By August 21, 2019

How Remote Work Could Change Your Life

This is a chapter from the upcoming book “Remote Work – The Complete Guide” which we will be publishing first on Simple Programmer, every two weeks. If you would like to be the first to know when the new book is released, sign up here.

If you are reading this, you probably have at least some desire to investigate your options for remote work. While we all have our individual reasons, people either tend to love the idea or hate it.

For those who love working remotely, it may mesh well with longer-term goals in life. For others, it helps improve their quality of life by saving them money, time, and stress. And yet for others, it actually makes it possible for them to have a career at all.

However, remote work also has its detractors. For some of those people, especially those who tend to be more social, remote work sounds like a terrible level of isolation. For those who lack discipline or are concerned about how management will perceive remote workers, working remotely sounds like a recipe for job loss.

Many managers have difficulty evaluating how hard someone is working without seeing them at work, and it can be difficult to prove to them that you are working if you aren’t in the office.

At the very least, if you decide to work remotely, you can almost certainly count on dealing with one or more people who are strongly against the idea.

Since the perceptions of remote work vary widely across the population and are polarizing in some circles, it’s a good idea to be aware of the advantages that remote work brings to the table for those engaged in the practice. 

Not only will these advantages help you convince others of the value of your own remote work, but sometimes those who are against the idea will see the value of the arrangement for themselves. They may even eventually realize that a company’s insistence on employees being in the office is hamstringing the company and wasting time and money while making the lives of their employees measurably worse.

The people who offer strong opinions on your remote work are not limited to those who work with you. In fact, some of the loudest voices you’ll hear will be from friends, family, and even random strangers in the grocery store. In general, the average person doesn’t really understand remote work and is often hostile to the idea.

However, the disagreement of others is not a good basis for evaluating whether something is a good idea for you personally. We’re going to discuss some of the benefits that you can expect from working remotely. 

Realizing these benefits will make it a lot easier to ignore the people who are against the idea of remote work when you can’t convince them, and it’s also a lot easier to bring them around if you are confident in the benefits yourself.

Remote work necessitates a number of changes in the way that companies (and the individuals within them) operate. This radical restructuring changes the way that work is conducted and evaluated and drastically alters your relationship to work. 

These changes also present new challenges and opportunities. In this first post, we’ll discuss some of the opportunities while leaving the challenges for later.

The Cost of Your Commute

Commute remote work

The most obvious thing that changes when you work remotely is that you won’t have to travel to the office every day. While most people acknowledge that their commute is usually an annoying waste of time, most of us don’t really know how harmful our commute actually is. 

From personal experience, I can tell you that once you find out how expensive your commute really is, you’ll also be far more motivated to rid yourself of it. Knowing what your commute costs will also help you in negotiations for remote work. 

The first and most obvious cost imposed by commuting by car are the costs of gas and vehicle wear and tear. As of 2018, the average American commute is 16 miles each way and usually constitutes a little less than an hour of driving each day. 

As of 2015, the average American spends $2,600 each year commuting to work. In some cities, the numbers are far worse, with many commutes being double the average or even more. Even for non-Americans, commutes can be very costly, especially if you are driving yourself to the office. Fuel and vehicle maintenance will always have a cost no matter where you live.

In addition to the obvious costs associated with a vehicle, there are many other costs that you probably haven’t considered. Vehicle insurance costs often increase based on mileage, as do the risks of an accident. 

Additionally, you may have to pay for parking and other fees. These add up over time and don’t tend to make it into statistics, even though they do hit your bank account.

While using public transportation is often cheaper than commuting by car, it comes with its own issues. First among them is that it still costs money and may also take longer than a trip by car. Additionally, public transport in many places is severely lacking and fairly unpleasant. If it works, it can save you some money but not nearly enough to make commuting a good idea.

There are a few other monetary costs imposed by commuting that are easy to miss. When you have to physically go to an office, that usually means that you either have to pack your lunch or go buy something on lunch break. Either of these choices can impose extra costs in terms of either time or money that you wouldn’t have had at home, with the latter often being substantially more expensive. 

However, many workplaces don’t have a suitable place to eat a bagged lunch or may have environmental problems that make it impossible to eat at your desk. This can be anything, from co-workers who interrupt you continually whether you are eating or not to simply not having enough desk space for lunch. 

This gets even more expensive and unpleasant if you have dietary issues or are trying to lose weight. 

For instance, I live outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and have regularly worked in one of the nearby communities that has a heavy tech presence. If you want to get something for lunch that is reasonably healthy, you are usually looking at $15-20 in cost. That cost is insane and adds up quickly over time, especially if there is no good way to bring your lunch and eat at your desk. In fact, if you have a month with 22 working days, lunch can add up to as much as $440.

Additionally, when commuting to an office, you may also have to spend more money on clothing to meet business dress codes and more money on health care from being in a building full of people who get sick, and you are often forced to use at least some of your vacation days for things like waiting on home repairs, inclement weather, or staying home with a sick child. 

There is a real cost to these vacation days, although you probably don’t see it in your paycheck. Really, you’re only going to notice their absence if you run out of allotted days off and have to take unpaid leave. Essentially, you are forced to waste your days off simply so that the rest of your life can function, even though you’re otherwise perfectly capable of working those days.

The Costs You Aren’t Considering

No matter how well you minimize the monetary cost of commuting, the practice also comes with another substantial and ugly cost. And that cost is best expressed as a combination of time, attention, and misallocated money. 

That’s right, if you are spending money, time, and attention on a commute, you aren’t spending it in a way that is most advantageous to you. Instead, you can consider any commuting-related expense as essentially being forced to subsidize your employer’s unwillingness to let you work remotely.

The costs of this are far in excess of what you might imagine. While in the previous section, we noted some sources that suggested that the average American spends $2,600 a year to commute, that’s far from the total cost. When talking through the financial costs, let’s do some math. To make this simple, we’re going to make some assumptions:

  • We’ll assume that you are paid $50,000 a year. I hope it’s more than that, but if it isn’t, this round number will underscore just how expensive driving to an office actually is.
  • We’ll assume you have two weeks of paid time off a year and only work 40 hours a week. That comes up to roughly 2,000 hours in a working year (again, roughly).
  • This means that your hourly rate is $50,000/2000 hours or $25 an hour. In this example, we’re leaving off retirement benefits and health insurance as well as any other incidental expenses covered by work. This also completely ignores taxes.
  • This also means that you’d be working 250 days a year, with the income for each day being $200.
  • We’re also assuming that you have a half-hour commute each way. While this is slightly more than the average of 26 minutes, you should also bear in mind that you are probably leaving a little early so that traffic doesn’t make you late.
  • We’re also going to assume that you have a one-hour lunch break. While you aren’t paid for the lunch break, it’s unlikely that you are allowed to simply skip lunch and go home early. It’s also unlikely that you are able to work on your own stuff on work computers. Effectively then, this becomes an hour every day that is under someone else’s control, for which you don’t get paid.
  • We’ll assume that if you do eat lunch, that you can do so for $10. While on the low end for lunch prices in most places developers tend to hang out, we’ll use this price primarily to show you that even trying to eat cheaply will not help very much. We’ll also assume that if you bring your own lunch from home that it costs you approximately $5 (this is quite possibly on the high end, depending on what you eat).
  • We’ll assume that breakfast costs you $5. I can’t eat breakfast for this amount, but it makes the math easy.
  • We’re assuming that you are getting eight hours of sleep a night.

So, given the above, let’s talk about the real cost using some relatively simple math.

  • You think you are getting paid $200 for eight hours of work ($25/hour). However, including the time taken for lunch and the commute, you actually are burning up at least 10 hours a day, so you are really only getting about $20 an hour.
  • It’s probably worse than that, however, as you also can’t plan to do anything very close to the time you arrive at work or arrive home because all it takes is a small traffic jam for you to be late.

In effect, an eight-hour day at a job will use up at least 10 hours of your day and possibly much more. 

If you consider the extra time that is lost to traffic or to handling the logistics of traveling (filling up your gas tank, car maintenance, time lost to traffic accidents, and time spent going to and from your parking location), it could very easily approach 12 hours a day of lost time, especially if part of your commute is prone to traffic jams.

Even if all of the above doesn’t add up to 12 hours a day lost to an “eight-hour” job, commuting also limits the times when you are able to run errands. 

Since most everyone else is on a similar schedule, this can mean that an evening stop at the grocery store, post office, or bank takes longer simply due to the number of people there at the same time. In many cases, this is the difference between being the only person in the line and being the 10th.

Given that, a 12-hour estimate is probably on the low end and is quite possibly optimistic. Since you’ve already lost 12 hours of your day to work and your commute, and assuming that you sleep for eight hours a night, this means that you only truly control four hours of your day in any measurable sense. 

And you are expected to get dressed for work, bathe (hopefully), eat, and handle family life and intimate relationships during that time.

If you look through the previous explanation and realize all the numbers I put in are optimistic, you realize that the commute is potentially taking a three- to four-hour block of your day away from you, every single day. 

Considering your low initial hourly rate of $25, that is an expense of $75-$100 a day for the commute (and you get the privilege of all the added financial expense of the commute that we mentioned in the previous section). Over the course of a work year, that’s $18,750-$25,000 worth of time. In other words, 3/8ths to 1/2 of your current salary. And you get to pay for the privilege …

While you are probably already convinced that a commute is absolutely horrible under these circumstances, let’s take this a little further. You have four hours that are roughly “under your control” during a workday, but these hours are probably split between the morning and evening. 

If you have children that are attending school, you probably spend time and money getting them to and from school. This tends to mean additional driving and child care expenses, which can be substantial for younger children, especially if they are too young to be in public school. 

The schedule at many child care facilities is also pretty bad for working parents. It’s common for such locations to open at 7 am and close at 6 pm, for instance. 

This means that if there is any distance between your house and day care, one spouse will have to drop off the child while the other picks them up because there is simply no way to get an eight-hour workday with a commute and a lunch break in between the time the facility opens and closes.

So, you have four hours, but you don’t really have four hours. It’s probably three and a half hours at best. However, you also have another problem. If you are commuting to a desk job, this means that you are sitting most of the day, including the time you are in the car. 

Combine that with the kind of lunch you can get for 10 bucks, and you have a recipe for serious health problems over time. To mitigate that, you are going to need to work out regularly. Many people will find a gym close to their house simply so that they can shower at home. 

This means that your gym time is limited just like everyone else’s, which means that your workouts take longer too. It’s anecdotal, I know, but every single time I’ve had to wait on a gym bro to quit curling the bar inside a squat rack, it’s been in the evenings. Commuting forces you to lose even more time if you want to remain healthy.

Basically, it’s possible for your commute to completely destroy most of your free time during a workweek either because of the time required for travel or the time that gets wasted because of your (and everyone else’s) commute. 

This insidious waste of large swaths of your time is probably not something that you have really considered unless you’ve thought a lot about what your commute is really costing you, but it costs you nonetheless.

Given that your free time is so limited during the week, you’ll also find yourself spending an excessive amount of your time on the weekend either catching up on sleep, running errands, or exercising. This makes weekends far less relaxing, limits what you can do with them, and makes them more difficult to enjoy.

The Real Issue: Opportunity Cost

While you are paying a hidden, insidious cost for the time and money wasted on driving to and from an office, commuting to work can also limit your future success in various ways. 

A few decades ago, the expectation of many workers was that they would start working for a company soon after college and then retire with a pension 40 years later. If you read that previous sentence, you probably rolled your eyes nearly as much as I did when I wrote it. 

The reality now is that not only are employees less likely to stay at a company for decades but that the companies themselves are less likely to keep an employee around for a very long time. You’re on your own as far as your longer-term career plans, retirement savings, and any personal goals that you want to achieve.

Since you can’t (and arguably shouldn’t) depend on an employer to provide for your longer-term career, you need to carefully consider how commuting to work impacts this.

Given approximately half a dozen hours a week of wasted time in a commute, one would be wise to consider what else they could be doing with just the drive time and money spent on commuting. Here are some examples:

  • Many training videos on programming or other IT topics are less than five hours in length. A single week’s worth of commutes could give you a running start at learning a new programming language and shifting your career toward something more fun, lucrative, and fulfilling than whatever you are doing now while helping to protect you from downsizing.
  • If you work out for half an hour a day, every day, your commute is using more time than a workout and a long shower afterward.
  • The time for a commute is more than the time required for making many home-cooked meals, which are often healthier and usually cheaper than what you can get at a restaurant.
  • Five hours a week is more than enough time to launch a blog, write a book, or even build a small e-commerce website. If you aren’t planning on doing your day job forever, a commute is literally costing you a future option that could change your life. For perspective, I have a podcast and spend five to seven hours a week on it.
  • While five hours a week isn’t really enough to reach fluency in a foreign language in a short period of time, it still makes a sizable dent in the amount of time that such a goal might take. For example, I was able to reach an intermediate level in spoken Russian while practicing only during my commutes. Had I spent that time practicing at home, I would have progressed even more rapidly.
  • $2,600 a year is enough for a pretty nice vacation, drinks included, in many places.
  • If you don’t have to drive to the office on a regular basis, you might be able to move to a lower-cost, more relaxed place to live. Housing costs are a substantial portion of almost everyone’s living expenses, so being able to lower them is extremely valuable.
  • If you work an extra five hours a week in a more relaxed environment, you can easily outperform co-workers who aren’t able to work remotely. Managed correctly, this can make a huge impact on your career.

While commuting is not optimal, simply because of the time and money that it requires, the best real argument against the practice is the enormous opportunity cost that it represents. 

What happens if you write a bestselling novel in the time that you weren’t commuting? What if you learn a foreign language and eventually move to Europe like you always wanted to? What if you build a successful side business that lets you escape from the rat race forever? What if having the time to work out means you live an extra 20 years and get to see your grandchildren get married?

The upside of avoiding a commute is hard to calculate, and very personal, but it’s almost certain that you have one. When you can avoid having a substantial portion of your day wasted staring at someone else’s brake lights, all kinds of possibilities open up, including many that you couldn’t conceive of when you first started considering the idea.

Realistically, if you never do anything in the list above while working remotely and instead spend all the spare time created sitting on the couch with your spouse watching TV, it’s probably still a better, more peaceful life than one spent in rush hour traffic. At the very least, you have the option of doing something other than watching TV.

The real point of understanding the horrible human cost of commuting is not to make you bitter about it or annoyed that you have to drive to work. The real point of such an exercise is to let you see the opportunities that are available to you. 

Once you realize what the commute costs, you’ll be far more willing to go to the effort to be rid of it. Your commute costs you every single day.

Upsides of Remote Work

Remote Work Home office

We discussed the opportunity costs of commuting in the previous section, but to really grasp how valuable remote work can be, we also need to discuss the opportunities that it provides. 

Making one’s life better isn’t just about avoiding things that make life worse but about embracing things that improve life. In this section, we’ll discuss some of these.

It’s important to note that you really don’t need very many of these opportunities to go well for remote work to represent a substantial advantage to both your finances and your quality of life. However, you should consider them, since even slight improvements over time can really improve your life.

Unexpected Savings

By now, you realize how expensive commuting actually is, but working remotely also creates a number of cost savings that are often surprising. One of the biggest of these is child care expenses. 

If you have one or more children who are old enough so they don’t need to be constantly monitored, then working remotely will easily allow you to save hundreds of dollars a month. When children are old enough so they can entertain themselves, there is little reason to pay someone else to do so.

The average school day for children is significantly shorter than the average workday for adults. Children also tend to be sent to school somewhere close to where they live, while adults may have to commute across or into a city in order to work. 

This means that parents tend to have to pay for child care both before and after the school day simply because it’s a really bad idea for younger children to be home by themselves. To add insult to injury, most of the child care that is available before and after school also requires that you drop off or pick up the children, if not both. 

If you work remotely, however, your children may be able to ride a bus to and from school, saving both the cost of day care and the “mini commute” required to take them there. While the above doesn’t help much if you have very young children who need constant attention, at some point, it will represent huge savings in both time and money.

Additionally, working remotely can save you a lot of money on food, as it is easier to simply warm up something out of the refrigerator than it is to go out to eat somewhere nearby. 

When going to an office, eating at your desk is a lot more effort, since it means that you have to both pack a lunch and ensure that your co-workers actually let you eat without interrupting you. 

In many offices where I’ve worked, the majority of the staff end up going out to lunch every single day, both for a change of scenery and so that they can eat lunch without being interrupted by phone calls, co-workers stopping by for “a quick question,” and the background noise of the office. 

If your home is a relatively peaceful place that you enjoy, you’ll be less incentivized to go out to eat in the first place. Considering that it can be difficult to get something filling and reasonably healthy for lunch for less than $15, it doesn’t take very long for remote work to save you a lot of money.

You’ll find that even as remote work saves you a lot of time, one of the unexpected side effects is that it saves you money in surprising ways. Most things are cheaper when you have control over your own life, and remote work helps you achieve that.

Respect and Better Evaluations

It’s been said that the modern workplace is often a bit of a dystopia. You are forced to drive to the office, dress in fairly uncomfortable clothes, and sit at a desk for eight hours or more, usually in a room with a bunch of other people, while you all pretend to work. 

It’s also completely obvious to anyone who has done it that most people don’t work for at least a third of the day, with many truly focused and working for less than half of the day. 

When management is lazy, such a system tends to mean that those who “work” the longest days are seen as being the best employees even if they provide little or no actual value (some are a net negative, including a sizable percentage of the managers in such a system). It’s a system that favors schmoozing with the boss and pretending to work over actually doing valuable work.

The downstream effects of such a terribly organized system are countless. Human beings will adapt to most systems of evaluation, no matter how pathological they are, in an effort to better their situation. 

If the environment is pathological enough, then the behavior of people in that environment will be pathological too, on average, with those who are less pathological being left behind and the worst specimens rising to the top of the hierarchy. 

You may well see this in your own office environment if you look around. Just look at the list below, and think about how many times you’ve noticed these behaviors in the last few weeks of work. 

  • A worker whose job is mostly oriented around typing who seems to spend most of their time using the mouse will suddenly click something and start typing every single time a member of management comes into their view.
  • The entire office is working together in an open space for the sake of “collaboration,” and everyone is wearing noise-canceling headphones because they don’t want to hear Billy’s loud phone conversation about sports, his upcoming and very personal surgery, or his arguments with his teenage daughter about using the car.
  • A girl works in the office, and everyone knows that she has irritable bowel syndrome because everyone noticed how frequently she’s in the bathroom instead of sitting at her desk working (because they weren’t working either).
  • Two people in the office are constantly gossiping about each other because of some slight that happened a year ago. The people who sit near them have taken sides in the conflict.
  • One guy is getting divorced and periodically sobs uncontrollably at his desk while the people near him spend the day squinting at their screens and trying to avoid the distraction. Everyone is uncomfortable, but no one talks to him because they don’t want to be seen “not working.”
  • One unattached coworker without children, pets, or hobbies sits at her desk for 12 hours a day. Nobody can really see anything that she gets done, but management heaps praise on her for her work ethic.
  • A hard-working guy with two children at home who does excellent work is written up for leaving 15 minutes early so he can go to his daughter’s piano recital, even though he worked all weekend. He knows this will come up in his next evaluation when it is decided whether his raise will exceed inflation.

None of the items listed previously (or the half dozen others you thought of while reading the list) is a natural behavior of happy, well-adjusted people who are working in a system that incentivizes the production of value. 

Instead, these are the perfectly predictable behaviors of people forced to work in a system where the appearance of creating value is measured rather than the actual creation of value. The resulting environment ends up looking more like something from a Dilbert cartoon rather than a place where any of us want to work.

When working remotely under normal circumstances, a lot of these problems go away. It’s much harder to determine whether someone is sitting at their desk for the full eight hours a day when they are sitting at a desk in their own home. 

Instead, if you want to manage remote workers effectively, you have to measure productivity by other means. Usually, rather than the typical “butts in seats” measurement, you have to look at what someone actually produces.

While the misalignment of office incentive structures could be the subject of a book or two on its own, it’s pretty easy to determine whether you are being evaluated based upon reasonable standards or not. Consider the following: 

  • When you take a break at work, do you feel the need to conceal this fact from management?
  • Let’s say that you suddenly became twice as fast at completing your work. Would you be paid twice as much and be required to work only half as much or would you simply get twice as much work for the same amount of money?
  • Do you find yourself furtively reading the news, texting, or playing games on your phone while trying to look busy?
  • Does management claim to value collaboration but value individual contributors over the group? In other words, if you help junior members of the team become more effective, are you doing so as part of your job or are you actively hurting yourself because it won’t matter at review time?
  • Do you find yourself completing all your work for a day and then staring at the wall for the rest of the day because you can’t leave early?
  • Do you find yourself hesitating to do things more efficiently because it just means that you’ll be assigned more work?
  • Do you find yourself sandbagging on project estimates because you know that you’ll be eating the cost of any underestimation but that overestimating means that you actually get to take a break?
  • Do you find yourself resenting co-workers who take a lot of breaks or handle personal business while on the clock?

If any of the things in the previous list hit a little too close to home, it’s a good sign that your work environment values “butts in seats” and the appearance of productivity over actually getting work done. 

While remote work can’t entirely fix this, it does make it much more difficult for management to value the appearance of productivity over actual productivity. “Butts in seats” is one of the worst ways to measure the productivity of a team, especially for teams of creative people working on problems that tend to change over time.

When a team is remote, a “lazy” manager is more likely to choose to measure the team based upon productivity than upon whether they are currently pretending to work. This actually incentivizes the team to be more productive rather than simply trying to look busy. The value of this paradigm shift cannot be understated.

The points above are not intended to be taken as complaints. Rather, they are good things because that means that it will be far easier to show that working remotely provides far more value than watching the clock and pretending to work in an office.

Medical Issues

The modern office is not always the most comfortable place to work. In fact, the odds are good that you really don’t like the office either. However, for many people, the modern office is more than uncomfortable and can exacerbate underlying medical conditions. 

While there are laws that are supposed to protect people with medical issues in an office environment, those laws do a poor job of protecting employees in transit or at lunch and do nothing about the kind of embarrassing issues that certain medical conditions may cause.

While you may be young and have no serious medical problems, these things tend to creep up on you. When I was in my 20s, I was seldom sick and thought I was indestructible (and did stupid things in accordance with that belief of which I’m often reminded now that I’m older). 

Two hernia surgeries, a throat surgery, and a couple of “interesting” food sensitivities later, I can tell you that even with some accommodations, the office environment is not a suitable one when you have certain medical conditions. Good friends of mine have more severe and long-lasting medical issues, and it’s even worse for them.

Being in an office for the entire day can be difficult if you have certain medical conditions. If you are pregnant or if you have issues like irritable bowel syndrome or cancer, you may not want to be in the office simply because you don’t want your health to be the subject of conversation. 

There is no real privacy in most office environments, and people tend to butt into your business far more than is reasonable. For instance, with both of my hernia surgeries, I had co-workers who insisted that it was either combative martial arts or weightlifting that caused the problem. 

I had to argue with people at work about what caused my hernias, when I was actually there and awake when both happened. Both were from coughing, but the office “experts” were so socially inept that they had to continue weighing in and arguing with me. 

While this is a human-resources issue in some cases, it often doesn’t quite rise to that level while still being embarrassing and distracting enough to be annoying.

When working remotely at your own house, you often have better opportunities to mitigate medical issues with minimal disruption to the rest of the staff. You don’t have to remember to bring your medicine with you to work, and you don’t have to ask a bunch of questions about any food that is being offered to avoid getting sick. 

Further, if your medical issues are of a personal nature and uncomfortable, you are free to set up you work environment to make them less of a problem, without a bunch of busybodies asking questions.

Even beyond the office busybodies, certain medical conditions make travel more difficult. For instance, if you have problems with your eyesight, you might be able to work well with some assistive technology, but you may be unable to drive to work. 

If you can’t drive, someone has to bring you, which means that you are now subject to someone else’s schedule even if it is that of a city bus. Additionally, this may also restrict where you can live, as public transportation is very spotty in many parts of the country. 

It would be understandable to have to come in to the office if it were really required for the operation of the company, but it’s absolutely ridiculous when it actually makes the company less efficient. In a surprising number of cases, the “required” time in the office is doing nothing for the company but is stressing out the employees and burning cash.

Remote work has the possibility of giving autonomy and dignity back to people with severe medical problems. While you may not currently have any serious medical issues, remote work can seriously improve your quality of life if you do.

Family Issues

In addition to your own medical issues, conditions within your family can make remote work an attractive possibility. At some point in our lives, most of us will find ourselves caring for sick children, spouses, parents, or siblings. While some severe illnesses run their course in a matter of days or weeks, many others last for a lifetime.

If you’ve ever had the experience of caring for a sick relative who is dealing with a chronic illness, you know that it adds an element of unpredictability to your life. It’s also pretty unlikely that your chronically ill relative is going to be sitting in a corporate office with you, which means that your commute makes it much more difficult to take care of them while keeping your job.

Taking care of a family member can result in regularly having to leave the office, drive home, and then take the relative to a doctor on short notice. It may also require you to pay someone else to be there to take care of your loved ones, which tends to be expensive and can reduce their quality of life. While many people are comfortable accepting a little help from a relative who lives in the house with them, the situation takes on an entirely different tone when outside professionals have to be hired. 

Besides chronic medical conditions, many people have children or spouses with other problems that require regular attention. Some of those problems are things that you’d rather keep to yourself. 

Imagine that your son is a recovering drug addict or your daughter has an eating disorder. Or imagine that you are having to take care of your grandchildren after their parents died in a car accident (or they went to jail). 

While these situations may have a medical component, they also have behavioral components. These are situations that can happen to the best of people, and they are things that require significant amounts of your time and attention to deal with. 

Additionally, they are the sort of situations that can bring out some of the cattiest and most spiteful behavior from co-workers who will judge you for taking care of your family, especially if they see you leave work early. 

As discussed previously, the modern office environment has a warped set of standards for what constitutes good work, and that set of standards tends to result in people having an excessive amount of interest in their co-workers’ personal business. This is especially true if people feel that their own time at work is wasted and end up resenting you for not having your time wasted.

Working from home will not fix chronic problems within your family, but it will give you more time and attention to be able to do what needs to be done to help the situation. It will also help keep your judgmental co-workers out of your business. 

While you should be keeping good boundaries with people at work anyway, when you have a chronically ill or troubled relative, that can sometimes be difficult to manage. Sick or troubled family can often create a serious emotional rollercoaster that will be exacerbated by a long commute or judgmental co-workers. 

Working remotely can reduce some of the nasty time constraints that you will encounter if someone in your family gets very sick.

Financial Issues

If you have severe financial issues, working remotely can help save you from bankruptcy. While there is a popular stigma that major financial problems are due to bad decisions, that isn’t entirely true of all of them (nor is it relevant when you are trying to make good decisions to correct the problem). 

Lots of people have massive student loan debts or lost everything to medical costs, a divorce, or a business going under. If you are trying to recover from crippling debt, the $2,600 a year that the average American spends on commuting looks like an easy way to get rid of some of the debt. 

It also reduces the risk of a car breakdown driving you deeper into the hole, since you won’t be traveling as much.

When comparing a remote job to an on-site job with the same pay rate, the remote job constitutes a significant raise, especially when you consider the opportunity cost represented by an on-site job. 

Working remotely and carefully managing your other expenses could easily save you closer to 10 thousand dollars a year, especially taking into account expenses like child care. It can also enable you to take on additional jobs that can help you pay down your debt.

Additionally, remote work can make it possible to move to places where the cost of living is lower. The impact of this can be profound. If your job allows you to move to a small town rather than a large city, you can often buy similar housing for less than half of what it would cost in a city. 

Additionally, many other costs are far lower the further you get away from major population centers. While such places can be boring, depending on how you entertain yourself, they can be a viable option for saving money and getting rid of debt. However, this is much harder to accomplish when you are forced to go into an office every day.

Better Use of “Waste” Time

The final benefit of working remotely is what it lets you do with dead spaces in your schedule. When regularly going into an office, you’ll find that there are certain times of the day when you really can’t do anything useful, but you are expected to pretend to be working anyway. 

For instance, if you have a 9 o’clock meeting that usually lasts 15 minutes and a 10 o’clock meeting, there is often little point in trying to get anything done between 9:15 and 9:59, since by the time you get into a flow state, you will be interrupted by the second meeting. Due to the incentive structure in a typical office, you may well find yourself stuck at your desk, pretending to be busy for 45 minutes. 

While there are ways to use the time effectively, many office schedules seem designed to eliminate the kind of periods of quiet focus that are required to complete difficult work.

However, if you are working remotely from your house, those 45 minutes can prove extremely valuable. It’s a great time to put food in the refrigerator to thaw for dinner, put in a load of laundry, or even just get up and stretch without everyone looking at you like a total slacker. 

Because remote workers tend to be judged based upon their productivity (rather than their presence and ability to pretend to work), you can actually complete small tasks that help you. 

While I’m not advocating doing a lot of personal stuff during work time, there is some value in doing a few small tasks during time that would otherwise be completely wasted during the workday.

Additionally, because your meetings are conducted remotely, you can also recover at least some of the time wasted in useless meetings by muting your microphone and continuing to work. If your employer regularly requires you to attend meetings that are a complete waste of time, this can be a great time to be productive.

It’s unpleasant to have your time wasted at work, especially if you are required to work more to finish your assigned tasks. It feels like you are subsidizing your employer’s bad practices with your personal time because you are. Working remotely provides options that can help you use your time more wisely.

The Benefits of Remote Are Worth It

There are a lot of possible advantages that working remotely can confer. While many people grasp that the practice is advantageous, it’s often hard to truly quantify just how advantageous it is. 

Not only does it give you more free time and save you money, but it changes the way your work is evaluated in rather profound ways. It can also help you deal with difficult situations in life, including medical, financial, and family issues. 

Finally, it can keep your job from wasting valuable time during the day. Remote work is about far more than just working at home. It’s about making a life that works for you rather than against you.

About the author

William Gant

William Gant is a software developer who has been working in the industry since 1998. He has worked with dozens of different programming languages in a wide variety of programming environments, as both an employee and as a consultant. In addition, he has owned his own business, been heavily involved in several startups and is currently half of the Complete Developer Podcast, among numerous other things in the development space.