Top Tips for Working Remote

Posted by in Life

It sounds like a dream, but it can quickly become a nightmare. Before you enter the realm of working from home, you have to know—really know—what you’re getting yourself into. And it sounds pretty basic: you work from, well, home. Turns out there’s a lot more to it.

I started working remote in at least some capacity several years ago. In fact, many people do, especially developers with side projects on their plate. You spend your weekday and weekend nights in your home office, cranking away at the thing that’ll make you your first million while your daylight hours are filled with fantasizing about the cruise ship you’ll buy.

That doesn’t count. It’s easy—even healthy—to do that sort of thing. Keeping yourself busy with endeavors that personally push your professional, academic, and mental boundaries is how you keep a human and avoid turning into a walking stick of butter. But we’re talking about working eight to nine hours a day at a coffee shop or your couch or kitchen table in lieu of going to a fluorescent-lit office. It’s a Dwayne Johnson-sized change.

Top Tips for Working Remote

What You’ll Miss

Here’s what I came from before crossing over to the solitary experience of working from home writing screenplays, consulting for cloud architectures, and creating little throwaway apps: the most stereotypical of bro startup environments. That may sound bad to some of you, but it felt a lot like becoming a band of brothers with everyone in the trenches with you. It’s where I found my mentee, in fact.

Half the company was developer dudes stowed away in the dark and the other half was recent SMU fashion graduates working as marketing and publisher relations. Very often it felt like a middle school dance where guys would end up in the gym and girls would stand on the dance floor. That all went away during the weekly/daily get togethers at the office bar (yep, we had an office bar and it was spectacular).

My first week included going to the CTO’s bachelor party wherein we got on a party bus, destroyed a Korean barbecue restaurant, and futzed around several high end clubs. Then there was the summer boat party that was, well, a party on a boat. And the weeklong publisher convention, which culminated in several parties across the hot spots of Dallas.

Basically what I’m saying is it was the sophisticated half of the college-style mindset of raging and it was incredible. We worked from nine to nine and then played until nine again. Solving complex problems with friends and then drinking with them is fantastic.

Not only that, but progressing your career is far easier when your higher-ups can put a face to your efforts. They personalize your achievements and want to help you succeed. Interacting with people face-to-face engenders higher thresholds for success as opposed to other forms of communication.

Top Tips for Working Remote

What You’ll Gain

The trouble is that to get to and from the space in which you get stuff done is that you have to drive. More than that, you have to struggle through traffic, increase wear on your car, risk rampant colds and flus, and all the trials and/or tribulations of being in tight proximity with people.

All of this only serves to increase the friction between you and doing cool things. All the revelations you wake up with dissipate rapidly with each step you take. It’s cool not having to deal with clogged highways and flipped trucks but this is the real reason why you’d want to work remote. You wake up and you get to immediately do what you love. It’s fantastic.

And while not a guarantee, it’s common that companies that allow remote work also allow you to create your own work schedule, if they require one at all. It’s more of a meritocracy where the results you deliver are what matter. If you want to work late at night and sleep during the day or really crank on weekend and dial back the hours during the week, then that’s fine so long as you do your work. After being at several companies where talkers succeeded more than doers, this is refreshing as hell.

This freedom allows you to more finely mesh your personal and professional lives. Instead of taking the afternoon off to let the repairman in, you just open the door when he rings and then you’re back at work. Go ahead and take half an hour to pick up your sister from the airport. Just come back and work. Not having to make substantial and discrete sacrifices either direction feels like the most natural corporate development possible.

Top Tips for Working Remote

Watch Out for Pitfalls

It’s risky, though. It’s easy to fall into the lurid traps of working from home. You get sucked into your own world and end up being an isolated hermit with a keyboard. Here are the biggest potholes to watch out for.

  1. Neglecting your virtual office

    When you work in an office, you are forced to interact with people. And whether you like them or hate them, you are forging connections all the time. Working online makes it a lot easier to ignore people and create an impregnable persona. Don’t be an island.

  2. Snoozing the day away

    You will be tempted to work and sleep as your body commands it, but your body doesn’t naturally fit into a 24-hour cycle. Mine tends to linger towards a 40-hour or so loop, so you’ll find yourself slipping further and further into each day. Find a schedule that works for you and abide. Don’t slip into a shifting schedule. It makes you look unreliable.

  3. Never not working

    Programmers have a really awful habit of getting into an endless groove of making something work. This is both the species’ greatest strength and greatest weakness. You need to know when to call it and come back the next day fresh as a daisy, but you know, a daisy with fingers. For typing.

  4. Becoming a slob

    I’m not saying you have to dress up with a button-down shirt and pants with a belt, but keep your maintenance a priority. Shave, wear a clean shirt, be a human. It sounds easy but it’s even easier to skip it all and become a feral animal in developer’s clothing.

  5. Communicating like an office worker

    Everything you say is now part of a paper trail. Google Hangouts are liable to be archived if it’s streamed out for team members. Subscription Slack has unlimited archiving. You need to choose your words deliberately and use them with precision. You no longer are exchanging intent. You are trading in specificity.

Top Tips for Working Remote

How to Make it Work

But just as easy as it is for all this to come tumbling down into a shattered mess of broken professional relationships, it’s simple enough to make it work. And instead of you figuring it out on your own with months of superfluous experimentation (some experimentation will still be required), I’m going to tell you what I found to be the keys to working from home.

  1. Use your voice

    Despite communicating with people all day on Slack or Trello or email, you aren’t very likely to talk. Like, literally talk with your voice, especially if you live by yourself. Once you stop using it, you tend to lose it. You might develop a habit of talking over yourself or stumbling over complex words. Do daily elocution exercises along with your physical exercises to keep sharp.

  2. Use your body

    While we’re on the topic, make sure you stay physically active! Pick up a sport (I recommend dodgeball) or develop a daily regiment. Without a reason to walk from desk to desk or meeting to meeting, you need something to make sure you use your legs and keep the oxygen flowing. If a treadmill or bicycle desk fits your lifestyle, then go for that. Just stay active.

  3. Design your home

    If you don’t go to a coworking space or become a regular at a coffee shop, then you need to design your home to help you maintain your sanity. I have a room that I only ever go into to work and it has an entirely different temperature of lighting (cooler LEDs) and color scheme (soothing blue). It helps to make me visually and immediately make the switch to working instead of chilling.

  4. Take some god damn breaks

    Studies show blah blah blah. Whatever. Just take some god damn breaks. It’s something that tends to happen naturally in an office so you don’t have to think about it, but you need to make it happen when you’re remote. No one is going to walk by your desk and ask if you want to go get a coffee. Go take a walk and everything will seem brighter when you get back.

  5. Change the scene

    Seriously, just, like, get up and leave. Work from your patio. Go to the library. Hop your neighbor’s fence and sit by the pool. If leaving isn’t for you, take a day out of every month and rearrange your office space so it looks even just a little bit different. Hell, having a rotating roster of Animorphs posters will work. It helps to keep your daily life feeling fresh.

Top Tips for Working Remote

Things You’ll Need

All right, maybe “need” is the wrong word. The things we actually need are more like, I don’t know, weekend marathons of Veronica Mars and irresponsible amounts of breakfast tacos. (And oxygen, I guess.)

That doesn’t stop this list of things from being pretty damn useful, though. And just a heads-up: these are Amazon Associates links. If that makes you uncomfortable, just Google the product name. It should take you to the same place anyways.

  1. Targus Lap Chill Mat

    First off, if you work remote and don’t use a laptop most of the time, you should consider it. It helps be able to get up and move at will. But sometimes you do get on grind sessions for hours at a time, and those laptops can get really warm, and that’s where a lap desk comes in. I really like the Targus Chill Mat. It’s light and cushioned and has a not-too-loud fan. If you use a separate mouse, the Slate Mobile LapDesk is a good expanded alternative.

  2. Samson Meteor Microphone

    You’re going to be doing a lot of online communication, and very often that includes Skyping and Google Hangouting and plenty of other conference call apps. And no one’s going to say it, but sounding like you’re talking through a soup can tied to your computer with string makes you the schmuck of the call. No one takes you seriously and everyone cringes at seeing your microphone icon light up. Don’t be that guy. (The Blue Yeti provides better audio but is terribly hefty.)

  3. Sony MDR7506 Headphones

    The next worst thing you can do on an online call is not have headphones like the Sony MDR7506s. Then you get echo or the app will do voice-detection muting that leads to entirely dropped sentences. Basically it’s as bad as not having a good microphone. Probably worse. No, actually, it is worse. Plus with a good set a headphones (The Wirecutter has great recommendations), you can really jam out to your work tunes. I usually do Noizio or pick a random song on SoundCloud and let its suggestion engine do the rest.

  4. Herman Miller Aeron Chair

    Straight up, this is going to cost a decent chunk of change. But it’s also very much a necessity because you will be parking your rapidly degrading butt in it every day for hours at at time. The mesh backing is a killer feature, giving your thighs and back plenty of air to breathe, and is incredibly comfortable. Its lack of cushioning might be hard on older backs, but it shouldn’t be too bad so long as you get up every once in a while.

  5. Dell UltraSharp 27-Inch LED Monitor

    I rarely ever use much more than my laptop, but there are times when I prefer to hook up to a bigger monitor and spread out all my editors and terminal windows over some Louisiana Purchase-sized real estate. The Dell U2715H has pretty much perfect picture quality and more connection options than you’ll ever need. It’s nice feeling like you’re landing back at home base when you hook up to a big monitor after spending all day like a nomad.

  6. Corsair Gaming K95 Keyboard

    Okay, okay, this choice is a bit gaudy, but I swear to god it feels like typing on perfectly clicky panda bellies and really helps with optimal ergonomics options. And if you live with someone, any mechanical keyboard will annoy the shit out of them. But guaranteed, you will not find a better typing experience than the Corsair K95 right now. For a more portable, quieter, and wireless option that still feels pretty good, you can try the Logitech K380 Bluetooth Keyboard.

  7. San Pellegrino Blood Orange Beverages

    Nothing to do with having a home office but holy smokes is this stuff delicious. I tried it for the first time like a month ago and I can’t get enough.

Top Tips for Working Remote

Is it Worth it?

One hunnit percent. The answer is obviously a personal one, but for me, it is absolutely worth it. I prefer to switch brain spaces and not physical spaces to get into my working moods. And I tend to work at odd or variable hours, so it’s nice to go to town on my projects at will and not when the locks on a corporately leased door tell me it’s time to work.

Some people like that office life and structure, though. Some people will actually discover that they need it to get anything done. I do miss going from working to partying with nothing in between, but that was more about the culture of the company.

If you do decide to make the change, hopefully these tips will help. If they don’t, then, well, I don’t know. We can high five about it later or something.