In 2005, I made the decision to work remotely full-time and become location-independent.
I never looked back.
At the time, I had only been in the workforce for five years, but I had already made the following observations:
- Working 9-to-5 is not a natural state
- Commuting is a waste of time and it’s not eco-friendly
- Office spaces are not designed for productivity
- I’d rather spend more time with friends and family
Why working 9 to 5 does not make any sense
Back in my twenties, I was a night owl and most of my energy (both mental and physical) was at its peak after 8 pm. Early afternoons were the worst. My strict 9-to-5 schedule was making me miserable since it wasn’t adapted to my circadian rhythm.
Studies show that younger adults tend to reach peak performance later in the day, while older adults are generally more productive in the mornings (Knight & Mather 2013). This turned out to be the case for me too — I now work best in the early hours of the day.
It’s also been observed that for many people, productivity is at its lowest around 3 pm (Barnes 2015).
These general observations don’t hold for everyone. But it’s a fact that some people work best in the morning and others in the evening. So why impose a schedule that fails to take into account each individual’s internal clock?
Commuting is bad for you and the environment
Is there worse hell on earth than being stuck in traffic jams twice a day, every working day? Overcrowded public transportation is no better.
Most people aren’t lucky enough to live close to their office, and they can’t avoid dealing with long commutes. This is a huge waste of time, it’s stressful and uncomfortable, and it leaves people exhausted before the workday even begins.
There are significant health risks associated with commuting, including back pain, blood sugar irregularities, and cardiovascular problems (Kylstra 2014). Not to mention the respiratory issues that come from spending too much time stuck in traffic (Zuurbier et al. 2011).
But it’s just as important to consider the psychological and social toll of commuting — unfortunately, we take the stress of being stuck in traffic home with us (Frakt 2019). We miss out on important moments with our loved ones, and that is a loss that can’t be undone.
Time is the rarest of all commodities, so why surrender so much of it to traffic?
I also want to point out that commuting is an environmental issue as much as it is a personal one. Even if you only stay home a few days each week, you can help cut back on greenhouse gas emissions (Batchelor 2018). The eco-friendliness of remote work is a part of why so many experts believe this is the best way forward for our society.
Office spaces are not designed for productive work
How can you get “in the zone” when you’re always surrounded by distractions?
You might try to put on headphones and drown out the world. But headphones won’t prevent a colleague from tapping on your shoulder, demanding your immediate attention. And even if you cancel the noise, there’s always something happening in your peripheral vision.
Getting distracted is often seen as the biggest risk of working from home. People assume that, without a clear barrier between work and home, it becomes harder to focus. I agree that that’s a risk for some people.
But it’s also true that working at the office isn’t a distraction-free experience. In fact, many people do their best work when they’re off the clock, and they say this is because they have more peace when working from home. I liked this TED Talk on the topic:
The speaker, entrepreneur Jason Fried, draws an interesting comparison between working and falling asleep. To fall into a deep sleep, you first have to get through the stages of shallow sleep. If anyone wakes you up at a crucial moment, you simply won’t be able to get a good night’s rest.
Fried argues that complex, creative work is a similar process and that distractions can derail our work and undermine our productivity. That’s definitely how it works for me.
Of course, distractions happen at home as well. But Fried points out that these are voluntary — we decide when we can take a break, when we go for a walk, etc. These distractions don’t disrupt our work the way coworkers do.
Attending regular company meetings is anything but voluntary.
Spending more time with friends and family
I love to pick my kids up from school. We get to talk on the way home, I can keep up with what’s going on with them, and I also like to take the time to help them with their homework. But it’s probably not surprising that their school day ends at 4 pm — yes, during traditional office hours.
Because I work from home, I can take a break at 4 pm and spend a few hours of quality time with them. I also try to have lunch with my wife (who is home as well) most days of the week. Sometimes we make it a proper date and eat out, which is a blessing when you have kids.
Last but not least, I can go visit friends and family when I choose to. As long as I have my laptop with me and a good internet connection, it doesn’t matter where I am. For me, this freedom is far more valuable than wasting my time on smalltalk in the office.
I’m able to visit my dad, who lives alone, twice a month. Since my mom passed away last year, I cannot emphasize how important it is to be able to spend as much time as possible with him.
So now what?
Now you’re thinking: “Fine, we get it, remote work is great for you, but what can the rest of us do if we’re still stuck in the office?”
Well, first of all, there’s good news. According to the Remote Work Summit, “In the coming years, most jobs & organizations will go remote. Hiring, on-boarding, company culture & entire operations will be a part of the virtual world.” (Remote Work Summit 2020)
There are successful companies — like Stack Overflow, Invision, or Zapier — that are fully remote (Anywhere Workers Study 2018), meaning that their employees only work long-distance.
Plus, a growing number of companies let their employees work from home part of the time. (This is also called flexible work, hybrid work, or remote-friendly work.)
In my own company, Truly Scaled, we have 12 full-time employees, all working remotely and scattered all around the world. We believe that giving them autonomy and flexibility benefits them, and it’s good for the company as well. Employee feedback so far has been amazing.
How to transition to remote work
If you want to try working from home, I’d suggest discussing it with your manager. See if you could start with one day at home. If they value your work, they might just say yes, and then you can prove that your idea was a good one.
Remember, there is no YES without an ASK.
But if your company is stuck in an outdated model, consider changing jobs or industries. Keep an eye open for remote working opportunities of all kinds, and remember that your next employer could be anywhere in the world.
You could also start a company or a successful side hustle.
The world is changing at a dizzying pace. Adapting to it is more important than ever, and if we want to avoid stagnation, we sometimes need to reimagine our goals.
Embrace change in your own way
Working from home is a good option for people in many different fields. If you’re not sure if this is the direction you want to go in, it could be a good idea to try part-time remote work for a while.
Sure, you may find that office work is a better fit for you — some people like working alongside others. But maybe you’re like me, and you’ll discover that remote work is exactly what your life needs to become more balanced.
- Knight, M & Mather, M 2013, ‘Look out-it’s your off-peak time of day! Time of day matters more for alerting than for orienting or executive attention’, Experimental Aging Research, vol. 39(3), pp. 305–321
- Barnes, C 2015, The Ideal Work Schedule, as Determined by Circadian Rhythms
- Kylstra, C 2014, 10 Things Your Commute Does to Your Body
- Zuurbier, M, Hoek, G, Oldenwening, M, Meliefste, K, Van den Hazel, P & Brunekreef, B 2011, ‘Respiratory Health Effects of Commuters’
- Frakt, A 2019, Stuck and Stressed: The Health Costs of Traffic
- Batchelor, S 2018, Telecommuting for the Planet
- The Remote Work Summit 2020
- Anywhere Workers 2018, AND CO & Remote Year