Is Remote Work the New Normal for DBAs?

An intriguing Office Hours question came in through my PollGab room.

Anatoli asked, “Is remote work the new normal for DBAs? What are the pros / cons?”

I happened to be teaching an online training class yesterday, so I asked my attendees where they were attending the class from.

The vast majority – 27 out of 30 students – were attending the class from home. Now, naturally the audience represents a biased sample, because not everyone’s employer is generous enough to pay for my training classes. It’s possible that this audience represents a luckier group than average.

Just out of curiosity – not for any scientific purpose – I also posted a poll on Twitter that specifically called for folks who are DBAs:

I’ve been working remotely for almost two decades, so I don’t want to answer the pros & cons part – but I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, in the comments. What have been the pros and cons of doing DBA work from home?

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50 Comments. Leave new

  • As someone who is very environmentally sensitive, I have yet to see a downside to working from home. Fluorescent lights hurting my eyes, constantly freezing from air conditioning, motion and noise distractions hampering my ability to concentrate, postural stress from a crappy modular desk: these all disappear in my home office because I’m in complete control of the environment, and I’m so much more productive.

    Reply
    • I really never had a problem with distractions in the office. Being drawn away from your computer for 5 minutes an hour is probably a good thing. After the pandemic is a different story though as I’ve obviously got used to working from home with fewer distractions. I feel that I get a lot less done in the office than at home now.

      Reply
  • The cons are… no opportunity to “make friends” in the office, being less visible in my successes outside of my team, difficulty in getting urgent attention from others, and being unable to listen in on surprise things that wouldn’t otherwise have been disclosed. Also a lack of privacy, you can’t have any off-the-cuff conversation when it’s all carefully recorded in Slack (and maybe Zoom, who knows).

    The pros are, the pandemic has been very tough on me and I’ve been able to hide it from the comfort on my home (and often, bed) instead of having near-constant breakdowns in the office, which continue even after the bulk of the pandemic is considered “passed” (despite the still very real and serious threats of infection and long COVID).

    Reply
  • Nic Neufeld
    June 28, 2022 2:05 pm

    After our offices reopened (after an expensive remodel turning them into fancy “collaborative spaces” and whatnot), I went in one day just for the novelty of it. Got very little done beyond conversing in person with a handful of other curious coworkers who were likewise making a pilgrimage in.

    I’m sure I’m changed, too, to the point I might not be able to adapt again to the office. I’m at a point that I feel the sting of annoyed interruption when I get a Teams chat message while working on something complicated…heaven help me if the desk phone starts ringing or a person just ambles over to my cubicle and starts small-talking. I mean, I like people (fact check: mostly true?) but sometimes you need a bit of warning before being wrenched out of execution plan analysis with a “hey how’s it going?”.

    So yeah, in-person is a non-starter for me. We only get so much time on Earth, and yeah, a lot of it we spend working, but I don’t intend to spend much more on commuting. For all the horrors the pandemic brought, one silver lining is that the industry was made to realize that remote work does, in fact, work pretty well for a lot of jobs, including database administration.

    Reply
  • I work from home 3-4 days a week and 1-2 in the office. I still need human interaction and enjoy going to lunch or having a beer with folks after work.

    Reply
    • good news

      you can get human interaction outside of work

      there are things called “friends” and “relatives”

      the more you know™

      Reply
      • And knowing is half the battle

        Reply
      • where’s the upvote times a thousand button

        But I still understand dbacat. Friends and relatives aren’t always there

        Reply
      • I get your sentiment but it’s flawed, not everyone has those things and work is a route for some people to acquire them

        Reply
      • I like you Brent, thought there is no question you are an arrogant asshole at times. This is one of them.

        Reply
        • Just to be clear – you’re saying I’m an arrogant asshole for suggesting that people get friends outside of work?

          I see.

          Let the record show that I left your comment on the blog without censoring it. Good day, sir.

          Reply
    • I’m with you. I mostly work from home but go in on Fridays because I’ve got a core group of work friends that head to the pub for lunch for a couple of pints. I mainly go into the office to be social. I definitely get less done on the days I go into the office.

      It probably took a year to get used to collaborating online but I think we’ve got the hang of it.

      Best thing about WFH:
      Easier to focus
      Lunchtime naps
      Being able to tidy up here and there,
      No commute time
      I make coffee my way
      I can work in my pajamas

      Downsides:
      Takes a while to get used to online collab.
      Harder to start in a new job and get to know people.
      No meeting rooms or travel between meetings? Unlimited meetings to fill every minute of the day!
      I find having to have the camera on all the time difficult. Luckily my current boss doesn’t push for it to always be on like my last boss.

      Reply
    • David Osberg
      July 4, 2022 3:06 pm

      I agree with dbacat. Work friends are important and Wfh is a bit lonely.

      Brent as a longtime Wfh person you probably have habits and patterns to support that life style. A lot of us weren’t able to develop those new habits because of the pandemic. Thus your comment was a bit insensitive.

      Reply
      • If your paycheck and your support network both come from the same place, you will be suicidal when your job disappears.

        I hear you that you have the problem. You need to hear me about the solution: it’s critical for your personal well-being, not to mention your long term financial safety, that you get support from somewhere else, too.

        Reply
  • Don’t have a Twitter account…..work from home full time. I love it! I was in effect working remotely anyway, the office I would go to is not the headquarters so most of the people I work with regularly were in another city so I was still remote. Then the pandemic came along and the company found out IT could work just as efficiently from home.

    Reply
    • John Ballentine
      June 28, 2022 4:27 pm

      Exactly my situation too – I work less with the people that sit around me than I do with people at other locations. While I’m sympathetic to the argument about actually seeing people in person, I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
      My schedule is 1 day in the office (which is optional), 4 days at home, so I believe I’m getting the best usage. On the day I’m in, I know I’m going to be less ‘productive’ because I’m talking with people in person, but I also can transfer large files without having to download them to my home.
      At my location, there are 3 people that work at the office 5 days a week, 2 of them have to and 1 wants to. 2 others are “I’m coming into the office when you can take my remote connection out of my cold dead hands”, and 2 others that are in several days a week.

      Reply
  • Too many family distractions at home (probably because I don’t have a dedicated office). I get more done and like the occasional face-to-face collaboration with other teams in the office.

    Reply
    • Corey Hambrick
      June 28, 2022 4:35 pm

      In my town we have a small group of people that have bought some office space. You can procure some space through paying monthly or if you just wanted to come over like once a month, they have a coffee bar, they have some private areas for meetings, they offer wifi or you can bring your own, and more stuff. Really interesting idea to me. Just makes a great place to still be close to home and get some face to face with humans if you need that interaction. I work from home myself and love it but have thought about occasionally just going over to the space and seeing what it is like. Just my 2 cents.

      Reply
    • A dedicated home office. That makes a huge difference. For me, working from home means working in the living room. Going to the office is much better than that!

      Reply
      • That’s a really good point. When the pandemic first started, a lot of folks had sheer pandemonium because they didn’t have that dedicated home office. I salute them, especially the ones with families – that was a heroic time.

        Reply
        • Yeah, we were told not to come into the office for two weeks in March 2020. Then we were told were were staying home for a month after that. Then we were told we were coming back to the office in September. The date kept getting pushed back, and pushed back and pushed back, and I was working from my gaming PC and RDPing into the system in the office over a VPN… with cats racing across the keyboard and using my personal cell phone for everything…

          When they announced we were WFH forever I finally set up a home office and went to get my work PC and dual monitors. It’s not perfect but it’s amazing (and made my cats very sad)!

          Reply
          • P.S.

            DELETE FROM IMPORTANTTABLE Wu#ed[return]

            😉

            It never happened, but I was very worried that someday I might have to say “I’m sorry, the cat ran a delete without a where statement…” LOL

          • Dan J Carvin
            June 29, 2022 4:17 am

            All the more reason to use BEGIN TRAN

  • The biggest con from remote work is that, as a DBA, I have very little visibility to upper management unless something goes wrong. My concern is that this might color perceptions of me and my work. I’ve started trying to go in at least a few times a month so I can get a little bit of extra, non-problem visibility since management tends to work from the office most of the time.

    Reply
  • Pro: My wife is between my home office and the coffee pot, so I get to look at her multiple times per day 🙂

    Cons: None

    5 years of full time WFH

    Reply
  • Robert Sievers
    June 28, 2022 4:29 pm

    Pros of working at home; No commute, more flexibility, theoretically just as easy to get work done. Cons of working at home; more distractions, less meaningful interaction.

    The reality is that being in the office I get more done. I’d rather work from home, but not being able to communicate face to face really elongates otherwise potentially simple problem fixes. But my case is a bit different in that our office setup isn’t some big cube farm.

    Reply
  • I have been WFH since 13 Mar 2020. I have found that by eliminating MBWA, managers have to actually engage me formally to ask about what I do as opposed to making assumptions based upon who is in my cube at any time. It is actually an improvement to keeping the prioritization of my work square with management. Good fences make good neighbors. Cube walls make terrible fences.

    Reply
  • I work for thu guvment now and we have to go in. I was just in the breakroom talking with some folks, I was saying, I might put my hands on a server once a month.
    When I worked from home covid times, without question they got more out of me.
    My wife leaves at 5-5:30, I don’t go back to sleep, I start working.
    She gets home at 5-5:30 and I stop. When I go into the office, I get in at 8 and leave at 4:30. In/out the office, it won’t matter if you don’t trust your people fire ’em, they probably aren’t working regardless.
    When I started working IT I worked for a disaster recovery group, a summer job that turned into a 10 year career move. When I left, without question my team was more productive from home. Higher close rate and shorter resolution time with a 92% customer satisfactory rating. At first there was a small drop in productivity when we moved to work from home. They kept us at home anyway, they got to rent out our floor, so they were turning profit regardless. After about 3 months it was back to normal numbers. After a year, up by +5%. After two years we were pushing +14%. It was a hard working environment and that organization lived by metrics. With their love of profit margins there is no possibility they weren’t better off with us working from home. Problem is selling upper management on that… 🙁

    Reply
  • Pro: I have a couch in my office which I did not have in the cubicle, I don’t have to leave my dog alone all day, I don’t have to deal with the high pitch squeal from the AC fan that no one over 40 could hear but drove me to need noise cancelling headphones to do anything, if I ever switch jobs I can stay in a city I like rather than moving, being less distracted and tired has led me to be far more productive and innovative than I ever was in the office.

    Cons: I’ll get back to you

    When my company announced return to office there was nearly a revolt among the DBAs until it was revealed that it didn’t apply to us. I’ve heard people publicly (in team meetings) threaten to quit if we return to the office and every member of my team has said the same to me privately. I think enforcing in-person time at the office is a complete non-starter, I would never take a job at this point that didn’t guarantee full time remote permanently, you couldn’t pay me to come back to the office.

    Reply
  • I suppose I’m in the minority but my company is remote but also offers the ability to work in the office. You have to reserve a desk but it is pretty nice being able to choose. Some days I feel like being home, others I feel like getting out and in the office, even if no one else is there.

    Reply
    • During the pandemic the massive office was practically empty. The subsidised coffee shop and restaurant were still open though. I only live 3 miles from the office and there was 0 traffic. I don’t miss all the bad stuff about the pandemic but I do miss having the office practically to myself!

      Reply
  • I started a new, 100%, job as a dba in January, and I love it. I have to go into the office (4 hours away) once a quarter, but even that’s not too bad as they put me up and comp my meals. It’s definitely a lot nicer to just roll out of bed and log in when pager alarms go off than to have to drive into the office in the middle of the night.

    Reply
  • As a kid, I never hoped to work in an office. Working remotely allows me to do what I love and control the environment in which I’m working, including temperature, lighting, background music, inside/outside, the window, grilling fresh fish for lunch, etc.

    The top business benefit from my perspective, is a larger resource pool. Several members of my immediate team live more than an hour of the primary IT office (including myself). Now, payroll has a list of states that are permissible for employees to live in, and there’s only a few that are not permitted.

    The top drawback for me is I live in the country so I can’t really run errands during my lunch break. The top corporate drawback is paying for more VPN bandwidth and/or licenses… or perhaps it’s the ergonomic policies that are collecting dust.

    Reply
  • I work primarily from home because my company abandoned their lease in late 2020 because of Covid. However I personally would like to return to the hybrid work that I was doing before Covid: 3 days in office, 2 at home. I personally miss the office relationships and discussions.

    However with current gas prices I’m happy to work from home to avoid some of that expense.

    Reply
  • Yeah, I used to drive 40 minutes in the morning and an hour in the evening to go sit at a desk to work on SQL servers a two hour plane flight away. When the pandemic hit, my company went all WFH. I do NOT miss the commute.

    Pros: No commute YAYAYAYAYAYAY I’m particularly happy to avoid the gas prices. I feel like I can avoid distractions when I need to by telling Slack to shut up and let me concentrate, while if I were still in the building people would burst into my cube for “quick questions” that would inevitably end up horrific time sinks.

    Cons: Not leaving the house for two years has turned me into an agoraphobic cave troll. 😉 Joking! I do have friends, but the pre-vaccine days were pretty stressful…

    Reply
  • Francesco Mantovani
    June 28, 2022 8:03 pm

    In my previous job I was only 5 metro station to the office and I was glad to go to work every day.
    I’m now moving to a job outside town and I will be at office only 2 days a week.

    pros&cons of work from home?

    PROS: less time wasted in transport; less money wasted in food; more time to bring kids at school
    CONS: If you don’t go to office there is the chance you miss stuff that are discussed in front of the coffee machine and are actually important; I discovered that I cannot detach myself from work and I easily find myself working at 10-11pm. And I’m not paid for that! So yes, I taught I was going to work less but I work more. Need to address that…

    Reply
  • +1 to what Russ said. I am likely in the minority but miss the office comradery. Not quite the same over zoom. Maybe I should investigate coworking office spaces.

    Reply
  • Bearded Bard
    June 28, 2022 9:24 pm

    Our small data services company adapted to 100% remote during lockdown. We’ve gotten pretty good at getting things done just as efficiently with slack, zoom, jira, confluence wiki’s, and Miro boards. All PROs across the board for me… Well, I personally like REAL, PHYSICAL whiteboards better, but then again, I’m an old, old, old-timer. And, real eye contact is helpful sometimes when things might otherwise get misinterpreted in these “hyper-sensitive” times we live in. Hard to misinterpret a twinkle in the eye and a smile. I have ZOOM-RBF… it makes me look angry when I’m not. I’m just squinting to read and trying to keep up.

    Reply
  • Keith Brockman
    June 28, 2022 10:03 pm

    I feel working from home makes people 100% efficient and less than 20% effective. To clarify it is easy to perfect efficiency as one operates on the knowledge they have and are ignorant to what they know they don’t know and what they don’t know they don’t know. In other words, it is a ground hog day efficiency that leads to little or no paradigm shifts. If one looks at the communication pie chart less than 5% of communication is words. With majority of people having their camera’s off and are busy it is really hard to push folks into a paradigm shift. As you can guess I work 100% from home and feel trap in the 18th century and not the 21st century which should be more innovative than the 1980’s.

    Reply
  • Bearded Bard
    June 29, 2022 12:22 am

    Oh, one more thing… …I guess it’s a CON: I’ve gained a few pounds working so close to my own kitchen. But, I’m still in shape! Pear is a shape! :pear:

    Reply
  • Stephen Chapman
    June 29, 2022 6:49 am

    I was stuck working from home for 4 months during the initial UK lockdown and I found it to have a really negative effect on my mental health. Not being able to converse with anyone face to face or even see “real” human beings day after day really affected me. I was able to get back into the office and even though there was regularly only two or three of us in (in an office of forty-odd desks) just that little bit of interaction and hearing other people speak was fantastic. I found working from home permanently very isolating and I was getting into a very bad place.
    I know WFH works for a lot of people but for a good number of us an office space to work in is essential.

    Reply
    • alex_pixley
      June 29, 2022 8:11 pm

      I think a good option for people who need social interaction could be setting up in a shared office space like WeWork or Regus. It may not be for everyone, but it seems like it would open up more options for where you could live if you didn’t want to be anchored to a corporate office but still wanted/needed to be around people.

      Reply
  • I do miss interaction with my team but frankly I work in IT support and I’m the only data/programming person in the company so I have always been on my own island anyhow. The downside to being at home full time is that I am not as visible, however I am just as productive, there is less noise, I don’t have to answer the IT support phone anymore and I am with my dog at work, so overall it is a win/win. I’d be more in favor of a hybrid schedule if I worked with other data people to collaborate with.

    Reply
  • alex_pixley
    June 29, 2022 8:03 pm

    I haven’t physically touched a server for work in over a decade. I generally work on databases that are in different states/provinces. I’ve said for years that if I had a reliable internet connection, I could easily do my job from a research station in Antarctica; it’s ridiculous that it took a global pandemic before remote work became a real option for most DBAs. There are plenty of colaboration tools (Webex, email, even telephones) to keep in touch with my team and you can’t beat the commute. I hope to never work in an office again

    Reply
  • Mattia Nocerino
    June 30, 2022 1:12 pm

    Wow. Thanks everyone for providing their own experience and thanks for making this post.

    I’m at a moment in my life that if I switch job it’ll have to be full remote for the rest of my life.

    So it feels like a scary jump to do.

    We’ll see how it will go!

    Reply
  • I’m 50/50. Sometimes I get more done in an office and sometimes I get more done at home. I was this way before the pandemic as well though. One thing I’ve found though is that there are always distractions. I could get upset about my wife asking me to help her load the kids in the car from time to time, but the truth is that in the office it would have been someone asking me to help them figure out how to print a document or how to press the power button on their computer (“Oh, I swear I did that”) or whatever. Or maybe it would have just been me wanting a break and talking with a coworker too long and keeping him from doing his job. Whatever the case, I’m really not losing any more time at home than I would have at work.

    I think the primary difference between working in an office is learning to communicate differently. When you have many opportunities a day to have impromptu conversations, it can be a difficult transition when you want to share thoughts with someone that are of interest to you but don’t seem important enough to write an email or zoom chat about.

    The ultimate result of this is that you get less feedback upfront before doing your work. This can be both good and bad. I’ve found that oftentimes I have to produce “something” and then get feedback from my supervisor anyway… this is simply how he works and trying to get detailed instructions upfront is a serious waste of time. He can’t design the thing from scratch… he needs something to work with first. I learned to live with this way of working before COVID, but I think many people are now having to learn to work this way out of necessity.

    Reply
  • Gavin Harris
    July 1, 2022 9:14 am

    Weirdly enough, I found myself missing the 30-40 minute commute during lockdown. Working from home with a family means that your work and family lives blur into each other. The commute was a breathing space. A mental preparation space to gear up for work in the mornings and leave the stress behind afterwards. Now I’m working hybrid with 1-2 days per week in the office and I find that those days I bring less stress home to the family. On the flip side, I get more productive, technical or writing work done on the days I’m at home. So I try to schedule meetings and customer contact stuff for the in office days and solo stuff for home days.

    Reply
  • Could age be a big factor? I’m an old DBA (>60 yrs old) and freaking love working from home full time. However, when I was younger I learned so much from co-workers and ad hoc conversations over cube walls and during lunch and hall pass-by meetings. I think the young benefit more from working at-work vs. at-home. Guess that means us old guys need to be there too to pass on the knowledge…

    Reply
  • Pre-COVID I was 100% in the office but now I’m 100% at home. I was going to do a “hybrid” solution and be 50/50 home and office but my employer decided that anyone that wasn’t 100% in the office would have to use a hotel work station. If I’m not able to have my own spot, with my books and pictures of my family then I’ll save the expense of driving and just work from home.

    Reply

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