Avoiding the traps of remote work
Many mousetraps on the brown wooden background image via Shutterstock
In this article, Jenny Holt identifies some of the traps remote coders can fall into and teaches you how to avoid them.
Writing code is a unique occupation requiring a unique skill set. On the one hand, it’s analytical, and you must pay very close attention to detail. On the other hand, it’s creative, so you need to be able to think outside the box. This combination of core competencies can be further challenged by the tendency of contract developers who work remotely to struggle with balancing the demands of the job.
Here are some of the traps remote coders can fall into, and how to avoid them.
Flexibility vs. procrastination
Working remotely gives you the flexibility to sleep in if you feel like it, or go to a movie in the middle of the afternoon. It lets you work on the most challenging parts of a project when you are the most creative and productive, even if that happens to be at 3:00 am. But it also has the potential to get you into a situation where you need to work 36 hours straight to finish a build that has been scheduled for weeks.
Avoid this trap by setting a schedule you can stick to. Factor in the degree of flexibility you’re comfortable with and keep yourself accountable. Set milestones that are more granular than the project deliverables, so you don’t get caught in a bind.
Privacy vs. isolation
Coding is a solitary pursuit, for the most part, thus the popularity of contracting it out. It requires a great deal of concentration, so it’s helpful not to have the sales guy shouting into the phone two cubicles over. But it can be isolating. Even if you’re not a sociable person by nature, you may find yourself unduly excited about the prospect of the FedEx driver coming to drop off a package so you can have someone to talk to for a few seconds.
You may also be isolated from your coworkers, even if you talk to them frequently by phone. No matter how independent you are, you’ll probably have to go into the office from time to time, and it can be disheartening to realize that 20% of the people there have been hired since the last time you were in, or that almost no one recognizes your face.
Avoid this trap by working with another developer if you can. Developer and blogger Jeff Atwood describes coding alone as, “unmoored, directionless, (and) suffering from analysis paralysis.” He solved the problem by bringing in another coder he had worked with in the past and together they worked jointly on the project.
Jealousy vs. guilt
A lot of people who commute to a 9-to-5 job are jealous of remote workers. And in some ways, they have every right to be. But because those who work remotely don’t have someone looking over their shoulder all day, they tend to be hyper-aware of the possible perception that they’re not working a full week, and they may over-correct for this.
Scott Hanselman, a technology blogger who opines on remote work, among other things, says, “(W)e tend to work late, we work after the kids are down, and we work weekends.” He says the guilt around remote work is very real and can lead to burnout.
Avoid this trap by tracking your time well, using an app if it helps. If the milestones are being met and the deliverables are in on time, give yourself permission to take a weekend off or ‘only’ put in 40 hours some weeks.
Above all, recognize that the ability to work remotely can be a blessing and a curse, and don’t let anyone who hasn’t done it tell you otherwise.