There’s a guy in the area you’ve never met, but you’re pretty sure he’s either an adulterer or he’s trying to catch one.
Every day he drives past the street he wants to park on and down your dead end road. He turns around in the cul-de-sac and strains his neck looking across the farmer’s field at the street a block over. When he’s satisfied, he heads back in the other direction and usually turns, but not always. It’s always during work hours. You’ve been out in the back yard when he went by a couple of times. He waves, but not like, “hello,” more like, “don’t worry, this is normal.”
It’s not, of course. It’s weird.
This is precisely what your aging CEO pisses and moans about when he says remote work is unproductive. He’s wrong, you still get loads of stuff done while you’re not randomly catching Rubberneck Dude going by the kitchen window again. You’d definitely have more to complain about in the office, and you’d rant about it to anyone who would listen. This is why so many coworkers over the years have encouraged you to go write a book. Not all of them meant it as a compliment.
You were remote adjacent way back in the early 2000s. For a coder like you, it was inevitable, and it started before you ever received a job offer. Sure, you didn’t set out to lie about your qualifications straight out of college, but there’s also nothing honest anyone could tell Smithton’s Corporate Door Hinges when they advertised a role for a .NET developer with ten years of experience in 2006 when .NET only had four years of experience since its release in 2002. You emphasized strong .NET on your resume and applied anyway. You were still lying, but mostly to yourself. When you scored the occasional interview, you crammed for all you were worth the night before and gave it a shot. You flunked a few–you didn’t want to work in PHP anyway–but it made no difference at all. You moved on to the next. You only needed one job.
The stupid questions always started right away. “How do we know you’re not looking up the answers to these questions while we sit here on the phone?” You could tee off on a person like this until someone stopped you. Do they make it a policy not to hire people who keep notes? Are they discouraging their team from looking up answers on the job? Do they think you memorized the full XML specification for some reason? Did they even remember all the interview questions they wanted to ask? One of these meetings was with Wells Fargo which would have taken you out of state just a short time before their cross-selling scandal broke out instead of staying here where you started dating your spouse, and you’re still mad about how pointless the interview process was.
Working at home didn’t taper off once you got the job. Most of your programming employers said they didn’t do remote work, then gave you a laptop in a carrying case and gave you more work than you ever could have done during office hours. It wasn’t remote work as much as it was homework. That’s why the roles were salaried instead of hourly; it would have taken about 100 hours each week to do them well. This was before developers everywhere started to call bullshit on the “10x developer” propaganda. In return, of course, it was common to come in late, leave early, and otherwise make your office schedule more art than science.
People flew too close to the sun with this, of course. You heard of one guy “sitting management down” to explain that he lives over an hour away, and they shouldn’t schedule him for meetings he didn’t find absolutely necessary. They fired the shit out of him, and you didn’t mind a bit. Another gentleman let you all know that he had a new girlfriend whose dogs needed to be let out regularly, leaving him unable to put in time onsite most days. He was fired as well, mostly because your team was concerned this was some sort of euphemism and, if further employed, he might elaborate further. You were okay with this one, too. These were blatant violations of unspoken rules that threatened to blow the whole thing for everyone doing honest work for honest pay and doing it in gym shorts. When an employer cracked down on this, you left. You got a raise for jumping ship every single time.
Eventually you got in on the contracting game. These companies figured out the benefits of remote life early. Good contracting firms thrive by cutting through bullshit, and plenty of that bullshit had to do with working onsite. A couple of firms you worked for were 100% remote. If they had buildings at all, you didn’t know about them, and it was possible to work for a firm for years without ever meeting another employee. Your employer didn’t have any misconceptions about “being a family” at these jobs, and the people you worked with every day didn’t really consider you part of their core organization either. Neither thought about you very often at all. You never got so much work done in all your life.
Management types kick and scream about remote work because it gives you an opportunity to reshape your entire life without starving. It’s almost as open ended as asking yourself, if you could work anywhere, would you keep working here? The answer is virtually always no. After contracting fully remote for a while, you took the opportunity to reevaluate and pursue more fulfilling work. You became the boss.
Working for yourself leads to interesting problems like being distracted by the drive-by guy who was either cheating or being cheated on. You don’t believe you were meant to decay in a cubicle for most of your life, but soon you’re not sure you were meant to be home all the time either. Realizing how often a stranger sits in their car too close to your home for long periods of time for no reason is bad for your mental health. Plus soon you’re confronting them because you’ve finally had enough. They’ve been harassed at the wheel often enough that they don’t care anymore, and now what?
It’s a lot easier to ignore little spots where your house is broken in some way or falling apart in another when you’re only there nights and weekends. You hire a lawn crew to take care of the property, but the retired guy two houses down is always seeing you home and wondering why you don’t take care of it yourself. Within six months, everyone in the subdivision has received your DoorDash lunch order by mistake at least once.
The work itself is maddening. Maybe you have something to do at the moment, but is it the absolute best thing for the time you have to do it? Is it the thing that best serves the rest of your career? Are you doing it in the best way possible? The answer is almost always no. You can’t worry about it right now because you’ve rented a construction dumpster for a few days and some motherfucker rolled up in a nicer car than you drive and now he’s digging through your trash. When he grabs an old hard drive, you feel violated, so you rush outside to confront him because that’s the psycho you are now. It’s not the first dumpster he’s been kicked out of. Not even today. When you ask if you can help him somehow, he says no and keeps loading your discarded stuff into his car. You can either escalate huge or walk away because the very least he’s going to do is come at you with your own hard drive, and he’s standing in a pile of sharp scraps. You decide to go get the garage door closed before he helps himself to that stuff too or another frat boy on a hoverboard tries to sell you pest control service.
Since when did everyone in a five mile radius start burning leaves twice a day? It doesn’t matter. You go back to what’s paying the bills: keeping this goddamn lawn alive. No, that can’t be right. You’re getting paid to eat these 13 expensive pre-packaged meals before they go bad. That’s not it either. It doesn’t matter because every kid in the neighborhood has chosen your sidewalk to scream at today until the street lights go on and they’re allowed to go back home. Their timing is bad, because Sandals Dad from three streets away is here for his nightly training routine where he flings a tennis ball tied up in a sweaty sock at your fence for his unleashed direwolf until it shits in your yard. You have no reason to think he knows who you are, but it feels vaguely political somehow. Either way, the hellhound is loose in a crowd of pre-teens and it’s going to be your door the parents are going to be banging on when news gets back to them about their kids at some point in the coming months.
You force yourself to walk away from the kitchen window. Your kid is hungry, and feeding him is what keeps the lights on (surely that was the one, right?). You go to log today’s progress in your journal, but you can’t actually mark anything off the list, and you notice the list was from three days ago. Today couldn’t have been more than 38 minutes long.
You decide to take your laptop to bed. You’ve got more work than you can do well any other way. You stare at the ceiling thinking about those cowork spaces with their proper office furniture and their sleek meeting rooms. Just somewhere to slip away to so you can get some real work done. Somewhere quiet without all these pointless distractions.
Go ahead, your family tells you. Maybe you could write a book.
Todd Mitchell is a US Midwest-based comedy writer and game developer with bylines at Weekly Humorist, Fanbyte, Slackjaw, End of the Bench Sports, and more. He’s the author of Inside Video Game Creation, the founder of CodeWritePlay, and host of the GameDev Breakdown podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mechatodzilla.