During my job interview nearly five years ago I asked, in a pro-forma way, about work from home options. When informed that wasn’t an option, I accepted with resignation the reality that I would commute twenty-odd miles to downtown Seattle every day. Over time, that hour-plus-each-way commute felt less and less logical. I’ve asked myself time and time again whether it was worth spending nearly three hours every day traveling just to have this job. Three extra hours away from my family, hours I’m not spending with my kid, who’s growing up without me. Is that sacrifice really worth it? Heck, if nothing else, I could spend more of that time asleep!
Even before the pandemic, I pushed my boss to relax our team’s rigid no work from home policy. Some very tense conversations and a lot of persistence eventually won me two days a week from home — at the time, a bonanza of time saved! How I treasured those two days I didn’t have to wake up at 5:00 am, leave the house at 7:00 am, cram myself into a crowded, hot, stuffy, damp bus with eighty of my neighbors for an hour, and arrive at the office just after 8:20 am (on a good traffic day; let’s not talk about the afternoon commute, which takes much longer).
Cue the pandemic and instant five-day-a-week working from home. Now, those days haven’t gone as well as work from home days of yore, primarily due to the fact that kids were schooling from home. A first- or second-grader doing “remote school” doesn’t spend six to eight hours a day schooling. That leaves plenty of time to interrupt Mom or Dad during their alleged eight working hours.
Still, we adapted. The adults in our family both have jobs that translate easily to working from home. As a writer, I honestly never needed to spend as much time in the office as I did. Not only did I transition easily, but I helped my team actually develop a new, more efficient process for communicating that works much better than any in-person process we had before.
Then I took on a new role at work, one in which I work almost exclusively with people in Chicago, Raleigh, NC, or India. No developers, UI designers, PMs, SMEs, or Support people in Seattle for me to meet with in person. Even my team, which originally started with two writers based in Seattle and one writer in Raleigh, has now expanded to three writers in Raleigh and two in Seattle. All these East Coast colleagues mean lots more early-morning meetings, so I chose to just shift to an East Coast work schedule, starting at 6:00 am and finishing at 2:00 pm Seattle time. That makes me available at the times when all my colleagues are working. It just makes sense.
I don’t know if you can tell, but I like this schedule. I don’t mind waking up early — I’m back to those 5:00 am alarms — but being able to get up and then start working an hour later is so much better than getting up at 5:00 am but not working until nearly three and a half hours later. In the afternoon, I wrap up working at 2:00 pm and easily transition to prepping dinner, mowing the lawn, playing with the kiddo, or going for a bike ride feels a zillion times more efficient than before. I have more time in the afternoon to go for bike rides in the daylight, do errands during business hours, or finish chores around the house before everyone else wraps up. I’m home for dinner and bedtime every night.
Compare that with the bad old days, when I’d quit at 4:00 or 4:30 pm, arriving back at home between 6:00 and 6:30 pm having missed our family dinner and just in time to read bedtime stories and say goodnight. It was depressing — and, frankly, was enough to make any mother reconsider decision to take on a voluntary full-time job.
If I were to return to working in the office again, I’d end up having to put in those long commute hours, with all the attendant family downsides, only to spend most of my time on video calls exactly as I already do. What’s the point of that?
I think before the pandemic, not only did my role involve colleagues in Seattle, but I didn’t know how much I could accomplish working from home. Now I know. Since the pandemic, while working from home, I have:
- Seamlessly transitioned from documenting 50% of our product to 100% of our product, including learning an entirely new feature set (Trading — not a trivial area to learn) and connecting with PMs and subject matter experts I’d not worked with before.
- Onboarded, mentored, and trained a new hire.
- Created and implemented completely from scratch a process for creating writing-related work to more efficiently communicate between tech writers and development teams.
- Convinced four engineering groups comprising approximately 20 development teams to adopt this process — with full, willing adoption.
- Transitioned the new hire from writing Knowledge Base articles to taking over my former role documenting 100% of the product in the Help Center.
- Transitioned myself to an entirely new role at a part of the company I’d never worked in, on features I’d never seen before, coming in two weeks before a major deadline, with the documentation a complete mess — and got everything cleaned up, documented, and out the door by the deadline.
- Connected with and began mentoring another new writer who was assigned to that dumpster fire — and helped her feel successful at our accomplishments.
- Onboarded two more new writers.
- Took on unofficial leadership of the four technical writers below me, making sure they have work, feel supported, and are mentored and trained for success.
- Created completely from scratch an online data dictionary comprising over 200 terms, working with subject matter experts I’ve never met in person — with a functional product ready for use two weeks ahead of the deadline.
- Started transitioning the data dictionary project from a single writer’s role (mine) to be shared among all the writers, based on subject expertise.
- Taken on a new project working with a team that’s just in the process of developing their product, helping prepare specs and other developer documentation.
- Juggled a leadership role and three competing actual writing projects (plus a number of other smaller responsibilities, like helping manage the vendor making improvements to our CMS) successfully.
I challenge my boss, or my boss’s boss, or, heck, the frickin’ CEO to look at that list of accomplishments and tell me that I need to come into the office to be more efficient, to maintain “culture,” or to catch those indispensable “water-cooler chats.”
And if I find myself in a position where someone in management insists that we MUST come into the office… I may just choose to join the millions of workers who are looking for an employer more amenable to remote working. We shall see.
One thing I’ve learned in the pandemic, though: Relationships mean everything. Even when I’m sick and tired of my family after 15 straight months with them, I’m not going to sacrifice time with them for some stupid corporate overlord’s vision of an ideal in-person work arrangement.