Face Value: How I Learned to Love My Commute

Before I joined New Relic, I worked remotely almost 100% of the time. I only needed to go into the office a few days a year to discuss product roadmaps and participate in other general planning. To stay connected, my team used private chat rooms, video / audio conferencing, and Tmux+SSH+Vim for pairing.

I worked in that environment for over a year. And now that I’m back in the office, I’ve been reflecting on the pros and cons of working remotely versus going into an office.

Freedom vs. Discipline
Refracted MomentsWhen I started working from home, I was able to cut my 30 minute, 22 mile commute down to 30 seconds and 20 yards from the coffeemaker to my desk.

This seemed to open a whole new world of possibilities for me. I could see my wife more frequently. I could take care of things during the day. And of course, I could save money by not driving. For the first few months, I was so excited that I didn’t know what to do with myself.

But then reality started to sink in. I realized that I couldn’t actually do any more of those things during the day then I could in any other developer position that would let me work remotely. In fact, I found that the basis for my daily structure had been removed. Without the commute, my morning routines were becoming, well, less routine.

When you ask someone why they’d like to work from home, they’ll often say they’d like to work in their pajamas. But I found that if I didn’t put on my jeans in the morning, I wouldn’t put them on for the whole day. Some people thrive with so little structure, but not me. My discipline suffered — and so did my work.

Benefits of Leaving the House
I’m back to commuting . My morning routine is also back and I’ve even started listening to podcasts again. I’m back to listening to the news and knowing what’s going on in the world. And I think this is a good thing.

I found I really missed the day-to-day personal interaction that I got when I went into the office. Using video conferencing and other tools to replicate face-to-face communication may be a technological triumph, but for me it’s never quite matched the real thing. There is no richer medium of communication than face-to-face discussions — which really comes in handy when you’re trying to solve a tough problem.

Flexibility Is Key
If you’re a manager, company founder or anyone else who’s considering a 100% remote team, go with what best suits you, your business and your company culture. But just keep in mind that every employee works a little differently. Keeping the lines of communication open between onsite and remote employees is important, as it can become way to easy to rely on the hallway track and leave offsite workers out in the cold.

Some may function beautifully working from home all the time, and some may want to be in the office every day of the week — but you may find that very few people embrace the all-or-nothing approach. True freedom means having the option to choose the working environment that makes each individual most productive.

jdearing@newrelic.com'

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