One Major Indirect Benefit of All-Remote That No One Told You About

6 min read | by Wil Spillane 
Man Tired with Glasses

I’ve worked remotely on and off for over a decade. I was traveling from coffee shop to coffee shop around the United States before I knew it was a way of life for many. In other jobs, I had to connect to public Wi-Fi available at sports arenas to work from my seat in section 110, or I had to bring a MiFi along for a bumpy ride through the swamps of Florida. Even with all of this time as a remote professional, I never really understood the benefits of working remotely until my last cycle of “remote, not remote, now all-remote” work that I am emerging from.

There is a significant difference between being a remote or telework company and being an all-remote company. Today, I work for GitLab, a complete DevOps platform delivered as a single application and one of the largest all-remote organizations on the planet. What’s the difference between being remote and being all-remote? The difference is in the details of how I handled a migraine at GitLab.

In the week leading up to the end of the year break, a period usually reserved for “crunch time” overworking before a holiday in a traditional company, I had a killer migraine. Instead of trying to find a place to hide and stressing over what meetings I could ditch, I did the only thing I needed to do to take care of myself — I logged off and laid down. There were no questions from my colleagues, no hiding in small dark closets, no need to go home. About 30 minutes later, I was back at my desk and working.

The reason my story was clear and simple is that at an all-remote company like GitLab, we work asynchronously, or whenever you feel you’ll do your best work. Because of this, the volume of meetings is low and helps us prioritize documenting work and processes so that others can review them when they’ve identified the best time for their workday. In fact, this workflow is outlined in our Remote Manifesto

Because we work asynchronously and default to documentation, I was able to log off and disappear for the time I needed to recover. There was no added stress or anxiety around figuring out how I was going to bail on a meeting or where I was going to hide, eliminating the co-occurring mental and physical health concerns that drive instability in my wellbeing. If I had been working synchronously in a co-located setting, my quick recovery would not have been possible.

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Traditional Telephone Booth in London
The “call space” wasn’t always available, and even if it was, I was often interrupted by colleagues who didn’t know the space was occupied because the door was closed and the lights were turned off.

At my last office job, we had a tiny closet turned into a “call space” that had no windows. When I would suffer a migraine in the office, I would try to schedule this space so I could disappear for 20 or 30 minutes while I sat in the dark working overtime in my head, rearranging my day or week to accommodate the pain. The “call space” wasn’t always available, and even if it was, I was often interrupted by colleagues who didn’t know the space was occupied because the door was closed and the lights were turned off. Isn’t suffering from a physical health ailment, like a migraine, enough without the additional stress and anxiety at work?

When working in an office, any ailment, nevermind a migraine, adds a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety to the already existing physical pain. I’m not just trying to deal with the sudden pain of a migraine, but the stress from figuring out how to deal with the sudden pain. I would think to myself, “Could I skip my next meeting? Could I send the strategy deck later today instead of now? Could my co-workers see my eyes twitching? Will this impact the way others see me?”

This combination of physical and mental health concerns can create an expensive and severe feedback loop. The Center for Disease Control in the United States says the costs for treating people with both mental health disorders and other physical conditions are 2 to 3 times higher than for those without co-occurring illnesses (source).
 

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Women in Bed Sad or in Pain
The Center for Disease Control in the United States says the costs for treating people with both mental health disorders and other physical conditions are 2 to 3 times higher than for those without co-occurring illnesses

There are a ton of benefits to working at, or starting your own, all-remote company. We talk about these benefits a lot at GitLab, and I’m thrilled to see that the conversation around all-remote is starting to pick up steam. Being 100% remote allows GitLab to practice our values every day. The same values that helped me make that clear and simple decision to log off and lay down to better triage my migraine.

Truth be told, that decision isn’t very clear or simple in traditional work environments. What we’re taught about careers and the workplace doesn’t gel with human nature, and there is as much to unlearn as there is to learn. Like my company, I, too, am iterating towards a better me, taking care of my mental health, and striving to make more of those clear and simple decisions. 

While it might seem like one of the indirect benefits of being all-remote includes being able to handle a migraine better, that’s just the exercise of a benefit. The real benefit no one told me about, that I had to learn for myself, was that being all-remote allows me to make clearer and simpler decisions around my work and my life, helping me to seek these decisions out more often.

The benefits of remote work are increasingly easy to understand. As remote work gains mainstream popularity, it’s essential for those of us who have worked in this space to continue talking about why working remotely is still the future and to share the stories that it has enabled for our lives and our careers.

Footnote:

While we’re discussing physical and mental health concerns in a traditional or all-remote workplace having different perspectives and outcomes, the truth is that both of these experiences are more privileged than what others outside of the professional workforce endure. From retail and waitstaff in the United States to factory workers in Asia, many jobs suffer from worse working conditions and longer hours than professional office careers or all-remote companies. The small closet I would lock myself in during a migraine, while a bad situation, is a privilege many workers around the globe aren’t offered and would look at as a positive experience. 

It is vital for those of us who have experienced a positive change in our lives because of remote work to remember how privileged this position is and how we ought to use it to better the lives of people.

Originally Published by Wil Spillane on Friday, February 28, 2020 - 08:10 | Updated On Friday, February 28, 2020 - 10:56

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