…and back to the life of a commuter

This week I returned to a commute. The verdict is still out on the details of that – getting used to riding the BART daily, the mile or so I’m walking back and forth, etc. This blog entry is not a gripe about my year of working remote. Instead, I’m writing it with the intention of sharing my experience if you are considering a remote gig. Circumstances vary from person to person, and mine are very much rooted in being the father of three young daughters and working in the system support field (devops, sysadmin, whatever you want to call the folks that make sure your app or site is up all the time).

Exterior of a BART C car at Daly City station

I had the good fortune for the last year to live the life of a completely remote employee. In our daydreams, that sounds wonderful. Make your own schedule. Do your own thing. No more shackles of the work day, just be free to work when you need to do, but still have the luxury to deal with your real life.

Like the cake, it’s a lie. At least for some personality types, mine included.

First, there’s the time difference. I thought this was going to be easy going into it – I’m used to working 8, 9, even 12 hour days on occasion . How hard could it be? My office was on the West Coast, but my home was on the East, so right off the bat everything is offset by 3 hours. I could have tried to keep a schedule that was bound more to localtime, but folks in the office expect to be able to schedule meetings in the early afternoon – 2-4 – which on the opposite coast, is really 5-7.

Don’t get me wrong – being able to start work later in the day (noonish was still 9am in the office) was wonderful. But working until at least 8 at night mean that despite being home, I was actually seeing my kids less than when I drove into an office.

All of that only covers the day to day schedule of working. Working in my field, you expect to work additional hours. The 3am maintenance window, the 5am Sunday morning crash, these are the joys of the job. On the local side, everyone expects that if you work from home, you can come to Important Activity of the Week. Schools plan events around their calendar, not yours. Your children, as understanding as they are, don’t always realize that you have a meeting every other Friday night until past their bedtime. Dinners become a dash to eat and catch up on the day before rushing back to work (its only 3 in the afternoon at the office, after all – why aren’t you responding to the flood of private messages your coworkers are sending?). Because the last thing you want to do is give the impression that anything might distract you from your job and cast doubts on your ability to work remotely.

The reality is that although I’ve seen more of my family in the last year, I’ve actually spent less time with them than when I commuted. Now that we’re in California, I started commuting this past Wednesday. It hasn’t been smooth – I caught the last direct train home on Thursday, and Friday I made it to the train before only by high tailing it through SF (there are trains home after that, but then you have to do connections, and it sounds more dramatic if I just call it the last direct train home). Yet in both extreme cases, I still managed to spend a few hours with the kids before we all crashed for the night.

So my year of working remote is over. I don’t look forward to standing for 40 minutes on the BART before walking .6 miles to the office (seems so small when typed, feels so long when walked). I don’t look forward to the bad commute days (I’ve heard they exist). But I do think I can adapt again to being a real person. I’ll no longer be the disembodied talking head on the screen.


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