In the past year-and-a-half, going remote has been the primary goal and focus for many companies and individuals. The beginning of the remote work overhaul was rocky to say the least but now that all this time has passed and workplaces have figured out how to work with it and not make it an utter mess- Is it worth keeping? Is it better than being in-office? Should remote work be a standard for dev teams, and in-office be secondary?
Well, that depends on a couple of factors. With some feedback from the Dev Interrupted Discord community, let’s dive into the advantages and disadvantages of remote work.
“It's not impossible or anything, but I've found it's so unbelievably easy to bond with a team in person doing regular lunches and such. (...) I miss being able to see someone frustrated or struggling with something and walking over to them with a couple other people and saying "let's head to lunch and clear our heads." You build bonds very quickly when you do demonstrable human things to reduce someone's stress.” - Discord User The Panda#2143
Jumping off from what The Panda said, the first major disadvantage that many people will voice is a lack of genuine team bonding when your team is fully remote. It requires much more active effort to bond with your teammates over Zoom. Being around another person naturally speeds up the bonding process much more than occasionally messaging someone because you need something.
When working remote, your team needs to be intentional about team bonding. An excellent way of maintaining some form of social bonding is to have a weekly meeting where you can just sit down and chat with your colleagues, talk about what you did on the weekend, maybe occasionally host a “show and tell” of your own. Figure out what fun little trinkets your colleagues collect! Another popular weekly meeting idea are “coffee talks”, which are informal breakout rooms hosted on Zoom that can be hopped into or out of at will.
Team leaders also need to be sure to regularly schedule fun events - whether in person or online - to bond team members. This could be a happy hour where everyone gets shipped a cocktail kit and makes them together, or a digital magic show, an in-person meet up, or something else.
Sometimes, it is just the most inconvenient thing to be forced to have to sit around in a conference call several times a day to get things done. Text is confusing, unclear. But you have to discuss things somehow, so you end up calling. And calling. And calling- is it just me or is it simply exhausting to sit around with the “important work meeting” looming overhead in between everything you do?
Even many industry leaders and remote work proponents discuss what they often refer to as “Zoom fatigue.” In a recent remote work panel hosted by LinearB, video call dread was highlighted as a major downside of remote work.
“My kid’s school over the last year has been trying to keep us involved, and one of the ways they’ve done that is booking these Zoom sessions in the evening. I notice when I get [to the meeting] I just don’t want to be there. I’ve been on video all day long.” - Lawrence Mandel, Director of Engineering at Shopify
One of the biggest appeals of remote work is that you have so much freedom to do things on your own time and create focus time, but it is nearly impossible to feel comfortable doing a different activity for a while when you’re still in “work mode”.
So while in reality you do focused work for 4-5 hours, mentally you’re still working the whole 8-9 hours. The meetings and work you do aren’t consecutive and are instead the equivalent of a car starting and stopping in a traffic jam. Every hour or two, you have to sit up and move .5 metres before you sit around and do something else again. It gets exhausting.
Despite everything, remote work is still built around the idea of being in an office for nearly half the day. Which really shouldn’t be a surprise, as remote work was never about changing the working hours, but the expectation often comes with it.
Okay, Really, this isn’t the biggest disadvantage but it's something that I, as a young man under the age of thirty, found highly amusing. I can guarantee that a majority of people today just don’t own a printer. And that makes sense, you generally don’t have to print a lot these days! Though, in many cases, having an on-paper copy of a digital file is reassuring to have. (At least for me, I prefer having paper copies of important documents over a file on my desktop!)
If you’re going to be working remotely, you may have to invest in a printer. Or hope there’s a copy-shop near you. You really don’t realize how convenient having a printer at work can be until you’re forced to work from home.
You’ll also likely be forced to learn the true cost of printer ink if you haven’t already. Oh dear.
For many people, the commute is a huge issue. Especially if you have to drive a car, or take public transport. In cases like those, getting to work remotely and avoiding that mess is great!
“I miss my commute. It was a 10-20 minute bike ride depending on the route and the weather. I would do it year round in a winter climate, and I always was very happy about the forced fresh air in the winter. The idea of jumping on a bike in subzero snowy weather seems terrible until you're out there, so it made the fresh air and exercise happen.” - Discord User ParksideBrad#9930
To some hardy souls like ParksideBrad, the commute was actually a beneficial and nice thing. Either way, losing that two-birds-one-stone manner of exercising and getting to work can be a noticeable hit to your daily schedule. While this can be solved by just exercising on your own time- it’s harder to have to intentionally build that into your routine. It’s hard to exercise without reason ( “Getting healthier” isn’t really the best motivator for many, even if it's important.), so using “Going from point A to point B while exercising” as a manner of getting that important movement in is a very valid way of keeping yourself healthy mentally and physically.
Alright, so sure, I did just write that the commute could be a benefit for those that like to exercise. But really, for a majority of people it was always a pain. Getting an extra hour to yourself in the morning is a significant bonus as you don’t feel the need to rush yourself out of bed to avoid any traffic. And getting extra time to yourself just throughout the day? Honestly, the following words by some of our community members emphasize how much better a lack of a commute is for many people:
“With no commute and no office tying me down, it's easy to work from just about anywhere the internet exists. This facilitates living in new places, experiencing new things - which is amazing! ” - Discord user NobilityPNW#7631
"One big disadvantage of Remote Work: avoiding commute times! I do not miss commuting at all! I save a ton of time that I can use for work or for work/life balance and necessary tasks. I'm also significantly more flexible." - Discord User Conor#3700
Your 24 hours in the day are not the same as Beyoncé.
This is a sentence that often gets thrown around in the following way: “You have the same 24 hours in the day like [insert celebrity or billionaire here]”. Sure, you both have 24 hours to do everything in the day. But the allocation of those hours is vastly different. Because unlike Beyoncé, you can’t hire people to do your cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc, for you. You don’t get to leave all the painstakingly long chores and commutes to others.
But thanks to remote work, a lot of these things get a little less bad. Sure, you’re still working at home, but you can take breaks. You can control your activity, your time. You decide if you want to go take a brief pause to play a short game with your kids, or if you want to have a coffee with your partner. You get a chance to spend more time with your home social groups, your family, your loved ones.
“I was on a call with Dan Lines recently talking about Linear B and my 6 year old came into the room and attacked me with a nerf sword. It was short lived, not terribly disruptive, but it felt good to me knowing he had access when he needed it (I survived unscathed). For most of his life I was gone 60-80 hours a week or traveling around the country. Since we went fully remote, we are very close and he feels sad if I have to go downtown for the odd meeting once a month. It has changed our family for the better and when I feel a stronger connection to my family and like their needs are being met, I can focus all my excess energy on whatever I want.” - Discord User The Panda#2143
Congratulations! You have a reason to buy a printer. Hopefully it’ll last you for the next two decades at minimum. May the prices of ink cartridges remain low for you.
Being able to work wherever at any point in your workday is an incredible advantage, especially if you struggle to stay focused being in an office environment. Having the chance to get away from the “ADHD poison” that noisy offices often are… Sitting at a quiet cafe in the park, or working from the couch at home with your beloved cat purring away, it all makes for a much better environment. And then being able to change that on a whim when you decide you’re no longer comfortable? Even better. After all, this is the easiest way for a company to support employees that may need a calmer environment to work in.
But this isn’t even just about being comfortable- it also means that if there are any issues you’re having in your home (such as construction), or your internet is down, you can still stay in touch by being able to connect anywhere else. Rather than having a whole office-outage take out several hours (or potentially, days) of work because something went wrong with the network or power.
This is not just for people who are disabled that apply for the job, but also for those that may become disabled during their time working in your teams. Unfortunately, life isn’t perfect, and a sudden health issue could turn out to heavily impair your wellbeing. Before remote work was standardized, if you could no longer go into work on a daily basis you would most likely end up having to quit your job. But now, maybe you can still work with your disability as long as you’re at home. Or as long as you can take frequent breaks, which are made far easier in the comfort of your own home.
There’s certainly more advantages to remote work compared to the disadvantages, but this is a case where the disadvantages shouldn’t be left unaddressed.
The disadvantages often fall into real problems that have some half-solutions. But honestly? The best solution might be to reduce the amount of in-office days, and have an option and support for full remote for those that need it. Most people would be happy to go into the office for just a few days a week while staying remote for the rest. And let’s not forget that this’d be the perfect way to allow people to continue wasting printer ink at the office instead of having to invest in their own.
In the end, you must admit that giving employees agency over their hours tends to leave them happier and with a more positive outlook on their jobs.
Consider checking out Shweta Saraf’s thoughts on the topic of remote first, and not remote friendly, in the video below!
Look, I know we talk about it a lot but we love our developer discord community. With over 2000 members, the Dev Interrupted Discord Community is the best place for Engineering Leaders to engage in daily conversation. No salespeople allowed. Join the community >>