I’ve been working remotely since October 2013. I can barely believe
that nearly three years have passed and I’ve probably spent about two
weeks in a traditional office.
It took me a bit of time to adjust to working remotely. I’m better at
it now than I was three years ago. The rest of this post describes
some of my learnings.
But first, some background. My remote experience comes from working at
Outpace and Lumanu. Both
are remote first companies, almost everyone works remotely with a few
people occasionally working in a San Francisco office. The work is
remote but it is not asynchronous. Both companies value pair
programming and real time collaboration and, as a result, employees
tend to work a core set of hours. My observations are probably most
applicable in a similar environment.
Setup a home workspace
Before working remotely I did not have a great home computing setup. I
worked using a 13-inch MacBook Air either sitting on my couch or at my
dinner table. This worked fine for the occasional work-from-home day
and for evening and weekend programming. It didn’t work fine when I
was spending extended hours at a computer every day.
I’ve written about my setup
before. Below is a list of the
improvements I made to my home working environment.
- Outpace provided a beefy MacBook Pro and two 27-inch Apple Cinema displays.
- I upgraded my chair to to a Herman Miller Setu.
- I bought a mStand Laptop Stand to raise my laptop to a better viewing height.
- I upgraded my desk to a sit-stand desk.
- I built my own ErgoDox keyboard.
- I switched to an adjustable monitor arm so I could adjust my monitor height.
With each change my working experience improved. Each improvement left
me feeling better at the end of my day. Many, if not all, of these
improvements are things I’d expect to have in a traditional
office. Don’t skimp on your setup because it is in your home. Part of
your home is your office now.
Introduce a habit that delineates work from after-work
One of the great things about working from home is that you no longer
have a commute. You don’t have to dodge cars on your bicycle, squeeze
into a train, or sit in traffic while driving. This is a huge benefit.
A downside of not having a commute is that you lose a forced
intermission between work and non-work. My commute was either a
30-minute bicycle ride or a 30-minute public transit ride. That time
acted as a forced decompression period where I focused on something
that wasn’t computing.
It took me months to realize that not having this intermission was
stressing me out. The intermission helped me shift between working
and non-working mindsets.
I reintroduced a decompression activity between work and non-work and
became less stressed and generally happier. I’ve replaced my commute
intermission with reading, cooking, or riding my bicycle. I’ve found
doing a non-computer activity benefits me the most.
When I first started working from home I was very guilty of
overworking. It was so easy to just keep working. I would get invested
in a problem and all sudden realize it was time to go to bed. Or I’d
actually stop working, only to find myself checking our application’s
monitoring or pulling up the codebase when I originally sat down to do
some personal task.
In an office you have signals; your coworkers leaving, the cleaning
crew vacuuming, air conditioning turning off, etc., that provide a
hint that you should think about stopping. You don’t have these
signals when you are working remotely. There also isn’t that spatial
boundary between your office and your home.
You can search online and find many articles about how overwork is
detrimental. You and your employer benefit if you are not
Get out of your house
I live in Chicago. During the winter the weather is very cold. Chicago
is also a big city, so all sorts of food delivery options (both cooked
and uncooked) exist. The cold weather combined with food delivery
makes it easy to stay inside. During the winter, I’ve realized many
times that I haven’t left my apartment for days. My girlfriend can
tell when I haven’t gotten outside because I’m grumpier.
If I get out of the apartment for a while I almost always come back
feeling better. It barely matters what I do when I leave, after an
extended period of time inside of my home just getting outside and
doing anything helps. A change of scenery is good for you.
Don’t just talk about business with your remote coworkers
When you work in an office you are pretty much forced to have non-work
related chats with coworkers. You should do the same with your remote
Having non-work related conversations helps you make better
connections with your coworkers. These better connections can lead to
better communication, both with voice and text, and humanize the person
on the other side of the screen.
Its even better if you can do this in a video conference. Then you get
to learn the facial expressions and tone of voice of your
coworker. This can make it easier to interpret text communication in
the way they actually mean it.
Meet in person occasionally
It is great that technology and Internet speeds have progressed enough
that working remotely works well. If you want, you can make it feel
like your pair is sitting right next to you. This is great.
There are still benefits to meeting in person though. The main one is
that it helps you make connections with coworkers. You can eat a meal
together or play board games (though, you can do this online as well
but it is a different experience). It can also be easier to have
certain types of group discussions (video conferences do have
When you meet in person, I’d recommend doing something different than
your normal day-to-day work. Don’t just exchange remote pairing for
local pairing. Try to identify that are difficult to do remotely and
do them in person.
I don’t have a concrete recommendation for how often your remote
company should meet but I think it should be infrequent enough where
you don’t feel pressure to do normal work.
Working from home has its challenges but with those challenges come
many benefits. It is a different experience than working in an office
and that experience isn’t for everyone. The above recommendations are
things that have helped me adjust to working remotely. Some of these
tips are actionable at an individual level and some require buy in
from the company. Hopefully this list can help give guidance towards
improving your remote work situation.