Why remote work could be the wrong choice

July 28, 2022
Working in Tech
David Turnbull

I made a career change to tech when I was 30 and since then I’ve spent almost the entire time working remotely. It’s given me freedom and flexibility, helped me avoid horrible commutes, and let me spend more time with my young children. But if I could go back and start my tech career over again I would do things differently. I would work in an office.

There are clear benefits to working remotely – flexibility, the lack of a commute and so on. But you are also missing out you’re not in the office, and that’s further compounded when you’re new to an industry. You want to get up to speed quickly when you’re starting a new job, build your new professional network, find mentors, get to know your colleagues, learn about the industry, the products and competitors.  All of these are more difficult to accomplish when you’re not working near your team.

Example time

Imagine you were about to graduate from university or college and start your first job. It's Monday morning so you head to the office and meet everyone on your team. You start working with them on projects, get to know them, and eventually start to figure out how things work within the company.

Now let’s consider an increasingly common alternative. It’s Monday morning. You sit in your bedroom, open up your new company MacBook and log in to Slack. You click through an HR onboarding web app and get a bunch of Slack DMs saying “Hi, it’s great to meet you”. And then you get to work, typing away in silence in your bedroom.

If you’re like me then that experience sounds terrible. You wouldn’t want to start your post-schooling career like that. So if you’re changing industries, why would you want to start your new career like that?

There’s so much you need to learn when you’re starting in a new industry, and the bulk of it won’t come from blog posts or books. It comes from working alongside your new colleagues and managers, seeing how they work, how they deal with customers, product issues, and so on. You miss out on much of this when you’re working remotely. If you have a task, then you do it, and if you need help, you can write a Slack message or try to arrange a call, but it’s not the same as being there. 

If you’re success-oriented and get a remote job at a company with a mix of remote and in-office employees then it’s an even worse scenario. It's going to be tough to progress up the ladder when the rest of your team is working side-by-side, grabbing coffees and lunches together while you are basically an avatar in a project management app. Yes, promotions and progression should be based purely on the quality of your work and nothing more. But this is real life, and as adults we know that’s not how it really goes. And you don’t make want to make things harder than they need to be. 

1 is the loneliest number

There’s another aspect that is less career-focused, but equally important. Remote work can be lonely, especially when you’re changing careers. Your old colleagues are busy with their lives, and you’re not part of that anymore so it’s likely you’ll hear much less from them. You'll have times where you feel a bit lost, have questions or need some advice. But meeting and finding a connection with new colleagues is going to be a struggle. I know this first hand. I spent the bulk of my days working alone. The only contact I’d get was Slack messages or the odd video call. I’m fairly introverted by nature but even that has its limits – I do actually need to speak to people occasionally. And yes, I could go and work at a cafe but it’s not the same. Ten seconds of small talk as you buy a coffee is not going to make up for all of those spontaneous conversations you have when you’re working alongside colleagues. And let's be honest, I live in Sweden so I don’t get any small talk when I order coffee. 

Yet I do it anyway

Am I saying remote work is always bad, or never a good choice? No, not at all. I still work remotely. But I do think it held me back. I don’t believe it’s the ideal choice at the start of your new career. You need to build up your skills, network and career capital first, and that’s so much easier to do in-person. My advice, for what it’s worth, is to try and get some real time with your team in the early days of your new career. Whether that means you’re working at the office, or have a hybrid mix of work from home days and office days will be up to you.

David Turnbull
Founder of Metamorphous
Since changing careers to tech in my late 20s I've worked in B2B SaaS growth and was a partner at an ecommerce company that was ultimately acquired.

You can work in tech.
I'll show you how.

Join my free newsletter. Every week I'll send you free resources & actionable advice to help you make the move to a rewarding, highly-paid tech career.