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Remote Work is Best Work


During this past year and a half, I have become well acquainted with working remotely. I started my current job at the height of the pandemic, and have been to our office exactly twice — otherwise, I have worked exclusively from home, just like most other technology and knowledge workers.

As far as I am concerned, this has been a major boon. At home, I have a level of control over my environment that would be impossible in a typical office — there is no competition over where to sit, I can keep the kitchen stocked with my preferred snacks and type of coffee, and I do not have to be an unwilling half-participant in everybody else's voice meetings. While a building layout that gave every employee a personal office, the way Microsoft historically has, can provide some of these benefits, it still falls short in a number of ways — and that is before you take into account that everyone has to wear pants.

Another major improvement is the lack of a commute. I do not mind going somewhere every once in a while, especially if it serves a clear and demonstrable purpose, but walking or taking a bus — let alone driving — back and forth to a faraway office every day eats a lot of time and energy. And while some people enjoy reading or getting work done on the bus or subway, I personally find it very difficult, due to the fear that I will miss my stop or fall prey to a pickpocket because I am looking down at the book or computer screen. Time commuting is not always totally wasted, but it would be a hard sell to spin it as a good thing: after all, going on a walk or day trip is still an option outside of working hours, even with no commute.

All of this, however, still ignores the most obvious benefit of remote work: I am significantly more productive at home. There is surely an element of privilege here, in having a place to myself without children and not having to worry about a spouse's voice meetings overlapping with my own, but the simple fact is that for me, the stars (currently) align to make remote work the best way for me to get things done. Anything that takes away from this — the sole purpose of working — is a nuisance.

One common criticism of remote work is that at home, it can be easy to get distracted. While there is some truth to that, I find that all of the things that might distract me at home — the internet, random trains of thought, etc. — are also present in the office. And if anything, the office has more distractions: when the only way to contact me is via Slack or email, I can delay responding to an interruption for a couple of minutes until I reach a natural stopping point, whereas in a physical office the person interrupting me might be standing next to me, making me feel guilty about making them wait. Having everyone in the same place also makes it easier to hold impromptu meetings, and meetings are often a good way to waste time while feeling like work is getting done.

Additionally, I work much more effectively if nobody is watching me. If someone can see what I am doing while I work, I start to worry about whether I look busy enough, or whether my "taking a moment to think" looks like just staring off into space wasting time. Technical work often involves a lot of thinking, and I think better when I can stand up and walk around the room without disturbing anyone else, or worse, convincing them that I don't take my job seriously enough. This may be less of a limitation for other people, but for me, it can make a huge difference in my ability to continue focusing for the rest of the day.

Also related is the need to develop a separate "work personality" that can be shown at the office — when working from home, there is less need to think about how to respond to pleasantaries and other well-meaning but ultimately intrusive questions and comments. This can be very stressful for me, and often takes away from my ability to do my job effectively. Introverts and otherwise awkward people tend to reap outsized benefits from remote work.

All in all, for me, as for many others, the benefits of working remotely far outweigh any drawbacks. In the future, I doubt I will ever again take a job that requires daily attendance at an office. There is nothing to be gained from it over a remote job, and far too much to lose.