I’m sitting in a cosy and lively coffee shop at the corner of a busy street in central Edinburgh, just a few minutes from where I now live. We moved to this beautiful city two months ago simply because we liked it.
It’s a regular working day but I’m not sitting in an office, rushing from one meeting to another. Not anymore and it’s because I decided to go back to working remotely. I spent the last five years getting up really early, commuting to work, attending standups, hurrying to meetings and hoping that I would be able to get some work done before time runs out. It’s a never ending struggle. No matter how optimistic you are, the number of meetings never really reduces. Commuting to an office, even if it’s just a 20-minute walk, can never be pleasant.
When we lived in Greenwich, which is one of the nicest areas in London, I had to get up at 5 in the morning. I’m one of those that like to have a strong morning routine. Before I would always get up at 6 just so that I had one hour that I could spend either reading or exercising (it’s something that helps me remain sane no matter how much stress there is in my life). But this was the first time that I had to commute to an office in central London and it took around one hour. I didn’t want to let go of my routine so it had to be moved because of that. Do I have to tell you that I never really managed to stick to it? 5 in the morning was simply to early. I only had 7 hours of sleep (on good nights) and it simply wasn’t enough. In the end, living in a nice area meant nothing because I never had time or energy to explore and enjoy it.
A cog in a machine
Commuting, not enough sleep, not being productive at work… all these things meant that I had very little control over my life. By the time I got home I was completely spent, I had no energy to work on my personal projects. You don’t realise it at first but after a while, it hits you—you’re nothing but a cog in a machine. You show up, react to “emergencies”, but don’t stand out. If the cog doesn’t align well, the machine breaks down. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work—a cog’s job is not being extra productive, it’s fitting in and keep running things as they are.
What the hell are all these people doing? Sitting there, wasting their lives away…
I remember looking through the tall glass windows from the office that I used to work at. On one side, a gorgeous view of central London, dozens of similar glass buildings on the other. They were so close to ours that I could clearly see people sitting in rows of tables. I couldn’t help but think: “what the hell are all these people doing? Sitting there, wasting their lives away…. Wait! Do they look at me and think the same thing? I’m sitting there, 8 hours every day with 100 other people distributed among the rows of desks.” We’re all like chickens—sitting in rows and laying eggs until one day when we stop being useful because our eggs aren’t good enough anymore. We all know what happens then.
Five years into it and I had enough. How the hell do people manage to do this for their whole lives? Fuck that, I don’t want to grow old and look back at all the things that could be but never were. All the years spent working my ass of but nothing to show for it. Something had to change and as it seems now, the solution was surprisingly simple.
How does working remotely help?
I had worked remotely before when I freelanced but it was never full-time. And it was never for a fully-remote company. The only difference in my routine is that now I actually manage to stick with it. I still get up early, exercise, read, get to work at the same time, have lunch at the same time and wrap up work at roughly the same time as well. Without commuting, I now have more energy to spend on actually working. In general, I have more time to spend with my family (my wife and our cat for now) and I also have enough energy to spend working on my own things in the evening—without burning out.
No standups, few meetings and no need for my working hours to overlap with the colleagues from across the ocean.
Working for a company like GitLab also helps a lot. Because we work on a tool that helps people collaborate asynchronously, we’re encouraged to work asynchronously ourselves. That means no standups, only few meetings and unlike most remote companies, no need for my working hours to overlap with the colleagues from across the ocean. The other day I washed my car in the morning and it wasn’t a problem even though it took me a couple of hours (believe it or not, I really enjoy washing my car 😅). I’m now in the coffee shop writing this post and I’ll go home shortly after and spend a few hours working and actually being productive.
All this is something I had before but I never really appreciated it until I experienced the other side. I started this journey through Europe five years ago, looking for a collaborative and engaging office environment but found the exact opposite. I had to go through that to realise that what I was looking for was something that I already had in the first place. A brick and mortar office doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be in good company or productive. And it certainly doesn’t make work more enjoyable (in most cases it’s the opposite).
Working remotely comes with its own set of challenges but can also give you a better control over your life. That’s something that really matters to me and that’s what ultimately lead me to make a decision to go back to working like this.
How is your work life? Do you work in an office or remotely? How is it working out for you? Share your thoughts with me in the comments bellow.