What I've learned working remote
Tips and tricks that worked for me while transitioning from in-office work to remote work ... one year in.
My career trajectory has been quite average, all things considered. I started working in 2009 as an in-house graphic artist before quickly transitioning into a more technical role, kicking off my career in web development. In 2015, I moved to a new company as a Magento developer, where I worked until January 2022.
In both cases, I worked in-office. Commuting, wearing uncomfortable clothes, sitting in noisy open-office environments that distracted me, for almost thirteen years. Thirteen years!
My first brush with remote work is similar to other peoples’ stories: with the pandemic. In 2020, almost overnight, I went from in-office work to remote. And I loved it so much, I decided to continue doing it.
In January of this year, I got my first remote-only job, and I plan on continuing with remote work indefinitely.
I mention my career history only to point out that there was no dedicated effort to transition to remote work. There are, however, things that I’ve done to set myself up for continued success with working remotely.
Have a schedule
This is one of those obvious tips that every blog post in this vein touch on. With good reason: if you aren’t diligent in sticking to a schedule, you’ll slip into working later and later, ending the day earlier and earlier, and losing your coveted remote job faster than you can say “nine to five.”
With regards to having a schedule, there’s an important one that speaks to me personally: unplugging.
This may be easier said than done—I have to make a conscious effort week-by-week. When the day is done, stop working!
This is especially hard when you work on a distributed team. My team, for instance, spans multiple time zones: Pacific, Central, Eastern, and Central European. That last one throws things for a loop, eh? So product or design questions may not come through Slack until 19 or 20:00 EST, while development questions from our European friends will begin around 3:00 EST. You have to use discretion here, because it’s certainly up to the culture of the company, but if you can, log off when your day is finished.
Slack and emails are meant for asynchronous communication, not synchronous. Also? Slack allows you to schedule your messages … I suggest applying liberally.
You should have an office
… or at least a work area that affords you peace and quiet. Between standups, retrospectives, one-on-ones, pair programming sessions, and other ad-hoc meetings, I tend to be on video at least three to five times a day.1 Without a dedicated area to field these calls, I would have quickly given up on remote work.
I’ve been low-key setting myself up for remote work for years. By the time the pandemic rolled around, I’d already set up a dedicated office in my house with a sit-to-stand desk, multiple monitors, a comfortable chair and a nice camera. It was a pricey investment, for sure. But it ended up paying dividends—I now have a nicer office than I ever had working in-office.
I’m not saying you need this same investment, but consider this, at least: if you were to go remote today, would you be 100% happy physically working where currently work? If the answer is “no,” you may need to re-evaluate.
Try to get some exercise
From March of 2020 until January of 2022, I gained almost thirty pounds. Part of this weight gain was due to pandemic-related stressors. The biggest source of weight gain, however, was mindless snacking and decreased overall mobility due to working remotely.
In 2022 I’ve fought back: scheduling walks into my work day, relegating food consumption to meal times, and working out. In addition to the physical health benefits of these newfound habits, I’ve (annoyingly) found exercise to improve my mood, anxiety, and overall mental well-being.
I didn’t grow up in a household that prioritized good fitness or nutrition, so this “common” knowledge came far too late for me: get daily exercise and eat well … you’ll do your body a world of good, and you’ll set yourself up for a longer life.2
Be comfortable being alone
You’ll be physically alone most of the day. Take stock of yourself: how does that hit you? Keep in mind, you’ll still be working with other people—over Slack, on Google Meet or Zoom, etc.—but there’s a physicality that’s lost, for sure. Are you okay with that?
… but still be social
Being physically alone doesn’t mean you have to be a loner. In fact, it’s more important than ever to build rapport, both at work and outside of work—via Slack, texts, etc. Your mental health will take a hit otherwise.
This advice is especially salient for those of us that are introverted. Your initial inclination may be to lean into your introversion; it was initially mine. But as time goes on, you may find yourself feeling more anxious, struggling with feelings of self-doubt, etc. We are not meant to live alone, so make sure you take steps to avoid that. Socialization doesn’t even have to be pointed … just being around people is enough for me. Activities that fill my “social” cup:
- Go to the gym
- Go to the pool
- Go grocery shopping
- Weekends with friends
They may not seem like much, but these small social interactions are enough to “bring me back into the social fold” 😛
I’m no expert at remote work. Again, I’ve only been doing this for three years (with one by choice). And the above is by no means exhaustive. Entire books could be written on “How to Remote Work Well.”3 Entire blog posts dedicated to effective, constant communication up and down the chain of command. I like the idea of revisiting this blog topic yearly, to see if I feel the same from year-to-year.
Until then, however, that’s all I’ve got; see you next time 😊
What, you thought remote work meant not working with people? ↩
This advice fits regardless of in-office or remote … work out! It sucks, but it’s good! ↩
I purchased Effective Remote Work as soon as it was released. ↩