My first official remote job started in 2013 when I sold Better WP Security to iThemes and went to work on transitioning the product to iThemes Security. While I had been building a home office since we moved to Austin in 2012, this was the first time I had been able to really make use of it.
This year I’ll officially have been remote for 10 year across 4 companies and a variety of teams. I love it. It has made me much more productive and has made me much more comfortable in my daily life. It was absolutely the right move for me even before my job was “officially” remote.
How I was productive in the office
Like I said above, when I work remotely my productivity goes way up. That said, so how did I get work done before I was remote?
Before I was remote I had 2 development roles and an IT roll that carried me through grad school in Computer Science. Each of them was on-site and each office had its own unique set of challenges.
I worked in a small agency in downtown Austin where the alcohol could flow even in the office. The office space itself was an open floor plan where we each got a table to work at a couple of feet from the next person. I HATED the arrangement. To get anything done I would disappear to the lounge upstairs, put on my headphones, turn off the lights and get to work. In essence, to be productive I had to go remote even before my job was remote. I spent most afternoons in that lounge and it is where I really got my work done.
Before the agency I had two university jobs. The 2nd of them, the one that moved us to Austin, was the only real exception I’ve had to being more productive when remote because, well, there really wasn’t a lot of work for us to do in the first place. I spent 15 months inventing busy work and that type of work didn’t really matter where I was. That said, I did do a couple of heavier projects and I found myself actually doing the work for them on the evenings and weekends while at home. Why? Once again the office I had was distracting so working remotely allowed me to focus on the work even if there wasn’t a lot of it to focus on.
Then there was my IT job. During that job I took classes for a master’s degree and was responsible for a large IT service as well as numerous other projects including my real passion at the time, our websites.
When I started that role we had a few webpages that didn’t really tell people much of anything. When I left we had 3 main websites, our main site on Drupal, our WordPress network for anyone (classes, student groups, etc) who wanted to get online and our internal site on Mediawiki. Together there were over 10,000 pages run on our own server and powered by, in addition to the main CMS, a lot of custom code. As with every other office job I had, I wrote very little of that code in the office.
I would say my IT job was my most productive work of my career, even before my career technically started, and it’s all because being a student allowed me to really work remotely. Before and after class I would go either to the campus library or student center and camp out, sometimes for hours at a time, and go to work on my departments websites.
I could get away with this because I had a staff for the general tech support allowing me to really focus on our sites. It helped that enrollment was always an issue so anything that could boost enrollment was easily justified. Over the 5 years I was back on campus I built so many sites and apps, all because I could be remote. I would venture to guess, looking back, that I probably wrote 95% or more of all the code as well as did 95% or more of the other work I could do while remote and, damn I was productive.
So, in the end, I was only productive in the office by getting out of the office. Whether it was the library, student center, company lounge or my home I always found a way to escape my distracting office and that is how I managed to succeed, both for the companies I worked for and in my career in general.
The future of my work
Given my success being remote, and 10 years of officially being remote, you might think I would refuse any on-site job in the future. You would actually be wrong.
The truth is that being on-site would never be my first choice in a job. Beyond being more productive at home I also do not miss commuting, a lot of the forced socialization and so many other things. Two years ago I would’ve even said “never” to an on-site job but I’m softening on that thought and here’s why.
First, looking back I can be successful anywhere. Even in the office I found places to escape to where I could focus and those situations, where I could be remote even with an office. Those were some of my most productive times. I wouldn’t like to go to an office again but I would disappear just like I used to when work needed to get done and I’m confident I could be successful with that model anywhere.
Second, I don’t think I’m going to have a choice in the future. We’re already seeing a backlash against many remote jobs and I don’t see that letting up. I’m not going to count myself out by insisting on being only remote. I wouldn’t survive at a company that tethered me to a single desk but, at least so far, I’ve never seen one that bad and hopefully I never will. If going to an office is the only way I’m allowed to work, so be it.
Finally, I sometimes think joining an office somewhere might be the only way I’ll ever get out of Florida. Yes, we agreed that Portugal would work for us but, if I’m being honest, I have my doubts that I’ll be able to make that happen. If that’s the case I could see actually looking for a company with an office at some point if, for no other reason, just to get out of Florida and back to a real city.
So in the end, remote work is wonderful. I, for one, am by far at my best and most productive when I work remotely but that doesn’t mean I can’t have an office too. While it wouldn’t be my first choice I would absolutely take a position with an office and I would, just as I’ve always done, find the right place to work when I actually need to get things done.
I think I would be OK like that.