There has been a continual drive towards remote work in the tech industry - commutes are awful, interruptions suck, and open office layouts are the actual worst. The remote lifestyle seems glamorous and appealing, and as a woman I sure love a thermostat set for MY body (amIright, ladies?), but there are considerations for whether remote working is a good fit for everyone. After all, there are no snow days when you work remote.
If you're new to the remote work life, here are some survival strategies for staying productive, happy, and fresh-smelling.
Strategy 1 - Establish & Maintain Boundaries
you can't talk about working from home without showing the gif of
the man on the news getting interrupted by a baby on a mission
BOUNDARY - MAINTAIN OFFICE HOURS
Start and end your day at consistent times. At the end of the workday---leave your damn desk! Even if you’re going to continue being on the computer, move to a separate space to maintain the boundary between work and life.
BOUNDARY - TAKE A LUNCH BREAK
Eat your food, walk the dog, hit the gym, browse Reddit---breaks are good! Just make sure you schedule your breaks like you would taking a lunch break at an on-site job.
BOUNDARY - EXPLAIN BOUNDARIES TO FAMILY/FRIENDS
For some odd reason, when you work from home, your friends and family seem to assume that means you’re not “really” working and are available for everything from taking the kids to the park to helping move furniture. Having conversations about the realities of your work schedule is crucial to helping those in your life understand that even though you’re home, you’re actually working and can’t be interrupted.
Visual cues are very helpful in maintaining boundaries in your home. Ideally, have a separate office with a door that closes. If you can’t be in a separate room, use a light or “I’m working now” sign as a visual cue to help those in your home understand you’re not to be disturbed. Unless they’re a cat, in which case you exist solely to do their bidding. For the times that those in your life forget or ignore you’re working, it can be helpful to come up with a code phrase to say instead of an impulse to snap and cause hurt feelings.
Strategy 2 - Avoid Remote Traps
TRAP - NOT SHOWERING
Shower. Every. Day.
They say dress for the job you want, you don’t want to be a smelly shut-in, do you? It can be easy to let hygiene habits slide when your bad hair can be hidden by that privacy cover on your laptop camera, but it’s a dangerous productivity hole to fall into. Just like a messy desk, a messy body isn’t optimal for doing your best work. Being clean and looking good gives a confidence boost that is much more than just at the surface level. The Sims had clean = happy right, and various studies show showers help alleviation depression, increase energy, and even lead to better sleep.
TRAP - DOING CHORES
Don’t do chores during your office hours. Chores will suck your work hours and corrupt your attention span. You can’t properly focus on your work if you’re watching to clock to change a load of laundry or trying to clean the bathroom while listening to a meeting via headphones. (This doesn’t mean don’t do chores ever, you better be sharing household management duties with your partner!)
TRAP - SLACK, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS
If you often struggle with staying focused and find yourself wandering into internetbrowsingland while your code compiles, turn your browser into a concentration fortress with these website blockers and tools:
Momentum is a a browser extension that shows a custom dashboard with a scenic photo when you open a new tab. I find myself almost habitually opening a new tab and typing “twitt” when my mind starts to drift, so when the momentum dashboard launches it’s a nice visual reminder to get my sh*t together and get back to work.
Noisli is another browser extension/app that gives you pomodoro functionality, a minimalist text editor, and the ability to add your preferred ambient noise sounds like “forest” or ” coffee shop” and save combos.
If you need more intrinsic motivation, Forest is a fun pomodoro-esque extension. When you need to get some serious concentration going, start the forest app to plant a tree. If you stay focused, your tree will continue to grow, but if you visit sites added to your blacklist the poor tree with wither and die.
For the hardcore distraction eliminations - Stay Focusd is an extension and app that will strictly not allow you to access sites and even apps that you blacklist.
Strategy 3 - Create a Productive Work Environment
Make your office a distinct space and a place for you to be happy to go to get work done. Maintain a consistent schedule, start and end your day at the same time. This makes it easy on your coworkers and your family! Follow a dress code and get dressed every day.
if you work from home you know it's true. illustration by Tyler Feder
If you work in a different time zone than the rest of the company baseline, become a time zone pro. You can add a secondary time zone to Google Calendar or Outlook.
Strategy 4 - Be Visible Inside the Company
Working remote means you don’t exist to anyone else unless you make yourself known. There’s no physical manifestation of your being, you’re just a new email on the company-wide distro. There’s no bumping into people at the water cooler or chatting in the hallway on the way to the bathroom to build relationships. You’ll need to make a bit of effort on your part to make your presence known.
First, take time to get to know the culture and make an effort to interact with and learn about your team. Don’t be the cowboy who comes in telling everyone they’re “doing it wrong” - that’s not the way to make friends. Keep others updated on your progress and let them know when you’ll be AFK.
Find fun ways to contribute to team culture - reaction gif channels on Slack are always fun. At Bitovi, we have a #spoileralert Slack channel where we vote on new (or sometimes old) movies to watch and have discussions around. We'll be talking about "Knives Out" next week.
Strategy 5 - Remember There Are People on the Other End of the Internet Tubes
A major problem with text-based communication is we lose visual and audible clues to help us determine the meaning of text. Innocent comments can come across very differently than they were intended and lead to a host of wrong assumptions and unhappy feelings.
Slack is a great tool I love dearly, and I don’t mean to keep ragging on it, but it has led to the majority of communication conflicts I’ve seen on teams. We’ve actually banned the use of Slack for feedback conversations at the nonprofit I run. If there’s ever a situation where people need to work through a complex problem where they disagree or where someone needs to give feedback to someone else, text-based tools should be avoided at all costs. It’s worth making the extra effort to have a phone or video call to ensure communication is clear, and if frustration arises it’s easier to remember there’s a human with feelings on the other end.
Strategy 6 - Engage with Your Local Tech Community
Even the most introverted person needs a little human interaction. It can be worth it to shake up your schedule and get out of the house to interact with someone other than your cat(s).
Use Slack to find techies around you---check out this awesome list of local tech communities, and Meetup.com is a great tool to find user groups in your area. Can’t find a user group specific to your interests? Go crazy and start your own! I did; it’s worked out pretty well so far.
Take coworking days by working from your favorite coffee shop or a coworking space like WeWork or those available via Copass.
Find mentoring opportunities with local coding clubs like CoderDojo and look into attending local conferences. Many now offer a pre-made cover letter you can send to your employer to encourage them to cover ticket prices/days off.