For the last two months, I have worked remotely on a project for UBS, my old employer, and in this post I want to share my experiences of working from home.
But first, if you are a faithful reader of The Modern Nomad, you might be hissing ‘Liar!’ at the screen through clenched teeth. After all, I said that Friday the 13th of May was my Last Day in the Office and that I then would have a Time-Out at Home. In my defence, Friday the 13th was my last day in the office, and the work I’ve done for the last couple of months has been different from what I used to do, so it still felt like a proper break from my old life.
Why I wanted to work from home.
When my line manager at UBS understood that I had made up my mind regarding my resignation, he offered a two month project that I could do remotely. At first I was going to reject it as it was not part of the plan I had made for starting my new nomadic life. Then I remembered that one of the guiding principles of my new life is to avoid fixed plans and remain open to the opportunities of the road.
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to accept. I would be living at home with no rent and limited living costs, and yet reap a London-sized salary. Ka-ching! I’m going to be unemployed for a while now as I adjust to life on the road, and extra cash in the pocket is a good thing.
The project was a development project that I was eager to sink my teeth into, particularly as for the past year my work has mainly been about the management of a development team rather than actual development.
Finally, I have to figure out a way to earn a living on the road, and working remotely is one option. When the opportunity to try remote working presented itself, I’d be a fool to throw it away.
Experiences of working from home.
Professionally, I have always worked in an office. Privately, I have worked on many projects at home, but never for money. Working from home is a curious mix of the two, taking mostly the best of both worlds.
Being your own boss.
No, working from home does not mean that you are your own boss. However, it feels like that. Being allowed to work from home means that your employer trusts you to govern your own work with the integrity and professionalism required to get the job done. Your hours are not monitored nor are the hours you spend watching cats do cute things on YouTube. You are expected to deliver, but how you structure your work is up to you. This is a great freedom, but at the same time, it is an awful lot of rope with which an immature worker may hang himself.
When you start working from home, set up how you are going to track your work. The specifics are up to you and should be tailored to fit your personality and project. Whatever system you use, you should always know and feel that you are on track. The privileges that working from home brings are grounded in your employer trusting you to get this part right.
A nomad working from home should remember that home is a fluid concept that may involve shifting time zones. The more team-oriented your work is, the less freedom you have to move your working hours. However, this is not a discreet on-or-off problem. Perhaps it is enough if the working day of you and your team overlap by three hours? This should of course be discussed and settled ahead of time.
Solitary confinement or liberation?
Working from home feels different from working in an office. You are, for better and for worse, more isolated from your colleagues. You no longer have to endure the nose-whistling muppet across your desk, but you also lose the juicy gossip over a pint at the pub.
In fact, it can become lonely to work from home. When you can’t stand the silent walls of your home, leave. As long as you have a laptop – and which nomad doesn’t? – you can just as easily work from a coffee shop. Just having the sounds of a crowd can be enough to feel connected again.
However, working from a coffee shop will not make you feel any more connected to your colleagues. For that, a non-work themed chat channel helps. It is not the same as a water-cooler, but it is a place where you can banter and let loose your most cringe-worthy puns to the groans of your colleagues.
Remember to make use of the freedom that being isolated from your colleagues allows. Pick a good environment to work from! As a nomad, your office could be anything from a canal-side café in Venice to an ocean-view bungalow in Hawaii. Personally, I enjoyed doing the research part of my project lying out in my garden, soaking in the Swedish summer sun.
For team efficiency, nothing beats the collaborative power of a roomful of bright people and a whiteboard, and that is something that no amount of video-conferencing solutions can replicate. Other opinions are available, and feel free to argue them in the comment section, but that is my experience. However, that does not mean that working from home is doomed to be less efficient. It is just efficient in different ways.
The dark side of the collaborative whiteboard meeting is the vast desert of pointless meetings in which nothing but boredom grow. The modern office seems infested with this time-wasting kind of meeting. However, when you work remotely, you are pulled into fewer of those meetings, giving you more time to get your work done. Remote meetings feel a bit more awkward, thus they are kept short and to the point.
When you work from home, you are in control of what distractions you have around you. You are of course disciplined enough to log out of Facebook and Twitter if you decide that you are being distracted by them. If your room becomes too hot, you can open a window without the need for a colleague-wide poll. You will not be at the mercy of the office chatterbox coming over to your desk and wasting your time. It is amazing what you can get done when you get a bit of peace and quiet, a rare blessing in modern offices.
Finally, how would you like a 20 second commute? I thought so. I could simply roll out of bed and crawl over to my laptop and I’m ready. The removal of the commute saves a lot of time. Say that your commute is half an hour. That is an hour a day or five hours a week of free time saved.
My two month project went well. I delivered what was expected. It was good to get my hands dirty with some development again as well as gaining the experience of working from home. Remote project work is a strong contender for how I will make my living on the road, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to try it out. Finding an employer willing to employ a remote worker may be difficult, but hopefully not impossible.
Signing off my project also meant the end of my employment with UBS. I am now officially unemployed. A nagging fear tells me that being unemployed is a terrible problem that I must resolve immediately. However, I suspect that accustoming to a life as a nomad will come with enough challenges and that I will do better if I focus on them exclusively.