(This post is an attempt to organize my thoughts on remote work. Specifically, how I think remote work will affect me. In this post, remote work means “a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel to a central place of work, such as an office building, warehouse, or store”.)
As I begin what is hopefully a long and rewarding career, I am thinking about the impact of a completely remote job.
Let’s start with some context.
About two weeks ago Shopify announced a transition from Digital by Default to Digital by Design. This means that employees will never return to Shopify offices.
This announcement received mixed reviews. Among my intern community at Shopify, the plan was almost universally condemned. The prospect of losing a beautiful office and free food is bleak. Beyond the perks though, I started to reflect on what my career would look like without an office.
Over the past few years of school, I've held this assumption that my career would lead me to a new city. Most likely Toronto or Vancouver. From there, my workplace would provide me with social opportunities to carve out a group of friends and begin building a community. That is how my parents built their social lives.
My main concern with remote work is the removal of those social opportunities.
Part of me thinks it’s crazy to plan out exactly how I’m going to make friends in the future. The good friends I have today are not a product of my intricate planning. They are the product of some shared experience, whether it be highschool, university, or a job. The common theme is some shared space to gather and interact: A classroom, a study space or an office.
To me, losing that space means losing the opportunity to make lasting, meaningful friendships.
Consider this diagram:
Working in-person means that part of your social life is driven by your co-workers and workplace. The common pattern is going out for beers after work or going out to a restaurant for lunch. It would be unusual to remain isolated from co-workers.
Working remotely means that none of your social life is driven by your co-workers and workplace. The common pattern is living in a different city/neighborhood than your co-workers and leaning on existing friendships/family. It would be unusual to build relationships outside of work with co-workers.
This is certainly a strange prospect.
Here’s another perspective.
Remote work and a healthy social life are not mutually exclusive. Even through this pandemic, I’ve been leading a happy social life, mostly thanks to my four roommates. Remote work does not stop me from building on existing relationships. In fact, it encourages me to focus on them.
If I reconsider the framework of my career, remote work could mean that my work life becomes a much smaller part of my whole life.
The community I’ve built in Victoria can continue to grow. I can invest time and energy in the existing friendships I have here instead of abandoning them to start fresh somewhere else. I can explore where to live at my own pace. I can prioritize myself over what my work needs from me.
I can spend more time outside. I can leave for weekend trips more easily. I can travel to new places without missing work. I can have more time to take sailing lessons. I can (hopefully) find somewhere to pay less rent. I can be flexible when it comes to settling down somewhere.
What keeps me optimistic about remote work is the freedom it gives me. It means that I have a bigger hand in constructing my own life. Second, I trust the positive intent behind this change at Shopify and the support they will provide to make it work.
Dismantling the assumptions I've held about my career is challenging. It involves many difficult, personal questions that I don't have all the answers to.
To me, the answers to these hard questions can't be reasoned out in theory. They have to be developed in practice.
Hopefully I will update this post with a success story after this godforsaken pandemic is over.