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More and more companies are embracing remote working. For those who are considering it or have just made the leap, there are a lot of resources to learn from, such as the Zapier's Guide to Remote Work.
Here are some of the pros and cons we've discovered in our seven years of being a mostly remote company.
We truly love being a remote team. ❤️ But before focusing on the good stuff, I'll warn you: it's not all sunshine and rainbows. And not everyone is cut out for remote work.
We have been a distributed team since 2009; long enough to uncover many problems we face while working from home.
Actually, we were remote before we even existed! Here is Peldi working on the foundation of the Balsamiq Mockups codebase in Mexico, back in 2007
Believe it or not, not having colleagues or a boss within earshot and sight of your desk can impact your productivity. For many of us, the hardest thing is staying focused and avoiding the "black holes" of social media, YouTube, online articles, etc.
Moreover, distractions can come at you from different directions. It may be difficult to focus with your family around, because they might think that you are 'free' from work. This is particularly true for those of us who live within commuting distance from Bologna, where we alternate days in the office and days at home. It can be tough for your family to adapt to this non-traditional way of working, and when you're working from home, they may assume you're available or at least not so busy.
Still, you have to work and get things done!
So there is no external force (like an office routine) to help you stay focused. The flip side is that when the work day is done, it is harder to log off and stop working when you work at home, since your work and home environments are the same. This can impact your family life.
This is much more difficult for those who have trouble managing their time. You'll need a lot of self-discipline to balance work and family time, to keep "work" and "home" environments apart.
Working remotely can be very hard if you are a people person.
Val, for example, is probably the most social and friendly person at Balsamiq (if you've ever met Val or talked to her, you know what I mean). During her first few years, she struggled with loneliness. She placed too much emphasis on creating friendships with remote colleagues. She set herself up for disappointment. But, with time, she developed a perspective on her boundaries.
Things aren't that easy for introverts either. They like being alone and rarely get lonely, but sometimes they too miss the small talk with colleagues at lunchtime. And nobody likes eating lunch alone.
Wednesday 26 October 2016, Bologna office: Paolo's lunch. Even at our Bologna office we happen to have lunch alone!
And, it can get worse! You might see your social skills degrade if you go too long without leaving the house. Like Stefano said, "Some days I only get out of the house to throw away the trash."
Working with your colleagues can be a real challenge.
When we talk about remote working we tend to focus on what happens to individuals, on the pros and cons for their life. The truth is that working with people in a far away time zone can be slow and frustrating. Working on the same project far apart is much more difficult than doing it sitting next to each other.
In fact, the greatest challenge in Balsamiq is not remote work, but working in different time zones, as the two things don't have to go together. There are some benefits that come from working asynchronously, but we are challenged with a very minimal overlap between the US and European teams for real-time conversations.
OK, we've scared you enough. 😁 It's time to talk about the benefits!
As Peldi said, "The ability to work from anywhere is something I will never want to give up."
There's nothing weird about working from a hotel, while waiting for your flight
You'll be able to organize your time at will. You can work from a waiting room while they're changing your tires or from the gym where your son is training.
You can wear comfy clothes. 😉 By the way, we are always looking for the perfect outfit for “office-less” workers: comfy but not too pajama-y. (Any suggestions?)
Virgin's summer office in Biscarrosse (France)
Last but not least, working remotely allows you a great deal of freedom to pick where to live.
Remote working with a view. Stefano and his family moved from Italy to Leiden, Netherlands
Stuck in traffic or on the bus with seemingly the entire city going to their offices? Not anymore!
Besides the fact that you'll be more gentle to the earth due to a smaller carbon footprint, working from home leaves you time to enjoy your hobbies and take care of the house. For example, Natalie puts that extra time into caring for her little farm, and to approach life in a slower, more present way.
Lovely sunrise from Natalie's farm in California...
...and the lovely products of her land!
Shorter commuting also means it's easier to keep in touch with your family. Agnese, who lives across the yard from her grandparents, can check on them if no one else is at home.
At Balsamiq, those of us who decide to commute (because we live near the Bologna office) are free to choose off-peak traffic times or take a nice walk or bike ride to make the travel more pleasant.
As Val said, "I have been remote since 2009 and love it. I'm completely in charge of my daily schedule, allowing me to fit in personal commitments and professional deadlines. I've kept my gym schedule, regularly spend time with my kids after school, and have been able to adopt a couple of dogs who keep me company during the quiet hours." What more could you ask for? 😄
Pets like Cousteau, Natalie's cat, can ease loneliness
And you can take care of your little friends while working! (If they let you use your computer, unlike Agnese's cat...)
You can organize your time and day, and be close to your family and small children. "They feel that I'm 'always there', and that's priceless." (Stefano)
You won't feel like you have to "look busy" all the time, which can actually raise your productivity. But this benefit could sound bittersweet to some; it's certainly not for everyone.
The bright side is that you can do whatever makes you feel more productive, even if that's just staring out the window or taking a break to do the dishes.
Jess, for example, starts working early in the morning. She feels more energized, focused, and it's better for her family in general. "Those free hours I get in the evening are the best to share with the kids. You can work some more later, if necessary. But the heavy lifting will be done by then."
Here are some tips and tricks from your friends at Balsamiq on how to work from home without going insane or becoming an anti-social zombie:
Leon's desk (Richmond, CA)
I asked my colleagues what's advice they would give to someone who was just starting to work from home.
Here are their answers:
An old-fashion coffee shop, Stefano's temporary office
I hope you'll find this useful!
If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave us a comment.
Francesca for the Balsamiq Team
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Definitely well thought out. I enjoyed the wonderful balance of the pros and cons of remote work. I’ve been working from home for so long now, that I don’t think I could go back into a traditional office…..let’s just say the pro completely outweigh any cons.
Plus, winter in Wisconsin makes remote work that much better. I don’t have worry about commuting in ice and snow…..or even worse, the car not start in the morning.