Remote Work Advocate interviewed Adam Smith, of, on issues relating to remote work that many remote or hybrid employees often face, including overworking, flexibility and the possibility of going back to the office.


RWA: How did you begin to work remotely?

So, my partner Elise and I have been working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic. I’d been working in a traditional office capacity in New York prior to the pandemic, which presented its own unique challenges.

I was already experiencing overwork while working in the office at that time. I was traveling from the Financial District to Times Square, which is a 45 minute commute, give or take. It’s not the longest commute ever. However, I found that just rushing to do things in the morning was super exhausting. I was not grabbing a worthwhile breakfast a lot of the time. I had concentrated iced coffee in my refrigerator, and I would pour out a travel mug of that. Then I would dump some milk in it, grab a granola bar, and rush to the train station.

After getting dressed and showering, I’d speed walk the 15 minutes to the train station.. Getting into the office in the summer in New York, one tends to be all sweaty in your office clothes, and you have to towel yourself off in the bathroom before you start your first meeting. It’s just not very graceful. 

When the pandemic hit, there was a lot of that stress going on. My partner and I decided when they put the lockdowns in that we were going to take a temporary trip. We were both told by our managers it would be “two weeks to stop the curve”and to work remotely. We luckily were able to get one of the last flights from JFK airport to Palm Springs, CA. The flight immediately after ours was grounded due to lockdowns.  We started our journey from there, and ever since, we’ve been working remotely. 

RWA: Would you go back to the office right now? Yes or no? 

No. I can’t imagine doing that at this point. I tried it for a couple of days upon visiting New York in September, 2021. I would sit, staring at my computer, and nobody would really track my attendance either way. You couldcome in whenever you want. I guess it’s nice to have snacks around. However, you’re also investing in commute time, and that makes a tremendous difference when you’re working.

RWA: How to prevent overwork while working remotely?

The biggest determiner in overwork (while remote working) is if you normally would have an hour commute, you’re basically losing at least 10 hours of your life each week to that commute. Working remotely, your first instinct in the morning may be to check your email inbox. , Is it really in your best interest? Since we’ve been in pandemic mode for so long, maybe some of your Gen Z or younger audience may have never worked in a physical office. 

However, you’ve got to spend time on yourself before you start work. It’s okay to peek at your emails, but don’t spend the most valuable hour  of the morning checking your inbox.

I think this is also a  matter of remote work etiquette where you have to set your own boundaries.

There’s also been a lot of like un-channeled use of Slack. And it’s a great platform if it’s used correctly. However, if you have notifications going off on your desktop left and right, people are posting different channels and tagging you in  @ mentions and tagging you. That’s something that you have to mitigate. Part of it is adjusting your Slack notifications, so that you only get a notification if somebody directly mentions you.

That’s one way that you can mitigate that. I even put in my status, “Please DM me vs. @ mentioning me.” It was very direct, but it worked. 

Also think about time blocking. When you’re blocking out your week, you’ll have meetings, and you’ll have one-on-ones, and other things in your calendar, perhaps doctor’s appointments you need to attend, things of that nature. If you truly don’t want to be bothered, and you want deep focus time, which is super important, especially for office work and more heady kinds of fields like analytics and such or marketing, which I work in, you have to have at least a couple hours of deep focus time within a day. Sometimes the only way to achieve that is justputting up your Do Not Disturb on Slack.  Maybe you could even set up a vacation responder on your email that says, “I’m engaged in a project at this time – I’ll respond to your email at a later time during the day.”

In your calendar, block out time as busy. If you use Google calendar, nobody can book a meeting with you during that time period. 

RWA: Have you ever felt overworked because of remote work? 

I absolutely have. This is not meant to shift the blame to employers, but it does come down to what’s being passed down from the workplace. It’s a symbiotic relationship. There’s the work that the employer distributes to staff, which of course, they need to get done. They need to make their bottom line revenue and numbers. I sympathize with that. So it’s one thing if your boss is literally asking you, can you stay past 5 PM, to work on this project? That’s where you have some leeway, where you can ask if it’s an emergency. It’s up to you to set boundaries as an employee. 

Do you say, “Okay, well, if this isn’t an emergency, then is this something that we can tend to tomorrow? If not, please tell me why,” and let them address that? If it’s not, then you can always refuse the meeting or task. That’s in your power. 

If somebody sends you a message after hours, do you need to respond to it at night when you’re eating dinner? No, you don’t. You can always respond the next morning, unless it’s something that’s truly urgent. You can even set a calendar reminder to yourself. That’s a good way to get out of that urge to respond.If I were in a physical office, I would be heading home right now to eat dinner, and I would leave my work there.

An easy out is just letting people know you are not available, especially if you’re a parent. I can’t speak as much about that perspective because I’m not a parent, but I work with a lot of parents. I’ve seen parents that set good boundaries. My parents,, especially my dad, did not when I was growing up. The culture in the 1980’s and 1990’s is that you went and you worked as long as you were told to, and maybe you pleaded to get some time off to go to your kids’ baseball game or school function.

The world’s changed, and a lot of employers tend to be more flexible as long as you ask them and you communicate that, especially with tech companies. I’ve witnessed a lot of parents that say, “I’m going to a PTA meeting, or I have to tend to my newborn baby.” If those things are so important for your daily life, why would you sacrifice that just for work? Paternity and maternity leave have become more of a focus. Alongside that, companies are considering that parents have a life, and can’t be constantly on.

RWA: Does remote work lead to being overworked? 

A phrase that comes to mind here is “with great power comes great responsibility.” Being your own boss is one of the hardest things that you can do. There’s a lot of personal responsibility involved in having the flexibility that you wouldn’t expect. Everybody is all about it until they get it, and then they’re like, what do I do with it?

At a bare minimum, to make sure work’s getting done,  how many hours would you be spending in an office per week? I’d say at least 40,  so that’s, that’s like the minimum I set for myself.  Am I putting in 40 hours of work during the week, no matter if it falls in a 9-to-5 time block?

If you have a doctor’s appointment, or you have to go out with your kids, find a way to make that time up and make sure that your team is supported. This applies especially if you’re a team leader. 

So, go to your appointments or events, but make sure that you make that time up. Make sure that you’re tracking it for yourself and make sure that you’re checking the boxes and ask, “are all the projects that I can get done today complete?” When you hit that hour mark within the day, your laptop should be closed for the night. 


Inspired? Check out the RWA story, interviewed by Adam himself.

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