps avoid fatigue of constantly being at home and helps me have social contact because I arrange to go to lunch with friends or family at least once a week.

Another one is that I have dogs; so I have company here at home with me. That might not work for some people but it's something that helps me.

Lastly, we do pair programming at my company. So I'm on voice chat with people a lot during the day.


In the end, the stress of remote working or working inside a cubicle is caused by the same group: everybody around you.

You might or might not have co-workers that are cooperative or not, who interrupt you a lot or not, who make everybody's life easier or not.

You might have or not a good family, a good chair and desk, a good headphone, a good coffee break, a good lunch.

And everybody that is on the other page will think that you aren't doing as hard as you can, and if they were in your sittuation (remote or local), you should do better.


> In the end, the stress of remote working or working inside a cubicle is caused by the same group: everybody around you.

let me rephrase that for you

> In the end, the stress of remote working or working inside a cubicle is caused by the same group: you


I'm a remote developer (FTE w/large out of state co.) who happens to be a 40 year old single dad of two elementary school-aged kids living in a one bedroom apartment.

Yet even if I was able to recreate a workplace with my favorite colleagues, ideal collaborations, and the best on-site perks, I would still prefer to be remote most of the time /at this stage in my life/.

Reflecting on this led me to boiling it down to 2 key reasons: 1. I have a natural drive to want to do my best work. After 24 years of working full time (about 20 doing roughly what I do now), I have a good idea of what that takes.

2. Having children changes you fundamentally in so many ways that a meaningful discussion probably isn't possible without considering what that means.

Working remotely isn't perfect (especially during long school breaks...), but it does facilitate most of what I want given the need to trade my time for money.


I worked remotely a lot when my kids were young. Awesome taking them to the park at lunch, dropping off and picking up from school. Its just not natural to travel for an hour to sit in a box. Plus I was in the best shape having time to go bike riding or running at lunch.




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