Down the rabbithole

The great expectations of working remotely: 3-month check-in

I’ve been looking forward to this. Not having to commute, living in a small town close to nature, still being able to contribute in an exciting startup in a meaningful way. What have I been expecting exactly, and how has it worked out, you ask?

Here’s a list of all my assumptions (and, in some cases, doubts). I noted down all the expectations a couple days before I started working remotely, and after roughly 3 months, it’s time to check in.

Expectation: I will have lots of uninterrupted time to focus.

I will use pomodoro and expect to be done with my 2x4 sets of pomodoros way before 5pm, as opposed to 5.30 or 6pm these days.

Reality: 😕 Haha. Well, not really.

The majority interruptions don’t come in the form of someone walking up to my desk and asking something. Instead, they tend to come in something hijacking my attention, regardless the channel. As for pomodoro, I gave it a try but I struggle to keep up with it. I really should, because it helps a lot in focusing.

Also, I’m not finishing work earlier. But not later either, so it’s ok.

Expectation: I will miss the watercooler talk (and social interaction in general).

To fight this, I will make an effort to get out — sometimes go to a café for my morning espresso, join a country walking club, go to the library, go to the same baker…

Reality: 🤔 ?

Oh, of course I do, but it’s a question mark because the past couple months haven’t exactly gone according to plan.

First, a bit of context. It’s 2020, so if you’re reading this from the future, it’s the year when we spent months in lockdown due to Covid-19. (Sorry, I promised myself to avoid the topic in my blog, but I feel that it belongs.)

The plan was to visit the office every couple months. Next week would be the second time I would have seen my colleagues since going remote, had it not been for the lockdown. But I haven’t seen any of them in person since February — and I really wouldn’t mind to do so by now! On the other hand, living in a small town means people are generally eager to spend a few minutes longer chatting about whatever. Nobody is in a hurry, and if you are open to it, any transaction (buying bread, signing up for a library card) can be more than just a transaction.

Yet… I’ll have to report back on this later.

Expectation: I will be healthier.

As in, I will move a lot more. A couple push-ups before work, the occasional swim, the frequent jog, and much more walking, as I will live in a much quieter place.

Reality: 😊 A bit better physical, and much better mental health.

Sometimes, I go for a long walk on my lunch break, or hop on my bicycle right after work. Or I can go for a jog in the morning. Or a walk. Air quality is much better here too, and being a quiet small town, there’s less noise and light pollution, so I sleep much better.

And something I’ve not expected or thought of: I have the time and energy to take care of myself, and I’m not nearly as stressed as I used to be in London.

Expectation: I will have the willpower to go out and have quality social interactions.

As an introvert, whatever social interaction I get from my commute and at the office is enough to put me in a state when I just want to be left alone and not talk to anyone.

The problem with big city life for me is that there is a limit to what I can comfortably have in a day before I want to turn the world off. And the quality of the interaction doesn’t matter — it’s building up whether it’s a lovely after-work drink with friends or rushing past hundreds of pedestrians and dodging cyclists in central London. So by the time it’s time for quality social interactions, I can’t take any more of them.

That, I hope, will change.

Reality: 😊 Pub Wednesdays!

Absolutely yes, and I’m always looking for our “Pub Wednesdays” (which sometimes fall on Tuesdays because I just can’t wait to go out.) The answer to “shall we do x tonight/this weekend?” is hardly ever a “nah, I’d rather stay in.”

Expectation: I will have two extra hours a day to do something useful.

A lot of time is lost to commute, and some to saying hello and goodbye at the office and generally being interrupted by people who arrive later and leave earlier. You are trying to concentrate, but you also want to say hi, so you step out of your focus zone and chat for a minute or two. Then back to work, but someone else arrives five minutes later, and the same thing happens again.

It’s not that I don’t like saying hi and chatting for a couple of minutes, I love it! But it translates to the first twenty minutes or so at the office absolutely unproductive from a work point of view.

Reality: 😊 I hugely underestimated the difference lack of commute makes.

Now I feel like days aren’t long enough, I have much more mental energy left by the end of the day than I can execute on. I’ve started new pet projects I will never finish, picked up forgotten books, improved my self-care routine (from basically zero), started looking for new hobbies to pick up. I never go to bed exhausted (except for full-day hiking or biking, of course.)

Expectation: Finding a good system for the home office work lunch will be challenging.

I have no good ideas right now on what to do with lunch and lunch time. Cooking a proper meal every lunch seems daunting. Doing my cooking for the week beforehand and eating the same stuff every day seems boring. Going out a lot for lunch seems expensive. Quick-fixing lunch seems bland. I know I will need a system, and I’d also like to minimise decision-making on this one, but not eat anything mediocre at the same time (life is too short for that).

Reality: 🤷‍♀️ Lunch is not so important.

I never really made a big deal of lunch at the office, and I don’t do now. Sometimes we cook something. Sometimes we go for a walk and pick up a sandwich from a bakery in town. Sometimes I just have a nibble. What we do do is try to meet for lunch most days.

Dinner is the more important one, and because I never have a big lunch, I’m usually hungry by the time I finish work, which means an early dinner, which means better sleep.

Expectation: Keeping a daily routine will work.

I think it will! Like brushing my teeth and putting on clothes I would actually wear in civilisation, and taking breaks at regular intervals.

Reality: 😊 It does!

I wrote about the importance of routine here.

Conclusion?

I think I’ve made the right decision going remote, and I feel very fortunate to have a career and an employer who support it. I hope I’m not an exception but part of a tendency, and more of us will be given the choice to work remotely, each in the environment where we can best function.