Some Pros and Cons of Working Remotely

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Are you considering a remote position in Software Engineering? I’ve worked remotely for some years now. I started moonlighting in places like the now-defunct vWorker (“Rent A Coder”, back in the day) with my brother in law. Then I moved to full-time offshoring from Mexico, and ended up landing in Canada, working with a team in the US.

Working remotely has some pros and cons, some of which I’ll try to outline here. Needless to say, many of them are just a matter of personal preferences. But I hope it’s useful for someone considering a position in a geographically distributed team.

The Pros

Here are some reasons why I think you’ll love working remotely:

  • Less chitchatting — Even though there can be a bit here and there through IM, it’s entirely up to you to answer or not, and when to do it.
  • More learning — It’s easier to dedicate 5 or 10 minutes per hour to, say, PluralSight, or checking something on Github, or read a bit of a book. Those 5 or 10 minutes could basically be the time you spent on waiting for all your buddies to get their cups of coffee, or finish their cigs. So it’s not that much of an impact to your net work time.
  • Minimize the Kool-Aid — The more you’re “vested” in the social circle surrounding your company or project (i.e. the more people around), the harder it tends to be to look outside and see if things are going OK. I’ve found that being remote tends to make me a bit more objective and critical, as well as having more exposure to other products and methodologies.
    • More time for my family and myself — Since most, if not all the social events are in 3D and obviously based on the team’s main location, being remote means I don’t necessarily have to attend -many times I can’t attend at all ☺ . So I have a bit more time for my family and myself.
    • Good things are a bit magnified — “Even being remote”… I love when my review summaries or recommendations begin like this. “Even being remote you’re doing an excellent job”. It could certainly mean, “you’d be even better if you were here”, for sure. But it can also be interpreted as “allow this guy to do stuff his own way, he’ll take care of it”.

    The Cons

    Challenges and issues you’ll probably face:

    • You need to be more visible — People will often wonder what are you doing or, in the worst case, they can even forget that you’re a member of the team. Find ways for making yourself visible: IM, emails, Code Reviews, status updates. But please, please, don’t overact this or you’ll end up generating noise ad nauseum.
    • You need to be more valuable — Either by mistake or on purpose, folks could leave you out in updates, requirement changes, etcetera. The best way to avoid this is to make your contributions and inputs valuable: preferably even more valuable than the teammates “on site”. Again keep a balance, though: you want to be valuable enough so you get the information you need without explicitly asking for it when things begin breaking, but you don’t want to be necessary enough so you have to sacrifice vacations or be overworked.
    • Sometimes you’ll miss social interaction — This could be “not so bad” when you’re in a small, “satellite” remote team. But when you’re all on your own it can hurt a bit. Suggestions: find local groups (or create your own), try to go and meet and socialize with your team every now and then, or suggest them to come to your city for a weekend or on their vacations. It will hardly be “as good” as if you actually were there, but it can be quite bearable.
    • Sometimes people just don’t get it — Yes, we’re way into the 2000’s. And yes, I’ve worked mostly at tech companies. Still some people, no matter how technical the role is, need to be reminded of how to use the tools effectively, how to check for their mic not being muted, how to share their desktop… That’s cool if you’re the first remote person they talk with. But after a few months… Sigh.
    • You need to FOCUS — More freedom inherently means more procrastination opportunities. This can end up nullifying the Pros and exponentially increasing the Cons. You’ll need to have a lot of discipline, way more than if you were on site, to enjoy the good things whilst tackling the bad ones and still delivering stuff.

    All in all, I honestly enjoy working remote. I’ve had the opportunity to be on-site but I feel the Pros are just awesome, while most of the Cons are nothing but challenges. Again -it’s up to you.


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