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Thoughts on remote work

🏛 This entry is open for business - it is unlikely to be changed or updated.

Remote working is the buzz nowadays, especially in tech - working remote. Many tech workers desire this benefit, but have many questions. Do you lounge around all day in sweatpants? Is it hard to stay on task? How do you build a team culture if everyone is remote? How do you avoid isolating the remote workers if most people are in the office? Will I get lonely? Is it hard to communicate clearly with teammates when they are not right in front of your face? Well, here is my experience working remotely, and some tips that may help you if you work remote.

What to wear

I will admit right now, there have been days that I wore sweatpants all day. And some of those days, I even left the house! Most of the time, though, I wear totally regular clothing - which, for me, is a nerdy t-shirt and shorts / pants. I frequently drop off or pick up my children from school, so I am usually dressed for that. But you situation may differ, so wear whatever makes you comfortable.

Staying on task

Yes, it is harder to stay on task at your house - at least at first. There are chores begging to get done, fun things waiting to entertain you, and possibly even children and / or spouse vying for your attention. It is important to think about these things before you commit to working from home.

Staying focused

This is something that is going to take practice - I wasn’t always good at this (and it still gets me some days). What I have done: figure out how long you can stay focused on one task, and schedule your day around that time. Right now, my max is about 2 hours, with 90 minutes being a good average. Take your focus time period and build a rough daily schedule around it. Mine looks something like this:

  • 8 AM - 10 AM: Work
  • 10 AM - 10:15 AM: Break
  • 10:15 AM - 11:45 AM: Work
  • 11:45 AM - 12:45 PM: Break / Lunch
  • 12:45 PM - 2:15 PM: Work
  • 2:15 PM - 2:30 PM: Break
  • 2:30 PM - 5:30 PM: Work (Broken up with email / team communication)

Make sure that on those breaks, you do something that you want to do - it’ll make it easier to convince yourself to stay focused when you are working. Watch a youtube video, browse twitter, start some laundry, get a snack, whatever feels like a treat to you.

Making sure you get back into flow and working again is another challenge. Figure out your optimal setting for getting work done, and do that every time you are working. Mine is on a couch, laptop on my lap desk, in a darkened room, with specific music playing. Make it as unique as you are and only do it when you are working. This will help train you that it is work time. I have an entire music playlist that only plays when I am working - when I infrequently hear one of the songs out in the world, all I think of is writing code.

Other locations

If you find that your house is not a good location to work from, try out some other places that might be better for you. I have worked many times from my local public library - there are many places to sit and plug in, free wifi, and very little other distractions. Our library even has private rooms you can reserve for 2 hours - perfect for online meetings with your team.

I have not tried any of the co-working spaces around me, but I have heard good things from other remote workers I know. The downsides are that they cost (unless you get your company to pay for them), but on the upside you can get some more human interaction throughout the day. Most of them have wifi available also, which is very handy for us tech workers.

An option that many people do (but has never appealed to me) is a local coffee shop. I find it hard to get much done with that many people and that much noise around me - but many people thrive in those conditions. Make sure that the shop doesn’t mind that you spend a lot of time there, and make sure to buy something while you are there.

Working on a team

Clear communication

It is very important to communicate clearly on a remote team - it is much harder to bug someone again to clarify things. Having a standards and practices document / repository has helped a lot on my current team - was can all see how we do things, where things are stored, and can point to one location to help onboard new employees.

Another way we keep track of things is to have an extensive issue tracking system. Almost everything we discuss gets recorded in our system, so that we can refer back to what needs to be done. Now that it is in writing, we can look at it without taking the time of another person.

Culture

This is probably the hardest part about remote teams / companies - the co-workers are never just hanging out in the same place getting to know each other. The culture will never develop if the only thing everyone talks about is the work - you have to be intentional about setting aside time for everyone to chat.

My team currently does this before and / or after our standup each morning. We chat about what we did this past weekend or what we are going to do the upcoming weekend. We discuss technical things that we have learned recently. We also have a tech articles slack channel to share these things with each other.

Another thing that many remote companies do is get everyone together once or twice a year for a retreat (see companies like Buffer and Zapier). There are definitely structured and planned activities to do, but there is also free time for the teammates to freely learn about each other.

Getting lonely

Amir Salihefendić, CEO of Doist, wrote an excellent post about the possible problems that show up when you work remotely - I will not try to top it because he says it better and more completely than I ever could. Make sure you are using your remote working to help your work / life balance, not throw it out of whack.

Conclusion

There is a lot to think about if you are trying to transition to remote work. Know upfront that this kind of work is not for everyone - and that it just fine. Do the kind of work that makes your life better, and do it from the place you are most productive.

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