For the first time since September 13, 2010, I am no longer a remote-first employee. Wednesday was the first day back in the office. Well, it was the first day ever in the office for my job I started two years ago. So things are a bit interesting right now.
As per policy, I can’t talk about my employer, and none of what I say is their policy at all. I speak for myself, etc. I will need to dance around a few things here, so bear with me. I should also go back and explain a bit about why I’ve been doing this for roughly a decade longer than the rest of you.
OK, so when we got here in 2008, I was a commuter. I was actually a long-haul commuter, because I’m in the most northwest part of Oakland, and I used to work in San Jose. This was just under 40 miles, but you would be damn lucky to do it in under an hour. From fall of 2008 until spring of 2010, I did this every day. This was at Samsung, and we technically could not leave the building with our machines, use any sort of USB media, or connect to a company network from outside the building. Work from home was not a concept in the company whatsoever. I think I drove about 50,000 miles in that time period. The good news was podcasts and Audible were first becoming a big thing. The bad news was traffic got progressively worse as the internet boomed.
In 2010, my old boss Joel asked if I wanted to come back and work for him again. I said no, because I couldn’t move back to New York; I’d just bought a house. He said don’t worry about that. Work from home. Name your price. Fly out to New York once a year to eat on the company’s dime and see everyone, but otherwise he trusted me, and when could I start. Ironically, my last day was September 10th, and my first was the 13th. I installed FrameMaker in a VM, cloned the old repo I last touched in 2007, and I was fully remote for the next decade.
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At my old job, it was easy to be remote. Even when we were in the same cube farm, we were largely remote, because we never talked to each other face-to-face. Joel wasn’t into meetings, and most of us sat on an internal IRC server, chatting back and forth on our day-to-day there. We were also way ahead of the curve on using Jira and wikis and all that. When half the team relocated to Boston, we barely noticed. Other than time-shifting three hours earlier to match their hours, I had no problem locking in right away. These were people I’d known for a decade, and we’d practically gone to war together. This was easy.
Well, it was until the company went sideways and everyone left. They decided to do a big “pivot to cloud” thing and I started managing and I was in this weird lurch where people wanted me to drive to Palo Alto all the time, but I’d get there and none of my team was there. I’d waste three hours fighting traffic and get to this corporate campus where everyone had an office and their doors were always shut. The ship was already sinking there, and I won’t go off on a tangent on that one.
So I jumped to the new place two years ago. Once again, I will skim over the details there, but it was fully remote. They FedEx’ed me a laptop and did everything on Zoom and Slack, and I kept powering away just as I did before, even at the same desk with the same monitor and keyboard, which was a bit weird.
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Anyway. While I was gone in Vegas, an email went out, and the company went from a remote-first joint to a mandatory report-to-the-office two days a week, going up to three. There are two sides to this, and obviously as a manager I have to say this is great, and face-to-face collaboration is awesome, and something something synergy. There’s obviously some feelings about having to take time to commute to an office where none of my direct reports work and, like, talk to people. And my schedule was pretty much set up so I would start work at six in the morning, and then quit at maybe three and get a few hours of fiction writing in. It’s been a few years since that’s happened, but now it means a shift to the schedule again. I’ll shut up about this.
Wednesday was my first day back. I took the BART to Embarcadero, went to our new office, and worked all day. And I hate to sound like a return-to-office apologist, but it wasn’t bad. My commute is not horrible. The office is nice. They had lunch. But there were a few specific things that I enjoyed.
First, I have never worked in San Francisco. Honestly, in the 15 years I have lived here, I have probably only been in the city maybe two or three dozen times. I usually have maybe one or two runs into the city per year to go to a museum with an out-of-town guest or whatever. I honestly have almost no geographical knowledge of the city whatsoever. But taking the train there, getting out of the station, seeing all the tall buildings… it gave me a certain rush to feel that I was here. It reminded me of when I was a kid and would go to Chicago and have that sudden feeling that I was in a real city, that there were hundreds of thousands of people around and that things were happening.
Also, as much as I was being a contrarian about how face-to-face collaboration worked, I probably ended up straightening out more stuff before lunch than I’ve fixed in the last two years. But more than that, I need to get out of my head and get around people again. I have had this horrible interpersonal drama I can’t entirely get into, and I think a lot of it is from just ruminating around my condo, not being around people. I think a change of scenery will be good to me. I’m sure I will get sick of this once the trains start to fill up and break down. And I have no idea what to do about the writing thing. Write in the morning? Write during lunch? I don’t know. I’m not writing now, so…
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The bike. So, I bought a bike. I have a choice of commuting to SF or Berkeley. The Berkeley office is closer to my house mile-wise, but it takes like an hour to get there on a bus that stops at every block. The train is ten minutes door-to-door plus the time it takes me to cover the mile or so to the station on my end. But I can bike to Berkeley in maybe a half hour, so that could be a nice way to break things up in the summer. I also got $600 of credit on exercise equipment from work, and that includes buying a bike.
I ended up buying a Cannondale Topstone 4 alloy from REI. I wanted a more commuter-oriented bike, but this gravel bike is honestly a better fit for me, and I like it a lot. Of course, I get it and the temps drop and it rains for two weeks straight. I’ve only had it out a few times, but it’s a great ride and a good way to get exercise and out of my own head a bit. Once the weather is not horrible, I’ll look at maybe going to the office once a week with it, and maybe taking it to the train station if I don’t want to take the bus.
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Seems like there’s more to talk about, but those are the big parts. Sarah’s in Ireland right now, and then Spain, doing family stuff. I am solo for another week. Lots of guitar, lots of writing, I hope.