I have been working fully remotely from my apartment since May of last year. It’s been 12 months now.
I started my current job in the middle of Tokyo’s COVID-19 state of emergency, so everything from job interviews to onboarding was conducted almost completely remotely. I only went to the office for my final interview and to grab my work laptop.
It was my first time working remotely (my previous company didn’t allow this, and even after the pandemic started, they were kinda late to take action), let alone starting a new job fully remote with coworkers I’d never met in person.
It wasn’t easy at first. I had so much to catch up on (my poor Japanese probably didn’t help either), but I gradually started to get used to working remotely and began to see how the pros of WFH (working from home) drastically outweigh the cons.
Working remotely has led to a huge improvement in my work performance and quality of life. This past year has been one of the most productive of my entire life.
Since WFH has made commuting to and from the office unnecessary, I got back at least 2-3 hours a day that I can use to do chores, grocery shopping, or work on my personal projects.
In the past 12 months, I’ve only been to the office a handful of times, and each time I’ve gone, I’ve been there for a couple of hours at most.
It’s been a wonderful experience so far.
In this post, I’m going to explain in more detail how WFH has changed my life for the better.
Offices are full of distractions and open offices are overloaded with noise – they’re just an endless tumult. People making and receiving calls all day long, colleagues chatting about random stuff… it’s like trying to get work done while sitting in the middle of a playground full of kids screaming and running around. Not the best working environment for people who require concentration to do meaningful work. No wonder so many workers use noise-canceling headphones in open office areas. Working from home, my environment is so quiet that I can concentrate without having to wear headphones or earbuds all day (which I find extremely fatiguing in the long run). People may argue that if you need to focus, you can just go to a ‘focus booth’ (or whatever those phone booth-shaped cubicles are called) or something, but what’s the point of even going to the office if you have to seclude yourself in a human cage to get work done?
Working from home is also great because there are no bosses or colleagues constantly tapping you on the shoulder, taking you out of your flow every five minutes for trivial requests. Since most communication is carried out asynchronously via text (with apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams), you can decide on the best time to reply to messages. In addition, it seems to me that people are usually much more deliberate and straight to the point when communicating via text.
Online meetings are more likely to start and end on time – or even earlier if there’s nothing left to discuss.
Participants in online meetings tend to stick to the schedule without descending too far into unnecessary chatter.
Online meetings are also easier to get going in the first place, as there’s no need to wait for everybody to arrive in the same physical space, sit down, take time to set up by plugging their laptop into the projector, etc. – you just need to get online and turn on screen share.
Online meetings are easier to understand compared to in-person ones because, during online meetings, people usually do their best to speak clearly and not talk over or interrupt each other every 2 seconds. I work in a second language (Japanese), which I’m not very proficient in, and this has been a great improvement for me because I can better understand what’s being discussed during meetings.
To facilitate asynchronous collaboration among colleagues, most of the information produced during meetings is now curated and turned into easily searchable meeting artifacts on the company’s internal wiki. Before WFH, what was said or decided in informal meetings was either communicated verbally or completely lost. Verba volant, scripta manent.
Better Working Environment
WFH has done wonders for both my physical and mental health. At home, I have an ergonomic setup that I’ve carefully chosen so that I can work as comfortably as possible. This setup includes a height-adjustable desk paired with an ergonomic chair (so I can easily switch between sitting and standing), my 4k monitor (the crisp text has helped reduce eye strain) with a monitor arm (this is huge – goodbye, stiff neck!), and finally, my vertical mouse (this took some getting used to, but now my wrist pain is completely gone). I’m not saying employers never accommodate such requests, but in my experience, it’s really hard to set up an ergonomic workspace in an open seating environment without making some institutional changes first. I get it – sitting in a different place every day is fun. What’s not so fun is having to hunch over your laptop for 9+ hours a day because your workplace has poorly-designed ergonomics.
I can also control the room thermostat as I like. Everyone is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to air conditioning. Last year, I finally enjoyed a summer without having to wear a sweater at work because of the office’s freezing AC. I like to keep my room well ventilated as well (CO2 builds up very quickly), so being able to open and close the window is great.
I get to use my private bathroom in the privacy of my own home. Enough said. Seriously though, having access to your own bathroom is a valuable life improvement.
Working from home makes flextime even better. It’s easier to be flexible if you don’t have to be physically present in the office. I’ve never liked the rigidity of a 9-6 job. Some people are early birds while others are night owls, so why impose the same rigid schedule on everyone? It’s going to be fine as long as there’s some time overlap between coworkers.
I strongly dislike being confined to an office. The same four walls, 9 hours a day, 5 days a week. It feels like being in prison. It’s just plain boring and soul-destroying. Working remotely has offered me a much-needed change of scenery. My home environment is more comfortable, and I can arrange it or move to another room at my convenience. I can even go to a coffee shop or park and work from there (maybe when the pandemic is over). If I ever miss the office environment, I can also work from a coworking space (they’re everywhere here in Tokyo). The possibilities are endless.
No more soul-crushing commute time. The amount of wasted time and stress caused by commuting is enormous. I can’t believe I used to waste 2+ hours a day, every day, commuting on overcrowded trains. Now I go for a walk before and after work – it’s much healthier and helps me wake up my brain in the morning or unwind in the evening.
I no longer feel completely drained at the end of the day. Now, instead of ending the day binge-watching YouTube or Netflix because I’m too mentally exhausted to do anything else, I usually work on my side projects for a couple of hours.
I have more time to prepare and eat healthy meals during my lunch break. There’s no need to spend time preparing lunch in advance or try to reduce eating unhealthy food from the convenience store every day.
I’m definitely getting more sleep. A couple of years ago, I started tracking how much sleep I get, and I’ve noticed a marked increase in average daily hours since I started WFH. It’s easy to get more sleep when you don’t have to waste an hour every morning getting to work.
WFA (working from anywhere). This is a form of remote work where workers are given the flexibility to live where they prefer, not just within commuting distance to their workplace. You can simply leave the city and go live near your friends and family, or maybe move to a more rural area so you can enjoy nature and a more spacious home for a lower rent. Personally, I would love to work while traveling. My paid annual leave is nowhere near enough to explore our beautiful planet.
Reduced workweek. Simply put, 40 hours or more a week is too much. No one can stay focused and productive for 8+ hours a day. On the contrary, working long hours is detrimental to productivity and can result in negative output. You typically make more mistakes when you’re tired. Instead, companies should embrace the 4-day work week (35 hours/week) by reducing the amount of pointless busywork they subject their employees to. An extra day off would help everyone refresh and obtain a better work/life balance overall.
A great way to shorten the workweek would be to reduce the number and length of meetings to the bare minimum – starting with the ones that accomplish nothing but waste everyone’s time. For example, those mandatory weekly status update meetings where all team members have to explain in detail what they’re currently working on while everyone else listens in silence. These go on forever and are huge productivity drains. I had several of these every week at my previous job. People tune out after 10 minutes. It’s really hard to stay focused with so many meetings scattered throughout the day. Silly meetings like these can easily be replaced by a Slack thread or something.
Technology is mature enough to make WFH a vastly superior experience compared to working in an office. This means a better work experience, which often correlates with better business performance.
Once the pandemic is over, companies should give their employees the option to continue working remotely full-time. In the case of a hybrid solution, a remote-first approach should be implemented to avoid making remote workers feel like second-class citizens. And please don’t force employees to do at least a certain number of days per week in the office. This still constrains them to live near the workplace, making WFA impossible.
As for me, working from home has been a boon so far. Commuting used to be one of the worst parts of my life. I’m now using my newfound free time to relax, do some side projects, or even take care of the chores usually relegated to the weekend. I’m much more productive when I work from home because I have better equipment and the environment is so quiet, allowing me to remain focused and amp up my productivity.
Now, I’m not suggesting that WFH is the only true way for everyone. Some jobs can’t be done remotely. However, if yours is one of those jobs that can be done seamlessly without going to the office, I suggest giving it a shot, even if it’s just for a couple of months, and seeing how it works out.