Is it the future? I dunno.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an on-going culture war about working, and the impacts it has had on businesses across the world. Some people call "work from home" (WFH) or "remote work" the way of the future, while others condemn it, saying it's going to ruin the creativity of businesses across the world.
In the last three years, I've been subject to a mix of working; I struggled to make ends meat, so I worked in person. I got a new opportunity, so I worked remotely from home. I lost that position, so I worked in-person again. Now I'm back to remote working. Before the pandemic, I would have never even thought about full-time work from home.
I have been in a wide variety of working environments, and while I see the merit of working remotely, I unfortunately believe that working from home is not the key solution for everything. There are too many manual processes involved for most businesses, that I could never see it fully going away or being fully automated. The only businesses capable of ever being fully-automatic in manual labor aspects would be mega-corps who can afford to actually buy the robotics to do the automation. Which we're inching closer and closer to every day, sort of.
That being said, mega-corps aren't the only ones doing business, and if they did, we'd be in trouble. So fortunately, there's still a large number of businesses out there who need people. I happened to be a part of a few of them, and there are some experiences I miss about being in-person, and some things I really don't miss at all.
I used to work for a warehouse doing various digital things. I was sort of an expert in my area, even though I really didn't want to be. I wasn't paid enough, and wasn't recognized for handling more than I should, so I eventually left and called it quits.
It was here that I got to reconnect with real people my age coming out of a pandemic. It was masks-on every day for the entire duration, until the policy was removed, then there was a COVID scare, then masks went back on. I went on a vacation at one point, got COVID myself, and basically lost days of work because of it. I didn't get paid for any time off, because my company didn't give time off for anything.
But, for the time I spent, it was nice hanging out with people I got along with. The negative aspect was my boss, who was a power-tripping psychopath who thought he was better than everyone. We made pennies compared to him, and at times when I would do his job, my completion of his work would go dully unnoticed.
I scoured for jobs the entire time I was working there, because this certainly wouldn't be the place I would work in until the day I died. It took about a year, and it was a real challenge. I eventually got a new role, which was thankfully fully-remote. I gave them notice, asked them to match, and they couldn't match it in the slightest, so I left.
I miss a couple people from my old team and still try to speak to them, but I don't leave my house often enough to see them. It sucks losing out on some work-friends when you leave a job, but it's just how it is.
This was my first WFH role I ever had at this time, so things were certainly different than what I was previously used to. I'm used to putting in a solid eight hours of showing up and doing whatever I'm told; working remotely is a lot different, where you're given more freedom to complete assigned work. But the hard part is getting assigned work.
The first few weeks of being introduced to a new team is all about finding your groove, and figuring out where you fit. Seeing long task storyboards with different names attached to different things is an odd feeling. Then you hit the Git repositories and see about a hundred different projects, some with completely blank
README.md files. Then you find multiple group chats of people chatting about random issues throughout the day or chatter about football.
It sucked. Nobody held my hand to really give me a good tour. I had one coworker try his damndest to get me in and operational. This is one thing my in-person boss did great; on the first day, I was operational, online and accomplished work. But even after two weeks I didn't feel like I found a single unique use-case for my skills in the team.
My ideas were dismissed, and common practices in practical software engineering were sort of ignored. We had sketchy code, poor practices, and little-to-no code reviews in sight. If you fixed something and it "worked on your machine", then it was accepted. There was little practical testing, no mock runs to simulate slower computers or latency networks, no test-driven development, no fleshed-out APIs or documentation. Nothing. It was pretty bad.
Within my first two months, I was brought into a meeting with some team leads and was notified that I would be let go as part of a wave of dismissals, due to the company's poor performance. CEO wrote a sad letter, hundreds of people lost their jobs, and I was back on the hunt. It was here that jobs were again struggling, since the big-name corporations announced waves of layoffs due to over-hiring from pandemic-induced business drives.
So, I went back to in-person labor.
I joined another warehouse and did more digital things. It wasn't fun. I didn't have anyone my age to speak to, and conversations were mostly only about business or duties or whatever. I did a lot of manual labor as part of my duties, and drove home in traffic each and every day.
There were some use-cases of my programming abilities, but I kept it to a minimum this time. The last position, I exposed my capabilities to create new products and technology, it didn't end up in me getting better pay. So I didn't do it here. Guess what? It worked out fine, because I still didn't get paid more either. I saved myself headaches, and they were none the wiser. I used my own tools for my own needs, and told nobody. Life goes on.
On the first day I joined, I was still looking for new work. It feels like that's just the meta now for almost anyone working; always look for new jobs, and step up. You don't owe anyone anything for working for them - they don't own you. Go where you are paid best. I didn't want to be a serial job-hopper when I grew up working, but here I am now, recognizing that life is, unfortunately, very short. Businesses will preach the family-business motto, but I've never been anywhere where that has actually held up.
After a while, I left after receiving another offer, and the company couldn't match, so I left. This is like my third job since the pandemic "ended", so here I began a new adventure.
This new position that I ended up in was at-first supposed to be a hybrid schedule of some days in, some days out, but as it turns out, I'm one of the lucky few who just don't have to go in at all. At least for now.
This time, the organization I work for is more extreme and a little overboard. There's Git repos, JIRA boards (a lot), dozens of teams, hundreds of employees, meetings like crazy, and the best editor I can use on a regular basis is still Vim. With no plugins, though.
So obviously, the WFH aspect is nice, and comfortable. No long commutes to my job site, no wasted down-time before I can get back to quality family time, and eating from the comforts of my private kitchen. I can actually respond to package delivieres instead of them leaving notices on the door.
But I might be crazy, in that there's some things I miss about in-person working. I can't directly connect with someone a few doors away; I have to hope they're online, and if not, send them an e-mail they might read on the next day when they return. People are on different schedules and timezones, and collaboration is difficult. I don't really enjoy daily stand-ups each and every morning at the crack of dawn either. I'm not mentally awake, but because of timezones, I guess I don't really have a say.
For the most part, it works. This time around, I wasn't sent a computer, and I'm completely okay with that right now. The last one I got was so powerful, but so clunky and bad, I don't even want to think about it. I think the approach we use know with digitalized desktops is much safer and easier to apply identity and access management (IAM) to.
I guess it's sector-dependent, but I don't think WFH will stick. My prime reasoning: real estate landlords.
I worked in real estate for a brief stint, and real estate is such a fundamental economy for the worst reasons. It's the equivalent of a dragon hoarding gold in a cave; people will hoard deeds and ownership of literally anything they perceive as valuable, and hold it for as long as they can afford to. Career landlords are awful people and look to monetize every possible square inch of property they have.
In corporate-grade real estate, like office buildings, these are only sold in bulks of 5-year, or 10-year leases. Businesses perceive this as "savings" when they get a slight discount, but they never saw a pandemic coming, and those who locked in very long contracts are left holding the bag.
Despite many companies hiring like crazy to meet whatever invisible "demand" metric they drummed up in their spare time, somehow they feel adding more employees remotely didn't add more revenue to their company, and begun spinning people off with layoffs, or telling everyone to come back to office so they can continue to micromanage them to death.
I've seen it first-hand and can see that work-from-home isn't going to be something everyone can do. There are going to be companies that have lines of business where automation isn't cheap enough to replace the human work ethic. And in some cases, some businesses would probably prefer to use human labor over automation, simply because it's easier to talk to humans every day than it is to talk to your robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) motor army.
I think it comes down to two sides of a double-edge sword.
In some aspects, I feel it's actually easier to work with remote employees than it is in-person employees. Remote employees need to learn tools to collaborate efficiently, like using JIRA boards and doing merge requests for Git interactions. I understand not everyone in the world uses Git, but the precedent Git sets is that it's actually not that hard to collaborate with a few actions on a command line. If all work could be made as easy as Git, then remote work would no doubt pop off.
There is obviously a certain need for people to go into work locations, because the lines of business depend on it. Lawyers can't work from home when they gotta go to court, and plumbers can't digitally touch piping systems. Remote work stands to only benefit those who are highly-skilled digitally, which sucks, but it is what it is. I would sooner switch over to a governing system that instead paid people for simply breathing, and would tax the crap out of the ultra-rich, so we don't have to work ourselves to death as a part of a slave-wage system. If I were issued monthly funds as part of a universal basic income (UBI) system, I wouldn't be so afraid to quit jobs I didn't like. I would have more time to take off and spend with family, and I could work as I chose. It would benefit the career-driven and reward them more, and still allow people who didn't like work to just live. Isn't that crazy?
But, we do not live in that fantasy, unfortunately. Would be nice!
Like I said, I didn't grow up wanting to become a remote worker. I wanted to work in a big coproration in technology as a young twenty-something and make a name for myself. That didn't work out as planned, though. Now I'm camping my 30's still not working for big corporate.
The best advice I can really give to anyone is: you gotta be ready to level yourself up in different ways. Not every major in college is going to let you live a comfortable life, and if you went to college for something that doesn't let you live in a big city, that's okay, it isn't your fault really. It's the world we live in. But, the best part about your experiences is that you can carry them with you.
Digital skills are important with growing up, and learning more digital skills makes you more invaluable as a worker. Typing speed, internet abilities, and capabilities to learn new subject matter is a strong requirement. Absorbing new information fast is a good skill to have, but not something anyone can just learn overnight. You have to train yourself a lot.
To do so, I'll recommend some resources for where to get started.
With enough dedication and hard work, you can probably become qualified to work remotely in a matter of months, depending on how good you are. Some companies may be hesitant to hire someone who only has a few months of experience, but becoming a domain expert in your realm is important, and the more professional you sound and more you believe in yourself, the more a company will believe in you to be the one they need.
So, that's my thoughts on remote working these last few crazy years. If you can do it, try your best to keep it, before it's wrestled away from you. If you don't think it's for you, then that's perfectly fine too. I don't think remote work will be here to stay for very long, but we can enjoy it while it's here at least!