I started working 100% remote in early 2008. Over the years I have learned quite a few lessons, and have really come to appreciate the lifestyle.
I have worked as member of a majority remote company, as one of 7 people that made up the 10% of the company that was remote, and as a member of a fully remote team.
Honestly, early on it was pretty tough. There were tons of interruptions, a lot of stress and almost no work/life balance. Over the years I have come to realize that working from home can bring isolation, withdrawal and a feeling of disconnection.
I have a few go-to tactics that I make sure that I employ to combat these issues. As I discovered them over the years, my appreciation for remote work has increased to the point where I am not sure that I would take an office job in the future.
This is one of the first things that I discovered. I needed to set up a dedicated work space, with a door that closes, comfortable furniture, a sound system, good keyboards, microphones, cameras, and all of the other essentials.
I started years ago with a nice computer desk and a comfy chair in a spare bedroom.
Over the years, I have moved from a chair, to a yoga ball, to a standing desk. I have switched to full time at a standing desk. That has made a big difference as well. When I need a short break, I can simply walk out of the office, and do a lap around the kitchen.
I have some co-workers that go so far as install sound proofing in their offices, or build unattached offices in their back yards.
Dedicated Work Environment
I personally have found that having a distraction free work environment is important. So I have two computers on my desk. One that is dedicated to work - email, coding, chats, and calls. And a machine that is dedicated to my personal stuff - personal email, social media, and music.
I started with a work laptop and a 1st Gen Mac Mini as my personal computer. That was plugged into the speakers, and ran music, personal email etc. I had a KVM switch, and used that to swap my monitor, keyboard and mouse between the Mac Mini and my work laptop.
Now I have a laptop riser, a big monitor, a Yeti Blue mic on a boom, and my personal iPad for music and distractions.
A few years ago, I was forced to get a second cell phone for work, and that has been great. Now when I quit working for the day, I simply drop the work phone on the charger, and walk away. There is a lot less temptation to “just check my work email once before bed”.
Having time set aside for “work hours”, and making sure that I take breaks is very important. It’s easy to get hyper focused on something and forget to eat, or spend the day in PJ’s by mistake.
I make sure that I set aside time to make myself human, and that I dress for work. Does that mean buttoned down? No, I would wear a tee-shirt and jeans into the office, so working from home is no different.
I also try hard to go work from a coffee shop a few times a week. Or at least drive to a coffee shop, get out of the car, stand in line and get something. Interaction with other humans is important.
I also try and have meetings with my video on. It’s more for me then for anyone else. I try and make sure that my workspace and myself are presentable every day. Good back lighting is important. I know that since I face a window, I look better on sunny day then I do on cloudy ones.
This one took a few years and a few pounds before I got it. Having healthy lunches and snacks around the house is important. Not having boxes of Oreos is also important.
I used to have pretty bland lunches. I have really tried to up my game. One of the things that helps is blocking out 45 minutes or so for lunch, so I have time to make something good, and not feel rushed.
Having some sort of “water cooler” chat system is important. Over the years, I have seen IRC, Campfire, HipChat, Slack and Quip Chat in this role. As long as everyone has a “safe-ish” space to talk about coffee, dogs, weather, space, or what ever crosses their mind then this need is met. I have seen gaming groups, music chatter, coffee talk and technology randomness.
What’s important is a space for folks to talk with each other about work, work related, and not work related things.
Meeting up with coworkers on the same team is vitally important as well. In the past I would spend a week every few months at HQ, to wander the halls, get face time with folks, and generally catch up.
Team off sites are also important. Some of the best team building times that I have had were at off sites. It does not need to be something fancy. A lot of the time we would all head to the same conference, and make some time to catch up.
In closing, working remote takes a bit of thought and work, but it’s a great life style. I can take the time that I would loose to a commute, and get caught up on news, brew a Chemex of coffee, or even sleep a little more. The disconnection can be scary at first, however with some adjustments the focus that you can gain can return large productivity gains.
All it takes is discipline and a slightly diffrent way of looking at work/life balance.