The truth about remote work

December 04, 2017
The truth about remote work

Ad Hoc hires smart, diverse people and lets them decide what works for them - in terms of where they live, when they work, and what amenities they have access to.

Part of this means that the majority of our team works remotely. While the benefits of remote work are fairly self-explanatory (living where you like, being able to travel and work, etc), some candidates we chat with have concerns about whether or not remote work is right for them. This post attempts to address some of these concerns.

I can’t work from home, I don’t have space for an office or I’ll get too distracted by chores and other household stuff.

Working remotely does not always equal working from home. Many of our team members go to coworking spaces, rent their own offices, or find other places to work.

I will be isolated and have no friends.

It’s up to you. Remote work gives you the freedom to be as social as you’d like. Some remote workers connect with their community while working in a local coffee shop or similar setup as long as the data is secure. Others thrive on the quiet time to get work done.

We also consciously work at connecting and supporting each other. We do this in several ways:

  • Ad Hoc organizes company-wide retreats twice a year, where everybody gets together to meet face to face.

  • Thriving Slack channels where you can talk about anything, from #bikes & #snacks to #lgbtq and #parents.

  • Dedicated weekly time slots for teams and practice areas to “hang out” in a video call (“watercoolers”). These calls are optional and agenda-less but help everyone that participates get to know each other.

  • “Hey Buddy” random 1:1 calls. We have an opt-in slackbot that will pair you with a random Ad Hoc employee every week. The program helps facilitate interaction between people that wouldn’t otherwise meet.

  • An “Ad Hoc Cares” team that is tasked with celebrating important life events like weddings and babies, or helping folks out in times of need.

  • Impromptu coworking days in areas where there’s more than one Ad Hoc employee.

Remote work is only for people who are good at managing their time.

It’s true that when you’re working remotely, there’s no one looking over your shoulder; you are responsible for making sure you’re getting things done.

When it comes down to it, however, you’re going to have to do this to be a good worker even with a physical office. A lot of time can be wasted in a physical office (particularly open-plan).

Working remotely gives you more control over your own time, so when you’re done working, you’re done working. You don’t have to sit there and watch YouTube videos in the office because you’re burnt out but you’re “supposed to be there” until 6pm.

I am worried that my work cannot be effective without in person collaboration time.

We don’t disagree that in-person collaboration can be helpful, especially for design. Sometimes gathering around a whiteboard is really nice. But in our experience, the pros of remote work outweigh this particular con.

Yes, it’s a bit harder to collaborate remotely. Is it that much harder? We haven’t found it so. We use Slack and video chat, we screenshare, we co-design with online whiteboarding tools, sometimes we draw on paper and send a photo.

It helps that we’re a remote-first team, so all the collaboration and company culture happens online. It’s a much different experience from being the lone remote worker on an in-person team. It’s certainly an adjustment from in-person collaboration, but it doesn’t have to be inferior.

I’m worried that I won’t be able to work collaboratively with a team spread across time zones

While scheduling can be a challenge in this regard, it also forces focus and frees up time to work - if there’s only 5 hours where you overlap with your team mate, then you have to schedule meetings during that time, and the other 3 hours can be heads down focus time.

Additionally, you can get a good cadence going with a teammate. For example, you can hand over revisions of a design document and get more work done in the space of a few days than you would if you were in the same time zone.

What will I do with all my extra time not spent commuting?

Sleep and exercise more. Pick up a hobby or spend time on an existing one. Let your kid sleep in a little later. Spend more time with friends and family.

Where will I live if I don’t have to be based in an expensive city?

Anywhere you like! Somewhere you have always wanted to live but couldn’t, because of the job market, or other reasons. Remote work gives you the freedom to live wherever you want, or even nowhere, if the digital nomad life is for you.

OK ok, we get that you like working remotely. But what are the real challenges with remote work?

We’re realists, it’s not perfect. There are some things about remote work that can be challenging.  An informal poll within our company found that we have struggled with these topics:

  • Missing subtleties - Since our communication is often done over chat and email, we have to be super clear about what we mean, and it forces us to read things with the most generous interpretation instead of the more normal slightly negative reading.

  • Not knowing when and how to ask for help - since we’re remote it can be harder to directly ask for help as opposed to bumping into someone at the office and casually asking.

  • Building trust with clients who aren’t used to remote workers - not everyone is used to remote workers, and it takes a little time and dedication to get some of our clients comfortable with the idea.

  • Meetings with unreliable or bad quality audio - sometimes work-arounds are required.

  • Not putting work down - while working at home, you have to intentionally separate work life from home life.

  • Not taking breaks or doing physical activity - it’s easier to make yourself take a walk if someone else in your office wants to take a walk with you.

  • Not reading as much - some folks said that they read more when they had a commute, because it was built in “down time.”

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