I have been working from home for eight months. It’s done a lot to change my normal rhythms of life and made me a healthier, happier individual. I never thought it was an option for me — or anyone— until I started programming. The day I left my last desk job was the day I started reading Basecamp’s Remote, and suddenly all of my previous doubts about “normal” expected work schedules were confirmed.
Before I started programming for my husband, I worked for a really amazing small business that makes custom notebooks. We used Slack as our internal messaging, and it quickly became the medium we used for design feedback, project planning, file sharing — for everything. Staff would have conversations in the office and I found myself repeating them in Slack for the sake of documentation, or having necessary private side-conversations that weren’t possible in a cramped (albiet beautiful) office. This had the added benefit of keeping a running log of explicit records of company collaboration, so it was easy to point to important pieces of discussion and key files.
I would often ask myself: Why bother having a conversation about a project in the office when you could ask about it on Slack without worrying about interrupting your colleague?
Slack makes the standard hours of 9–5 comical. I wondered: Even though we all lived in Austin, was the overhead for the physical space worth it? We were already using tools like Trello, iCal, Dropbox, and Google Hangouts every single day to streamline our processes. Technology made it such that we were already working from home at our own desks. I started to daydream of the day I could wake up and eat a proper sit-down breakfast and write, calmly welcoming the day instead of frantically jumping out of bed after a ridiculous amount of time doing a ton of shit before I even took the covers off or Skimming. My rose-colored blog-obsessed glasses had montages of me switching my work schedule to late evenings and spending the mornings painting with a cup of the best coffee in the states.
When reasons to go started piling above even the best reasons to stay, I said goodbye to the notebook company. With a deep desire to be a nomad and indulge in lengthy morning breakfasting, I looked for exclusively remote positions. *
I’m now 8 months into my second programming job, and this is what has changed:
1. I go to the gym regularly.
With a flexible schedule and without the personal pressure to feel like I’ve got to come in looking like I stepped out of a J. Crew catalogue, I can work out pretty much whenever I want as long as it doesn’t compromise time-sensitive commitments. Middle-of-the-day workouts are best for me, so doing the morning or evening gym crunch time just sucked. I hated showering at the gym and coming into the office with rumpled clothing, red-faced and frizzy-haired, while all the other girls floated in with perfect blow-outs or cute messy updos. Curly-haired girls of the world will understand me when I say: You just can’t do that with curly hair unless you’re willing to add an extra precious hour-and-a-half. And who wants to go into the gym at 5pm when it’s mobbed by every other person in this health-obsessed city? Now I work out with a trainer before lunch who’s got me lifting, and he kind of feels like my wing man in a sea of iron-pumping oddball regulars (ohwaitthatsme).
2. I’m more likely to go out and be social during the week.
Because I’m extroverted and need to blow off steam, I need to get out of the house after working from one spot all day. Before working remotely I’d stay at home after work, exhausted from the consistent social chatter at work, even if I enjoyed the interaction. I now feel like I have more time and more emotional energy for my friends, and for playing late-night volleyball.
3. I eat a proper breakfast every day.
It’s nothing fancy, but I make coffee every day (I said it before but just in case you missed it: it’s seriously the best and you should just order some now. I’m not affiliated. I’m just a super fan.) and scramble a few eggs and slice open whatever seasonal fruit. This sets a nice general tone of satiation, health, and clear-headedness throughout the day. Plus:
4. I no longer buy coffeeshop coffee
I’m kind of fudging on this because I’ll sometimes trek out to my favorite Austin eastside haunt, but the fact remains that I can’t be bothered to put on proper clothing before 11am anymore, so I stay at home during coffee hours. Now, my weekly disposable income no longer has an inverse relationship with the amount of caffeine in my bloodstream.
5. I eat healthier.
My previous boss has this crazy superpower ability to down a half a bowl of queso from Torchy’s and still look fantastic. I can’t say the same for myself. I mostly make food at home now. The critical energy it takes to exit your workspace increases when you haven’t really had to change venues all day, so I find it harder to convince myself to A) Not go searching through the fridge for a quick fix, or B) Ruin my excellent breakfasting.
6. I spend less money on fashion.
(See #1) I don’t feel the pressure to buy clothing that fits into an image of office culture (especially a design business — I got highlights last year. Highlights!!), so I feel more like myself. I mean, whatever, people should just dress in the style they prefer and without worrying what judgements others will inevitably make, but if we’re being honest ladies, it’s nice to hear “You look cute,” right? However, it becomes a problem when you don’t feel like yourself and you get that compliment. That doesn’t feel good. And we already know that the cynical side concludes that American women dress for each other, not for men. It’s hard to own up to being a part of the female fashion pecking order, and by God do I know how empowering feeling good in your clothes is, but you have to own up to a certain point of insidiousness that this comes with.**
7. My skin is clearer.
Not seeing a ton of people every day means I don’t have to do what my mother always called “Putting on my face.” As a child the horrifying thought crossed me that she had a mask tucked away in the bathroom that she had to attach every day. That doesn’t seem too far from the truth these days when I walk into a Sephora, and my skin’s been thanking me lately for the lack of similar abuse.
I worry now that this whole essay is just me defending a slovenly lifestyle, but I assure you I still brush my teeth and regularly shower like a proper human.
8. I’ve traveled more.
We’ve been on seven trips in the past eight months. A few of them were for work, but arguably the best benefit of being able to work from anywhere means literally anywhere I can open my computer, especially planes and airports, which I swear I am the most productive at.
9. I don’t use my car.
I can’t get away with this every day of the week, but my car stays in its parking spot most days, free from the gridlock that is Austin traffic. And yes, Californians, I know you’re laughing at us but what’s really awesome about arguing about who’s got it worse? Austin-1, LA-0.
and here’s the real bonus:
10. I’m a better human.
1 through 9 are all well and good. No one looks at their New Year’s goals without a few of these. I’m actually taking care of my body, enjoying my work, and love working with a healthy codebase. This means I probably have more endorphins, which also means I’m nicer. Really — I’m a much nicer person these days. I don’t go to the cynical, fight-or-flight part of my brain that’s most likely to chose fight whenever something doesn’t go my way or bad luck ruins plans. Get cut off while driving to practice? “Man, that dude must really have to poop.” Car tire blows out in the middle of a 7-hour drive? Laugh about it and just do everything you can to focus on the problem and not the situation. I’m less likely to think the worst about others and more likely to extend help to a stranger, or at least a kind word. I smile at the someone’s offspring running around in the store instead of rolling my eyes. Working with my volleyball girls is more fun. I’m a better wife.
One of the biggest downsides, of course, is that “working anywhere” means you can work everywhere. All the time. And while this doesn’t really bother me now, the joys of adding any spawn to this equation will probably not yield as desirable a result.
And while we’re on the subject of subjectivity about this situation, let me also own up to the fact that the only way I’ve been able to do all of this is because I’ve had the good fortune of having a job that allows it, having an excellent education that prepared me well, and, honestly, being a sort-of WASP.***
Remote work is probably the best way to work, and more people, jobs, and corporations can implement it if they start thinking creatively and understand that any sacrifices made by exiting the brick-and-mortar are well rewarded with much happier employees and ultimately: better quality work. And since it’s only the work that matters, shouldn’t we optimize for it?
* I don’t EVER recommend leaving your job without back-up plan, but this is exactly what I did.
** For more thorough and interesting views on the subject of fashion, I encourage all humans to read Lapham Quarterly’s collection of essays on fashion.
*** sort of because many of my peers that find themselves in my industry had families much better off than my own.