This post has nothing to do with China, Japan, or even travel. It’s just about the monster that has taken over my life and kept me from writing in this blog: my job.
Despite relocating to Dallas for this job, the nature of my role allows me to have a mostly flexible and remote working environment. I haven’t visited the Dallas office in over a month. In fact, I work from home and on the road almost all the time. Many envy me when I tell them I work from home, but whenever I hear their words of longing, I can’t help but think…
Is a flexible, or remote, working environment really better for us?
The Line Between Work and Personal Space Begin to Blur
I used to tell people that I loved work more than school because, unlike school, work didn’t give us ‘homework.’ As a graduate student, the worry of papers and homework always loomed over my head even after class ended. I thought back to my work days when work ended at 5pm and didn’t follow me around. It was great to clock out, go home, and not worry about the monster that was my job until the next day.
I’ll tell you now: a flexible work schedule destroys that clear barrier between work and personal space.
To the company, “flexible” work hours means that you’re always on call. I get emails at all hours of the day and night (even at 2am!) and, because I work from home, it’s hard for me to stop working. There is no one telling me that I need to go home or put my computer away. The work keeps coming from all time zones and all offices around the world, and sometimes I literally work until midnight trying to finish it all.
Even on my week off, it was hard for me to ignore emails that kept popping up on my phone. Because I work remote and was used to answering emails on the go, it was hard for me to distinguish that I was even on holiday.
Although there are times I love the flexibility (no more long commute!), I must admit I really miss having that clear distinction between work and home.
Remote Work Hinders the Cultivation of Real Relationships
Despite working at my job for almost a year, I just barely met my colleagues in-person last week–in Tokyo, no less (they’re not even based there). For the last few months we’ve only communicated through messenger, calls and emails… and honestly, it hinders the real relationships we could cultivate if we actually worked side-by-side.
The first few months of my job were really hard because… well, I worked alone. I was a remote worker, so I had no one to tap on the shoulder when I had a question. Instead, I had to ping or email someone and often I didn’t get a response. It’s so much easier to shirk responsibility when we don’t have to face someone in person. This made training really hard and led me to feeling extremely lonely, isolated and disconnected with my peers. After a few months I got used to it… but man, those first few months were really rough.
It’s Super Lonely
Let’s be real, most of us make friends through school and work…
….but what happens when you work remote? How are you supposed to meet people?
I’ve made zero friend-like relationships at this job, and it’s not because my coworkers suck–it’s because we don’t have enough real-time interaction to really get to know each other. It’s hard to befriend someone over instant messenger, emails and calls; especially when we’re all busy and pressed for time.
“I totally get you,” my Canadian-translator-friend in Tokyo, who also works from home, said with a sigh when I told her my remote-work-woes. “I get so stir-crazy and lonely at home, sometimes I go to the convenience store just to speak to people.”
I’ve gone days without talking to a real human being–and honestly, it’s not healthy. It’s just not.
It can be somewhat inefficient (?)
Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how much more we’d actually get done if we could just talk it over in person. It’s so much easier to ignore an email or ping on instant messenger–but it’s so much harder to brush someone off in person.
Plus, online communication can be overwhelming. The flood of emails, instant messenger and notifications can be a handful. How are we supposed to read–and respond–to it all? Although phone calls help clarify a lot of internal miscommunication, I can’t help but wonder how much more effective it would be to discuss and resolve problems in person.
….but it’s not all bad
There are some great perks to flexible work, like:
- Shorter commute times (or none at all)
- Being able to go to the doctor/dentist or pick someone up from the airport without taking PTO
- Cooking lunch/dinner from the comfort of home
- Working form almost anywhere (I’ve worked from Dallas/LA/Portland in the last few months)
- Self-allocating work time; such as starting work later and then working later to make up for it
And what’s my final verdict?
I’ve thought about this a lot. As someone who identifies as an “ENFJ” (emphasis on the E) on the Meyers Brigg test, it’s really goddamn hard for me to not have any human interaction at all. It’s been a struggle for me to not work on a “real-life” team and have the bond of accomplishing something together. I miss real connections I make with co-workers. Essentially, I feel like remote work enables us to turn our work relationships into hollow, meaningless pacts of duty.
Plus, remote work makes us work more. Come on. I work way more from home than I ever did in the office–and not in a good way.
If I could choose, I would say having two flex days a week would be ideal. Three work days in an office would force us to interact with our team and peers and grow relationships, but then the two flex days would give us some freedom to do things that need to be done (like go to the doctor or pick our kid up from daycare) and catch up on work.
In terms of my overall life…
Two weeks ago I woke up at 3am, looked at my phone, and saw an email from my boss:
“Can you come to Tokyo in 2 weeks?”
I swore and went back to sleep.
In the last month I’ve gone from Portland, to Toronto, to Ottawa, to Montreal, to New York, to Tokyo, to LA, to Anaheim, to Dallas, and back to New York. Going to the airport has become almost like a daily commute and I’ve read more books on planes than I can count (finished clockwork prince trilogy, and man, that is the YA-fantasy trash I live for).
Although I was excited to go to Tokyo, it was a blur. Meetings upon meetings upon meetings and, after a mere five days and extremely horrific jet lag, I had to fly back to the USA.
Coming back to my home in Dallas yesterday was… how do I put it? It was bliss. Lounging around all day with tea, a book, and some good shows on Netflix was like heaven. Thanks to “flexibility” I will be working tomorrow (Sunday) from home (cause I have so much work). Still, it feels great to have one day ‘off’ and recover in the comforts of my home.
I want to write more, but it’s hard for me to do it on the road and to balance with work. I miss writing… and I miss nature. Dallas is great, but seeing the photos of mountains and forests from my friends in Utah and California make me miss a good outing in the outdoors. I hope I can take a nature vacation soon.
Miss you all. Sorry for the absence.
So what are your thoughts? Do you like remote and flexible work? Do you think it should be the way of the future and screw the traditional system?