I’ve been working remotely for nearly 7 years now, and I couldn’t imagine ever going into an office on a daily basis again. It’s a magical setup that affords incredible freedom, and far more responsibility. I love working remotely, and I’m going to share with you my strategy for working in my own, pants-optional office.
I could never work from home, I’d never get anything done.
That’s the response I typically get from anyone I’ve ever told about my setup. I’ve come to acquire several key lessons and skills that make working remotely a joy, so much so that I doubt I’ll ever again take employment where reporting to an office is a requirement, if I can at all help it.
Never Say Never
The “I could never do it” response from folks isn’t surprising. The last thing most of us want to do at home is think about work. In fact, many smart types will tell you that it’s an unhealthy thing to do. And for those who work the typical 9 to 5 routine, I’d probably agree. But I live the software developer life, and I’ve come to find a method that makes it very easy to be successful remotely.
When Work Isn’t Work
If work is work, you shouldn’t be doing it from home. I’m lucky enough to do something that I’m fairly decent at, and that which I really enjoy. That’s really key. Enjoying the work lets you turn on and off at will without contaminating your home with “the office”. You’ll be able to let ideas flow throughout the day and night. The official hours of your physical office will become more guidelines, whereby you need to stay available, but that which you’re not constrained by.
Pants Are Actually Optional
Just don’t forget them if you’re planning on taking video conference meetings. You don’t want to be that person that has to get up to shut the window and inadvertently shows off those new adventurous undies.
But in all seriousness, get comfortable. Choose a workspace that works best for you. Remember that you’re not in an office! I personally choose to work from my dining table with lots of light and fresh Florida air. Some of my peers prefer a cordoned off basement office. Your workspace should be what keeps you the most comfortable throughout the day.
Part of a great workspace is surrounding yourself with things you love. My kitchen is about 20 feet from my laptop - my inner fat kid loves that. That also means that I have water and other beverages readily accessible. I’ve also got a solid TV on the wall and typically have Netflix going all day long. For me, some kind of white noise and the occasional mental break in close proximity keeps me sane throughout the day.
Get a pet! They’re an incredible stress reliever and amazing outlet for problem solving. Don’t be afraid to be that crazy person who talks to their animals. Leelu frequently helps me out in a mental bind.
Communication. Communication. Communication. You must go out of your way to communicate with your peers, your supervisors, even the person working at the reception desk in the office. There are reasons, of course:
Communication Builds Trust
Trust in you from your peers is key, and while it would be grand if we were all judged by our merits, many people can’t trust until there’s a base of communication that’s usual and comfortable.
Communication Builds Rapport
Until you’re in the office and have the chance at in-person face time with everyone you work with, you’re the faceless (or single faced avatar) internet person who apparently gets paid by the same company bi-weekly. You may be fortunate and work for a company that has access to video conferencing, but even then you’re still a floating head in a window. Great communication builds a familiarity with your peers that will ultimately aid in collaboration.
Frequent Communication Creates Value
Frequent communication is paramount. Vanishing for extended stretches of time has a negative effect. Remember that you’re not in the office and people can’t see what you’re up to. For all they know you’re out at the pool floating on a giant inflatable swan. When you reach out throughout the day, you’re reminding people that you’re there. When you share what you’re working on frequently, you’re reminding people of the work you’re doing.
Working remotely can sometimes feel like a scene out of 28 Days Later. The feeling of isolation is something every remote worker needs to combat on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s a slow day in the office, and others it’s that the physical office is too busy. It’s easy in that frequent situation to get discouraged, frustrated, or just plain bummed out. That’s a good opportunity to step away and right your ship.
Since us remotes are also neglected socializing throughout the day, make up for that deficit when work is done for the day. I’m a social guy and staying in or isolated for too long gets me stir-crazy. I make a concerted effort to socialize after-hours. Befriend some bartenders or others that work outside the 9-to-5 cycle. If you’ve a family, visit with some neighbors or take the kiddies out for something fun around other people.
Halt, and Catch Fire
Take breaks. Take lunches. Take naps. Decline meetings. Run errands. Play with the dog. Go for a walk. Go for a run. Get a hobby and indulge it. Watch an episode of The Walking Dead. Have an adult beverage if you feel the urge. I personally never like to work for more than two hours straight. Halting keeps me fresh and keeps me sane.
Stopping and taking a breath is one of my keys to the gig. Those incredible freedoms I mentioned earlier come into play here. Of course this depends on the company you work for and the folks above or around you in the hierarchy, but take advantage of the ability to do throughout the day what those in an office aren’t able to. Just bear in mind that your responsibility to the work doesn’t end. If you’re going to play a little hookey, remember to make time later to cover your deliverables.
Expand Your Organizational Skills
When no one’s available to chat, you don’t always have the luxury of stopping work and waiting. You’ll have to develop solid organizational skills that will allow you to revisit things that need discussing, or to resume tasks that you’re blocked on down the line. A great degree of self-management is necessary regardless of the kind of management structure you’re working in. A cautious level of independence will go a long way. You won’t always have the time or the opportunity to discuss choices, problems, or solutions with your peers. Which brings us to…
(That’s an NPM pun, for the nerds reading this)
Your peers are going to mean success or failure in a remote gig. When interviewing, make sure you’re asking questions as well. You’ll want to interview the folks doing the interviewing to make sure they know how to work with remote developers. Some companies are freshly wading into hiring remotes, others are seasoned, and yet others have no idea what they’re getting into. Management should be on board with and see value in remote employees. It also helps to jump into a gig with peers that have experience working with remotes. Talk to the folks that will be managing you and your projects to get a feel for how they expect to work with you. Never be afraid to share your ideas early on.
Time For a Whisky
I hope that the lessons I’ve learned can give others in or considering remote work something to think about and help out if needed.
If you’ve been thinking about remote work, there are a plethora of resources that can help:
And those are just a few. Good luck!