We moved away from the city

When me and my girlfriend Veronica moved to Linköping to study at the University the plan was never to stay there permanently. We just moved there to study but the longterm plan, if you can have one at that stage, was always to move back to the north of Sweden where we came from.

After 8 years in Linköping we’ve now lived a little more than a year in a small community in the north of Sweden, so here’s some of the experience of moving away from the city out to “nowhere”.

Getting a remote job

We liked Linköping more than we thought, so when we were finished with our studies after five years we stayed and found some work. Veronica started teaching at a school nearby and I got a job as a software developer, at the place I had interned twice before.

Before I was finished with school and before starting to look for work the boss at the company contacted me and wanted to hire me. At least I hadn’t made a fool out of myself during my time there. As the plan was still to eventually move north again I made this clear from day one and asked about the possibility of remote work. While it wasn’t something they usually allowed, we agreed that if I worked 2 years locally and showed I was capable it should be possible.

Taking the promise in good faith, and as I liked my time there, I accepted the offer. After all I could always try to find a new job if the remote option wasn’t on the table when we decided to move.

When the time finally came for us to plan our move up north, it wasn’t just for me to start working remotely (as you might expect). While I had proven to be capable, and I got the support of the bosses, it was still hard pressed for me be allowed to work remotely. There were a lot of bureaucracy which almost made it all fall out in the sand. I even started looking for other companies and I was super clear that I would leave if we didn’t reach an agreement before a certain date.

In the end we came to an agreement that I would stay with them (we also discussed the possibility of me starting a consultancy business), but I could work from home. Before me moving I had also tried out working remotely during December and working from home one day a week.

It was very important for me to find a remote job, since there are no on-site jobs for a software developer here. The only other options would be to change my profession or to start my own software company. Neither appealed to me at the time. Veronica is a teacher and she didn’t have any problem getting hired.

Working remotely

I’ve only been working remotely for a year, so my thoughts on this might very well change. I’m also the only one working truly remotely, although we do have offices all over the world and we communicate a lot via mail and audio calls.

These are the most positive things about remote work for me:

  1. Fewer interruptions

    One of the things I hate more than anything is when you’re working intensely, achieving a valuable flow-state, and you get interrupted for trivial reasons. My favorite is someone coming to ask if I “saw the email he sent.” There’s no possibility of them coming to disturb me when they’re at least a thousand km away.

    Yes there’s still possible to get disturbed by digital notifications, but they can be managed by turning them off, hiding them or ignoring them.

  2. Zero commute

    I never realized how much time went to commuting. Even though I only had 30 min to work, that’s still 1 hour of every day or 5 hours per week almost wasted. Now I have less than a minute from my bedroom to my office.

    Of course it’s still a benefit to go out and take some air before you start to work—but I also have that option. Sometimes I go with my kid to kindergarten which gives me that small physical movement and fresh air that’s so beneficial for you.

  3. My own office

    Having my own office is amazing, not only because I can be alone, but because I can do with it whatever I want. For example the standard at work is to have two computer screens, but here I can have as many as I want—I have three.

    There’s no noise in my office, while in Linköping there were always people talking (and sometimes dogs barking!) or people playing loud music. Instead I can fill it with whatever music I want, without having to wear headphones all the time, or just enjoy the silence when I’m trying to solve a difficult problem.

    I can fill my shelves with Lego buildings and I don’t have to organize my desk just because someone else wants me to. Not to mention my small home gym right outside the office.

  4. Freedom

    When you work in an office you can’t really do whatever you want. For example some might be offended if you show up to work with pyjamas pants. (Veronica almost goes nuts if I use sweat pants, let alone pyjamas pants.) Although I’ve never done the classic “work without pants” I have enjoyed working in pyjamas pants :)

    While you might be able to workout continually during the day on-site, it’s mostly relegated to doing some push-ups sometimes or going to the gym during lunch. I can do a few weightlifting reps, work a bit, then do some reps more and spread out my workout during the day. It also doesn’t matter if I get all sweaty—there’s nobody to take offense.

    Finally while it shouldn’t be frowned upon to take a short nap during your break (there’s even a dedicated resting room at the office in Linköping) it can be looked down upon if you do. Well there’s nobody here to judge me if I do take a power-nap or build some Lego during my breaks.

And of course there are negatives to remote work:

  1. Less social interactions

    Even though I’m definitely an introvert, and don’t really enjoy social events, I really do miss the social aspect of working in an office. I know it’s always being brought up in these “pros/cons of remote work” posts—yet I still didn’t really understand it until I experienced it myself.

    In Linköping I used to play fighting games with a coworker during our afternoon break, something I do miss now. But also the small things like cracking a joke or just nodding to people you pass in the corridor are valuable.

  2. Self-control is more difficult

    While I find it easier to find time for focus time, or deep work time, I also find it’s more difficult to have 100% focus on work when working from home. It’s just so easy to be distracted by one of my hobbies or something at the house like the dishes.

    Mostly it’s the less interesting tasks, or less challenging tasks, that I have more trouble focusing on than the hard problems. If I work at the office then I don’t really have much to distract me, other than going to a coworker for a chat, but at home there are simply more possible distractions.

  3. Knowledge isolation

    While it doesn’t bother me that much I do feel more isolated now. I don’t really know what’s going on at the office, or with the company at large, or what other people are up to. I assume this is one reason why people say to look for companies where everyone work remotely, not just a few.

It’s important to consider these points within the context of my work. In lines with the ideas of deep work, that you should focus on the tasks that provide the most value and prioritizing focus time on them, I have tried to position myself as someone who can focus on the problems at hand with few distractions.

For example I don’t coordinate people, which requires a lot of interactions and running around trying to get a hold of people. I will of course help people if I can, but if you want my help I do require you to have done some work to try to narrow down the problem. Otherwise it’s easy to spend hours trying to replicate the problem, or even getting their setup up and running, only to find it was a different problem entirely.

This kind of work, with a big emphasis on focus time, mashes well with my perceived strengths and weaknesses of remote work. I don’t think it would work well if I was a manager, who would fill the day with shallow work (it does not mean less important work, it’s just a different type of work) and relied more on being “in the know”.

I’m also not working remotely 100%, I do travel to Linköping about once every second month for a week at a time. Although it’s not so nice to be away from Veronica and Isidor a whole week it absolutely helps offset the lack of social interaction at work. I’m not even sure I would like to work completely remote, unless I could offset it with social activities on my free time. And of course I do talk to people at work too—I talk daily with the guy I’m working on this project with for example.

All-in-all I do feel the benefits of working remotely outweigh the negatives for me.

The benefits of moving

Given the prerequisite of having work, I feel two major benefits of our move:

  1. The cost of living

    The house in the towns of Sweden have risen dramatically the last years, starting around the time we moved to Linköping. But where we live now the house prices are stupid low, so low that people don’t even build new houses because they’re not valuable enough to get a good loan to build them.

    We bought our house for, I kid you not, 1/10th of what a colleague of mine bought a smaller house for in Linköping (a while away from work). With the rising house prices it’s almost worth 15x by now. Granted it’s a much newer and fancier house, but that’s still a lot of money. And it’s not like we bought a shitty house either—it’s older but it’s in good condition.

  2. We live near our parents

    Because we have our 2-year old son Isidor, it’s extremely helpful to live near our helpful parents. They help us fetch Isidor from kindergarten, take him for walks, babysit him when needed and just generally help us in various ways.

    When talking to other couples who don’t have their parents they always remind me what a luxury this is. They’re probably right.

Veronica also didn’t like the weather in Linköping and prefers the colder climate here in the north and likes the slower tempo of a smaller community. I’m personally not too bothered and I would like it either way.

What we’re missing from the city

I liked Linköping more than I thought I would. Before moving there I always thought I never wanted to live in a city, yet now I think I might even get comfortable in a larger city. There are a couple of things we miss:

  1. More activities

    In a city there are more clubs, more workshops, easier to find people to join my weird hobbies and there’s just more things happening. For example I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Linköping, but there’s nothing similar near us now. I used to play a lot of Android Netrunner (a collectible card game) and boardgaming, but that’s also much more difficult to organize here.

    For kids there are just tons of sports and other hobbies in a city. When we were little kids either did ice-hockey, football or basketball. Nothing much has changed on that front.

  2. Friends

    As we lived in Linköping for 8 years we had made friends there that we now moved away from. I guess this is just how it is when you move, but it’s still something I miss.

  3. Restaurants

    Maybe you could say this is an activity, but it’s worth singling out as both I and Veronica misses the option to go out and eat—we both love food after all. We didn’t do it that often, and we do it much less now when we have kids, but it’s still nice to have the option. Here we have a hamburger place, a pizza joint and a fancier restaurant a little bit outside. Otherwise we’d have to drive at least an hour to find a nice restaurant.

  4. Hospitals are far away

    Because of cost savings the hospitals have been centralizing into the big city hospitals. We do have one here, that’s too small to be called a hospital, where you can get help for some things. But if there’s something bigger we need to travel either one or two hours. For example when giving birth we’re looking at a 2 hour trip by car (or 1.5 hour if you’re in a hurry!)

There are other things that we’re missing out on, like all the clothes stores downtown or really fast internet. But those are minors that I really don’t care much about.

Do I like it here?

Yes, I do like it here. I could imagine myself staying in Linköping, but it made sense for us to move and it still does. So far the pros outweigh the cons, and I don’t expect that to change.