For as many things as the pandemic took from us like traveling and in person events, it did provide an incredible transformative opportunity for us to reimagine work and rethink some of the basic foundations of how we get things done. No longer tethered to our offices and commutes, many of us got to reconsider what actually makes for productive work and how we can best balance our work and home life. Over a year and a half in, and looking more and more each day like more employees will be remote-only or at least remote-first, there are several things I really love about working remotely and have grown to cherish.
The pandemic has been really hard for parents. It hasn’t been easy for anyone. In the beginning, it was hardest for those most at risk with the large degree of uncertainty and so many unknowns about every single everyday event. Those taking care of others had new responsibilities and found it difficult to stay connected with family. But I would fairly confidently claim that now, when the majority of our adult population (75% in NJ yay! 90+% of those over 60) are vaccinated, and with school starting back up with kids under 12 still unable to get vaccinated, it’s those kids and their parents that have it hardest. We want them to have normal experiences, regular education, and ample social activities, all while trying to keep them safe.
The pandemic exposed just how difficult striking a balance between work and parenting can be. It also made it even more clear just how unfair the burden tends to be for women and for people of color and indigenous people. I’ve personally come to realize just how much of the burden, whether it was getting the kids to school every morning, or picking them up early and dealing with them in the middle of a workday, or even taking care of the food and other home chores all fell to my wife because I was the one commuting over an hour each way every day. Many families have realized the same things since the start of the pandemic, and remote work is giving us a chance now to reset that and strike a better balance for working parents.
Even those without kids have found that they may not have had the best balance or ability to control their lives and schedules before. Commutes, work hours, work locations, and dreaded facetime all ensured employees had little to no ability to actually prioritize their own needs during the week and often over the weekend. Finding time for self care and just taking care of all the little things that pile up was often impossible.
It was all of these little issues that came to the forefront throughout the pandemic and the move to remote work that led me to find my five favorite things about working remotely that I hope will continue indefinitely.
- Time to take care of my health and fitness. Before remote work, I was able to get runs in on most days, but it was always a stretch to finish in time. With my commute, I had to get into New York City before traffic built up, meaning I would always have to run in the city between my commute and the start of my day. I also had to bring in an extra duffel bag for my work clothes and make time for a shower in another building. I tried a gym but hated the locker room experience and didn’t want to be stuck on a treadmill on beautiful days in the city. As great as the scenery was along the East River, I hated having to stop at a dozen traffic lights and fight with busses and cabs and tourists at every intersection. At home, I can get up early and run wherever I want, as far as I want, and still get back home with plenty of time to get the kids ready, to school, and get myself ready before the work day starts. Even better, I have time now to get in a 20 minute strength workout, alternating between arms and core, every single morning. I’ve dropped some more weight and more importantly feel way more fit and better about myself than I ever have. I even managed to get my VO2MAX, a measure of aerobic fitness to 61, the highest its been in my life. Most importantly, I’m now firmly in control of my fitness schedule, not having it dictated by my commute.
- Double the amount of time with my kids. In the before-times, I left for work before my kids were ready to leave, often before they were even awake. I got home just in time to put them down for bed. Now, without that commute, after my morning workout, I get the youngest up and dressed, to daycare, and then walk over to kindergarten with the twins. At the end of the day, we both walk over to get them too, have time for the playground some nights, playing outside, coloring, or just playing in the house, all before having dinner together, reading a book or two, and then putting them to bed. I also get to put the youngest down to bed every night. It’s a huge amount of additional time with them all that I didn’t have before and it’s become my favorite part of the day (ok maybe second favorite after time to sit and watch Squid Game). I love being there for the stories of their days, their intriguing and hilarious conversations with each other, and their “jokes” that get us all belly laughing together. I can’t imagine not having this time as a family and I know these will be the little moments we remember and cherish in years from now. Remote work has given these to me like a gift.
- Evening out parental responsibilities. Now that I’m home during the day, I can actually help out and do a fair share of the household work and chores. My wife and I usually get to take a short walk in the morning for the dog to do his business, but with lunch free from meetings, we can usually use that time to take another one and catch up on our days. It’s also ample time to help with some cleaning, dishes, and even cooking (usually mac and cheese or quesadillas, my specialties). At night, since I’m not just running in the door, I actually have time and am not exhausted from work and the commute so I can take care of chores like cleaning and taking care of the kids. I get to get the youngest ready every morning, put him to bed, and read to the twins before getting them to bed. All of these responsibilities no longer fall almost squarely to my wife and the extra time we have to spend together makes it feel like we’re the most connected we’ve been in years. I never had the option to run to the store or post office or bank when I was commuting in to the office, so these days I’m actually able to do all the little annoying chores thanks to remote work. I’m even able to go run to daycare to pick up a sick kids, or take the kids to the doctor for appointments these days, which has allowed my wife to concentrate on her job and take important meetings, things that she often had to sacrifice before.
- Higher productivity at work. The office is optimized for meeting. That can be meetings in conference rooms with each other or even just meeting in the hallways and at desks. What it is absolutely terrible for is dedicated time to work on a single thread of work or write uninterruptedly. My one day back in the office earlier this year reminded me just how hard it is to get anything that requires time done due to the interruptions constantly. At home I don’t have to worry about someone coming up to my desk or pinging me asking if they can come over to talk. At best I could hide in a room or phone booth, but that always felt wrong to do. At home, I can turn off notifications for distracting tools and messages and just get deep into a flow state. I also block time on Fridays for this and find I’m able to crank through my to do list and priorities far better and more productively than I ever had been able to at the office.
- Better working conditions. Not only are there fewer distractions at home compared to the office, but I also find the setup to be far superior. The vast majority of my day is spent on video calls with people around the country and sometimes the world. Even when I’m in the office, pretty much every meeting I have requires dialing in for remote folks and people in other locations anyway. It’s actually far easier to dial in and conduct a meeting from home anyway. I also feel that the meetings are better with everyone remote rather than a portion because whenever even a small portion of the attendees are in a room together, they tend to dominate the conversation and it makes it harder for the remote people to hear and contribute. I also just like my office setup better. My chair is more comfortable, my monitor, keyboard, and mouse are all just a little nicer, and I even get to have all my personal stuff on the bookshelf behind me, sharing some of my personality with others. At home, I’m also able to open windows, sit in the kitchen, go for a walk, or sit outside and work, none of which are feasible options in the office. I can also listen to music without headphones, something I find helps me focus far more than I can in the noisy office. As great as it is to be able to walk across the street to any number of great coffee shops in New York, I can make my own coffee here or even take a quick walk to any of the nearby spots instead.
At this point, a year and a half (or more) into the pandemic and remote work, I find that working remotely works far better for me and provides flexibility needed to reset our broken expectations of work. The ability to work remotely has already helped me become a better employee and father thanks to the flexibility to take more control over my time and priorities. I didn’t exactly feel absent before, but the extra time I have from no longer commuting has opened my eyes to just how much I was missing with my family and how valuable those little moments are. I am a better husband in balancing responsibilities in parenting and taking care of our home and family. I get more done, and can focus far deeper and regularly than I can fully in the office. I can even take care of myself better which means I’m happier, less stressed, and better able to deal with the little things in life.
I’m thankful to have been able to work remotely since March 2020. In that time, I’ve enjoyed the ability to set my own schedule and priorities and adapt to become more effective working from our home. I’m thrilled that I will be able to continue working largely remotely for the foreseeable future, and to be able to continue adapting, getting better at it, and resetting more of the foundational aspects of work that we take for granted but may not actually be so great for ourselves or others. It’s time to blow up the traditional work structure and make it better, fairer, more balanced, and more equitable for everyone.