A working from home experiment

For the last year, I’ve been commuting from Cambridge to London. The office is near King’s Cross station, so on a fast train with no delays, it’s about 90 minutes each way – or about 15 hours of commuting a week. Turns out, that’s quite a lot!

About a month ago, I got home on Thursday evening, and I was exhausted. I’d had severe train delays that week, and I was crying tied. I worked from home on the Friday, and I finally realised that the amount of commuting I was doing was unsustainable for my long-term health. Something had to change.

With agreement from everyone at work, and encouragement from David and Camilla on Twitter, I’ve started working from home for one day a week. I have a nice home office, and my team is set up to support remote development. I’m very lucky – from a practical standpoint, it’s easy for me to work from home.

What are the benefits?

There are several reasons I want to try this.

I’ll spend less time commuting. Just the free time I get back from an extra day at home each week is significant. Over the rest of this year, I’ll get back five days of time. That’s time to do other things – cook a nice dinner, spend time with friends, work on a personal project – that I’m often too tired to do after three hours spent on trains.

It breaks up my week. I’m working from home on either Tuesdays or Thursdays, so I never have to spend more than three consecutive days on a commute. On the off days, I can get some extra sleep, and still start work at the same time.

It’s not as disruptive as moving to a new flat. I’m often asked “Why don’t you move to and/or closer to London?”, which would be another way to reduce my commute. But I’m happy in my current flat, and moving would be a big upheaval compared to a bit of remote working. Maybe I’ll be forced to move to London eventually, but I want to try this first.

I want to try regular remote working. All of my jobs so far have been on-site jobs in offices, but a lot of companies are work entirely remotely, with no office. The two lifestyles are very different, and I’ve never tried the latter. This is a way to dip my toe in the water without total immersion, so I can decide if I want to go fully remote in a future job.

Not being in an open office. Like a lot of places, Wellcome has an open office, which I know some people find harder to work in. I don’t usually feel like an open office is a problem for me, so the quiet working space is less of a benefit – but it’s another reason to consider working from home.

What are the risks?

Before I started, I knew this would make some things more difficult. These are the challenges I was more worried about upfront.

The impact on my mental health. When I’ve worked from home before, it’s often been at short notice – for example, when the trains to London aren’t running. These days consistently end with me feeling miserable. I think it’s a combination of the unpleasant surprise, and the loneliness of unexpectedly spending the day on my own.

I’m hoping that if I plan it in advance, I can avoid some of that. Being at home will no longer be an unpleasant surprise, and I can make plans to see people for lunch or in the evening.

Communication with the rest of the team. The rest of my team (currently) spend five days a week in the office, and we have a lot of in person conversations. It’s easy to keep up with what we’re all doing. When I’m in the office, I’ll lose that visibility and the casual conversations. We’ll need to make more use of tools like email, Slack, and GitHub to stay in touch.

I don’t end up taking the day at home. Right now, I don’t have a fixed day to work from home; I’m choosing it on a week-by-week basis. Because it’s not a regular fixture in my calendar, there’s a chance I may end up skipping it, which defeats the point – I need to be disciplined about booking in that day, and following through with it.

So far

I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks, and already I feel much better. I’m less tired at the end of the week, and I have less dread about commuting on the days when I do. If you can work from home for a day or so every week, I’d recommend giving it a try.

As with all big changes, this probably came three to six months after I really needed it, but I’m glad I’m doing it now.