Working From Home Isn’t for Everyone, but It Can Let You Live a Different Life

Within a matter of days, I found myself among many people doing the same thing I have for the last two years: working from home. Except instead of by choice, many are doing it out of caution over the coronavirus pandemic.

Which is probably I reacted defensively the morning of March 10 when I first read the title of a New York Times column by Kevin Roose, titled, “Sorry, but Working From Home Is Overrated.” I might have sounded too defensive: “Not for people who want to work in states where there aren’t as many journalism opportunities!” I tweeted in response.

But then again, I forgot in that moment where I was when I first started working remotely: in a suburb north of Boston, where I was becoming depressed and lonely in the living room of my one-bedroom apartment.

It would take roughly a year for me to figure things out and find my happy place, which is why I feel strongly that, under the right circumstances, working from home can be transformative, if not for work but life, which, in turn, made me better at work.

A little over two years ago, I took a job as an associate editor at CRN because the idea of covering technology and specifically semiconductor companies and the Internet of Things from a national perspective was too good to pass up. I also got a good offer.

But just as importantly, the job was being offered as a remote position, even though I lived in the same state as my employer’s main office. The idea of not having to take a 50-minute commute on the subway (which I previously did) sounded super attractive, and I didn’t have a car at the time, so I didn’t need to worry about getting to the office, which could take up to an hour-and-a-half for a one-way commute on the highway.

The problem, as I learned in my first several months on the job, was that working from home by yourself can be a very lonely experience. My wife, Stephanie, worked in downtown Boston, so I would go from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or even 7 until I saw another human being again. It was just me and my two cats, who are lovely but also a bit cheeky. There wasn’t even a good coffee shop within reasonable walking distance.

Stephanie and I knew that we wanted to move back to our home state of Maine eventually, but we didn’t know how we could pull that off with her current job. Most of our best friends were still in Greater Portland, and most of our family was in Maine too.

I only had a couple of friends in the Boston area, including my brother, who saved me from being completely lonely. But the problem with metropolitan areas is that they can be so spread out that getting together with people can feel like a major task. It’s difficult enough to make friends as adults. Distance just makes it worse.

The Turning Point

We initially projected it would take years for us to move back to Maine, but then during the holiday break in December 2018, Stephanie had enough. While we were enjoying a stroll in Portland with my family one night, she pulled me aside and whispered, “we’re moving back to Maine next year.”

We were both prepared to find new jobs and for me, a new career if it came to that so we could move back to Maine.  It was less of a problem for me; at the time, Maine wasn’t included in the list of states my employer allowed remote work from. But after my wife asked permission from her employer and I asked permission from mine, we were suddenly clear to move back to our home state two months into 2019.

Moving back to Maine was a happy occasion, but it was tinged with sadness. The day we looked at the apartment we ended up with, my grandfather died after a short bout of illness. Less than a week after we moved into the apartment, my other grandfather died. But it was bittersweet, because while my family lost two wonderful people, at least Stephanie and I were living closer to them when they needed us the most.

And that’s one of the main reasons I love living in Maine: being closer to my family and my friends. It gives me peace of mind knowing that I can see my grandmother, my mother and her boyfriend or my father and stepmother on fairly short notice. I have also been able to reconnect with people I’ve been friends with since at least high school, and those friendships have bloomed again into something deeply meaningful.

There are a couple other things I also love about Maine: it is small in terms of population density, and it’s beautiful. Those two things combined means that I don’t need to get stuck in traffic to go to the beach. Or go to a park. Or go to a harbor. Or go for a hike. It also means that nowhere ever feels too crowded, even during peak tourist months.

I may not have some of the benefits of working in an office, like the serendipitous “collisions” with co-workers that can lead to sparks of creativity. But being able to work a job I like in the place I want to live means my employer gets to keep me for far longer. And most importantly, I’m happy here, which I bring to work with me every day.

The conversations around working from home, especially right now, seems to be mostly focused around how to make remote employees more productive and creative. But what’s missing from that conversation is how giving employees the choice of where they live can make them happier, which, in my experience, has made me a better employee as a result. There’s also something to be said for letting employees live in areas that aren’t nearly as expensive as Boston, New York or San Francisco.

Now, I don’t want to make working from home sound like the cure-all. For one, some people do prefer working in an office environment, which can be beneficial not just for productivity but also keeping work matters separate from personal lives. There are also those who already work where they want to live and don’t need a home office as a result. And I cannot forget all of those who have jobs that cannot be done remotely.

But with certain fields, like technology, being concentrated in metropolitan areas, there is an opportunity to more evenly distribute opportunities and give people more choice with where they want to live.

After 2.5 Years of Covering Boston Tech, I’m Leaving BostInno — Here’s Why

I'm the second-to-left person in this photo. The other folks in this photo are Jibran Malek, Kyle Gross and Allan Telio. Photo credit: Jibran.
I’m the second-to-left person in this photo. The other folks are Jibran Malek, Kyle Gross and Allan Telio. Photo credit: Jibran.

Here’s something I wasn’t expecting to happen so quickly into 2018:  I am leaving BostInno at the end of February after covering the Boston tech ecosystem for two-and-a-half years.

The reason? I have accepted an offer to work with CRN, a 31-year-old publication in Westborough that covers the underappreciated yet essential world of “technology solutions providers.” I will start March 12 as an associate editor covering Intel and the Internet of Things, which I know fairly well through my work.

It was not an easy decision to leave BostInno. Since I started here in September 2015, I was given a lot of latitude to follow stories that personally interested me and, as a result, gave readers a view into how I think about the world of tech startups. Some of my favorite stories were when I took the time to dive deep into a subject or uncover information that the public was previously unaware of.

It has been a job of great privilege, and not just because of my role as someone who puts a spotlight on the vast array of things happening within Greater Boston. Through my time at BostInno, I have met a great number of incredibly intelligent people who are willing to risk many things in order to build something new — and sometimes life-changing. It has also been a humbling experience to learn about so many different kinds of technologies and businesses — one of my favorite parts of the job.

While I don’t think my time with the Boston tech scene has completely come to an end, I will leave people with one takeaway for now: We need a lot more truthtelling. When people are on the top of their game, they scream about it from the rooftops. But when they aren’t, they usually refrain from talking about it. I hear a lot of talk about the importance of transparency in this city, but it’s often applied selectively.

Alex Steed, a friend and colleague in Maine (where I grew up), put it best when he wrote, “If we are only being boosters for what we would like to see happen, what are we missing on the ground regarding what is actually happening?” This has been his main criticism of the Maine startup ecosystem that became especially relevant when a central community figure was found to have abused his position of power.

That’s something I have been thinking more and more about as a journalist. If we are only writing about funding announcements, groundbreaking technologies and successful startup exits, what are we missing? Who is getting hurt? Whose stories are we not hearing? What unintended consequences could technology have? What don’t we hear from the companies that have raised tens of millions of dollars in capital?

That’s not to negate the truthtelling that has already been happening. The Boston tech community, for instance, has been very outspoken about the importance of immigrants in our ecosystem as the White House looks to close up our borders and spreads hateful rhetoric about those deemed as “outsiders.” I’m also appreciative whenever someone is willing to share with me a difficult or challenging experience.

While I have attempted to start answering those difficult questions with stories I have worked on and have been working on for the past few years, I believe I have only cracked the surface of what could open important conversations in the years to come. Ultimately, it’s not up to one person to bear this responsibility but an entire community.

I have countless people to thank for helping me on this journey, including those who helped me get this job in the first place: Galen Moore, Alex Weaver, Kyle Alspach and Leslie Garbarino. Because of you, I was able to move from Maine to Boston and resume normal life with my spouse, who had already been in Boston for school. I also need to thank Kyle Gross, William Flanagan and Geoff Shaw for continuing to support my work. There’s no doubt that this has been the most defining point in my career so far.

For those wondering what this means for BosBattle, the media property I started with my wife Stephanie MacDonald last fall to cover Boston’s video game industry and culture, that is not going away. While BosBattle has been quiet for the past couple of months, we are currently in the midst of recording the first few episodes of our interview podcast, which will be the sole focus of BosBattle moving forward.