←︎ JeremiahLee.com

No one is working remotely right now.

We are working in captivity. A pandemic is holding us hostage —but we can make it suck less.

A scene of working from home during the pandemic. Stressed parent working at desk in home. Leg is chained to the desk. Child swings from ceiling fan looking at an iPad the parent is holding. The wall is jail cell bars.

If your first experience with remote work is your employer’s COVID-19 work-from-home policy, I am sorry. Working on a fully distributed team should be a transformative experience. You were robbed.

When I started at InVision 3 years ago, I stopped commuting somewhere on someone else’s schedule, spending more time in meetings than getting stuff done, and being repeatedly interrupted by the noises/smells/shoulder taps in an office. Working remotely showed me it was possible to wake up naturally, always be some place that genuinely makes me happy, weave mental and physical activities throughout my working time, have productive meetings, and have plenty of time to focus without interruption or feeling like I am delaying someone.

But now, even people who enjoyed working remotely before the pandemic are struggling. Everyone is locked down to some extent. I understand why some people long to return to their hour commute to an open floorplan office with endless distractions.

At least I would not be trapped at home…

At least I would have a break from my family obligations…

At least things would feel like normal again…

I believe remote work is the future for most knowledge workers, but it may not feel like an improvement at the moment. The arrival of remote work for many people has been forced by a crisis instead of an embrace of opportunity. Many companies are trying to do everything they did when co-located but virtually with video calls and text chat. These tools cannot recreate the in-person collaboration experience we are accustomed to. This has left some people feeling like remote work doesn’t work.

If that is you, please withhold judgement until after the pandemic. It is not possible to understand the feeling of remote work when you cannot move freely and supplement your social needs outside of work. Until then, try some of the practices that worked well for distributed companies before the pandemic. They will help you work more efficiently remotely and when colocated again if that is what you choose.

The Remote Async Work zine

By Jeremiah Lee

May 2021