Remote working

I spent thirty years commuting to work and back: from a fifteen-minute drive to my first job to a couple of hours on the train every day when I first came to Switzerland. The beginning of 2019 saw a huge change for me; having an office close to where I live, and gaining the freedom to work wherever I want to be.

When I moved to Switzerland, I quickly took advantage of the superb public transport network to commute into the mountains along a highly picturesque route. Years later, my work took me on a daily commute to Bern instead, first by train, and later by car. My career as a web developer meant that I needed to go where the employers were back then, and I enjoyed offsetting the intense concentration and busy days with the opportunity to spend a little time to myself during the daily commute. The view was certainly not to be sniffed at.

The wonderful view from the commute to Brienz between 2001 and 2008

It was only when I worked for an agency which was more connected to the world outside the valleys of the Bernese Oberland that I was able to begin working from home from time to time. Even in the early- to mid-2010s, trusting employees to get a full day’s work done without supervision wasn’t as common as you might expect, and so proof that my work could be done just as efficiently at home took centre stage.

Later, my leadership of a team of young developers for a year-and-a-half meant that I usually needed to be on-site. The forty minute drive home meant that I was rarely home before 7.30 p.m. Working from home for any length of time led to administrative issues, as the team needed hands-on guidance, so I continued to drag myself to the office.

When I discussed joining Say Hello at the end of 2018, I wanted to free myself from the shackles of the traditional office-based, “nine-to-five” ethos. I’d seen more and more freelancers and friends at progressive agencies freeing themselves to work in a much more efficient way, and the appeal of working at home, in client offices or even abroad was very appealing. I’d finally had enough of trailing back and forth to the office every day.

Keeping active

It took a little while for me to adapt to the freedom I’ve gained. I worked at home quite a bit during the first couple of months of 2019, but I quickly found that remaining in the house all day led to inactivity. This, in turn, caused minor health issues. Sitting at a desk all day without a break started to cause problems with my legs, and I started gaining weight. I decided to start working in the office again – less than 10 minutes away by bus, or a 30 minute walk – to ensure that I have a modicum of exercise every day. After a good year in 2019, I was able to invest in an e-bike this year, which encourages me to increase and maintain my levels of exercise even more.

Walking home from the office in Spiez during January 2019

Communication with colleagues and clients

I came to rely on Slack in 2017 as a means of inter-office communication at my former employer, and it helped to show the full value of a shared chat room instead of the usual bilateral email chains. By carrying out project discussions in the shared online chat room, it became much easier for everyone to remain informed and to look back over ideas and decisions, even when working elsewhere or when returning to the office.

Alongside the independent and cross-agency Slack channel Nico and I set up for WordPress enthusiasts in Switzerland, using Slack at our agency gives us the opportunity to exchange amongst ourselves and with clients and external colleagues. The shared discussion tool ensures that we can remain up-to-date on projects and social exchanges, even when we’re working in different locations or at different times, and using two separate channels for internal versus external discussion allows us to provide any working partner with access to dedicated discussion boards.

The ubiquity of online video calling for work purposes is a boon – most commonly through the use of the free Google Meet technology for multi-user calls. The real advantages became most apparent for the first time in summer 2019, when Nico, Joel and I were each working in a different country without any noticeable change in our efficiency. The ease with which one can have a quick exchange with a colleague in the same office is maintained by hopping on a spontaneous video call. (Because we’re usually working within the same timezone, we still tend to end up working similar hours to each other.)

Working wherever it makes sense

Rent-a-desk in England

Being tied to an office and a desktop computer leads to the routine of organising meetings, planning your time to avoid inefficiency, and being unable to work properly when not in the office. Working as a developer – in particular for a lightweight CMS like WordPress – means that it makes much more sense to work using a laptop.

Since 2017, this has meant that I can hook up my Mac laptop to a desktop monitor and keyboard when I’m in the office, but continue to work when I’m elsewhere. Thanks to the use of Local as a WordPress development environment (“virtual machine”), I can work on projects even when I have no internet connection, be it on a train, plane or even when I just don’t want to be distracted by messages or social media. An investment in an unlimited data mobile phone subscription means that I don’t even need wifi any more: I just need a 3G or 4G mobile internet connection.

The flexibility of being able to work “wherever” took me to agencies and client offices in Zurich and Bern several times in 2019. This approach has proven how much more efficiently projects can be wrapped up. Sitting in the same room as a client or project partner saves the need to create to-do lists; where the final round of change requests used to take a day or more, occasionally leading to miscommunication, the changes can be implemented much more efficiently with the designer sitting next to me.

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