Article | 16 Months Remote, In Review

16 Months Remote, In Review

I lived 30% of my working life 13,000km from home

Last year, my partner and I moved to Canada, mainly to explore the other side of the world from New Zealand. We wanted to be away one or two years, but we didn’t have funds to do that without working.

Fortunately, Abletech was keen to have their second go at having someone work remotely.

Getting started

I had been working at Abletech for about 18 months, and I’d worked with people from Abletech for around three-and-a-half years. While I knew I was working with some of the best people I know, I still wasn’t sure how remote work would work. I did some reading on the subject, and found many contradictory opinions and experiences.

After a bit of discussion, we came up with three things that would be necessary in order to make remote work as much of a success as possible:

  • Join a co-working space — there was a prevalent opinion that doing so would help with staying focused and engaged in work, while also keeping some face to face interaction in my daily life

  • Organise work pre-emptively — this would be important to keep me busy

  • Catch up weekly — so that we can iterate on any problems we encountered on either side


During my time in Calgary, I worked with three different clients with very different setups;

  1. Large team of Wellington-based front-end developers, doing Angular in a kanban stream fashion

  2. Small team of (mostly) Wellington-based developers, working on Ruby microservices, using scrum

  3. Medium-sized team of dispersed developers, working on Elixir microservices and React frontends, using SAFE

One important commonality between all three of these projects is that I’d had previous exposure to the parties involved.

The large team Interacting with this team was a breeze. We used Slack, in real-time, and were able to communicate clearly and promptly. Initially I had difficulty keeping busy but we resolved this by improving the story pipeline for our team. Out of the three clients this one had the most amount of friction, due to their networking which resulted in a functional, but slow working environment.

The small team I had previously worked with this team and overall it was good after some teething trouble. I was working with some codebases I was familiar with, and some that I was not. Unfortunately the ones I was not familiar with, were the ones that I needed to spend the most time in. To add further pain, the expert in this codebase left this client’s company about a week after I started the work.

It was difficult to get up-to-date with the business logic as I had to find people who could answer my questions. My timezone was offset by a few hours so doing this proved a bit challenging. Once I’d figured out this information, I slid into a good routine. Their scrum backlog was well maintained which made the workflow slick.

The medium-sized team Projects with this team were my main source of work for the 16 months I worked remotely. We covered a number of different projects. Initially I wasn’t at all familiar with the codebases, or business logic. I spent more time getting information, and clarifying requirements, than expected. Also, I had some teething issues in getting enough work queued-up for Fridays, which were Saturdays in New Zealand.

We tracked these issues with weekly catch-ups and things improved as time went on.


The bad

As alluded to above, not everything ran smoothly all the time. Issues usually boiled down to running out of ready work and becoming too blocked to continue. These issues would usually be quick to resolve in-person, in-timezone. But doing so remotely, in a different timezone, was challenging at times.

My solution to these issues ended up being ‘time leniency’ on both sides. In order to oil the engine, so to speak, I would spend a small amount of time, late at night, answering questions, asking questions, and ensuring there was work ready to continue the following morning. Sometimes this night-work wasn’t necessary. Other times it was a five-minute job or a half-hour meeting at 10pm. This was a fair solution for me because the advantages of working remotely outweighed this inconvenience.

The good

By spending that time making sure I was ready for the next day, I was setting myself up for convenience and success. Usually I could start work at a time of day that suited my partner and I. If I had to run errands in the morning, or if I needed a little extra sleep that day, I would simply start a little later. If I was feeling fresh in the morning, I’d get started early and finish early, so that I had more time to spend in the evening relaxing and exploring the city. Not only did the flexibility leave me feeling much healthier in terms of work/life balance, it was a balance that I could adjust on the fly as necessary.

Abletech was very happy for me to take holidays and explore. The main purpose of the trip was to travel around Canada & USA. We took multiple trips totalling around three months. Our last roadtrip lasted about one-and-a-half months and spanned the whole east coast of North America. This was a once in a lifetime experience for us. I couldn’t have done it without Abletech being generous with the time it took.

Ups and downs balanced

By operating out of a co-working space, I was also able to meet local people and become more involved in Calgary. It was much easier to feel ‘at home’, in a working sense, by having somewhere to go each day.

The timezone difference between Calgary and New Zealand varied between four and six hours (plus a day) depending on the time of year. While introducing this gap added challenges, it became less of an issue as all parties became used to it. When the gap was only four hours a day, I could work a little later in the day, and have very similar hours to those in the office in New Zealand. That was pretty comfortable.

After getting past teething issues in each project, remote work operated very smoothly for me. The advantages outweighed the disadvantages considerably. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.


My suggestions for optimising working remotely would go back to the three initial points I made in this article. But stick to them fiercely. The better you can apply them, the better the outcome in my view.*

  • Disclaimer: Your mileage will definitely vary.

It’s helpful to know the people you’ll be working with, before you start working remotely. It may have been more difficult for me if I was not familiar with my three teams.

Communication is very important. It could potentially cause trouble if you don’t get it right. A word or an emoji gone awry could be an issue, especially with people you don’t know.

My experience as a whole

Having now worked remotely for around 30% of my work-life I can say it’s been a time of good learning for me. It was an extremely valuable experience and allowed me to grow in ways that I didn’t expect it to.

I’ve become more confident about making decisions within my realm, and more confident about deferring decisions that need to be discussed further.

I value communication more. I’m now more comfortable talking to those I do know, as well as those I don’t know. I’m an introvert so this is an accomplishment-and-a-half for me.

I know more about how I like to work, what drives me, what motivates me, what keeps me back, and how to deal with these things.

That’s not to say that working remotely caused all those improvements but I believe it sped up the process. I’ve matured as a developer and as a person.

In terms of travel, we were able to see a significant amount of the west and east coasts of North America. We saw the Canadian Rocky Mountains and surrounding areas. We tried new things like snow-mobiling, skiing and snow shoeing, and had a blast. These are memories I’ll cherish forever.

Somewhere in the wild, Golden, BC, Canada

Somewhere in the wild, Golden, BC, Canada

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Sulphur Mountain, Banff

Sulphur Mountain, Banff

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

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