On Being a Remote Worker

Tips and suggestions for being full time remote

Posted by Tejus Parikh on March 5, 2020

Seattle is in the midst of one of the largest work from home trials in the largest work-from-home trials in recent corporate history. The COVID-19 outbreak has caused may of our large employers, including Microsoft, Nordstroms, Expedia, Fred Hutch, and Amazon, to advise their employees to practice social distancing and stay away from the office at least until the end of the month. I was remote through most of 2017 and in that period I quickly learned that being remote for a sustained period is very different than the occasional WFH day. Through that experience I developed a set of best practices that made that experience work for me, which may help others that found out this morning that their physical presence is not requested.

Tip 1: Stick with the routine. The office builds structure. Activities have set times, you have to make yourself presentable, and there is a clear start point to the work day. I've found that doing everything that I would do if I was going to work sustains my productivity levels. The only exception is that if I'm not going to the office, I'll pick the t-shirt and sneakers over the dress shirt and oxfords. Otherwise I keep the morning routine the same.

Tip2: End on Time. I'm lucky in that I normally have jobs where I like what I do. Without the hard stop of a bus to catch or my co-workers going for drinks, I can easily forget to stop. This might work well for a few days, but quickly leads to mild burnout. Stopping on time leaves enough energy in the tank to be at full capacity every day.

Tip3: Build in a "commute". I e-bike so unless the weather is nasty, my commute isn't bad, but it's still 45 minutes of time I'd rather spend doing something else. That said, the silver-lining of a commute is that it builds in time to prepare for the work day on the way in and mentally disassociate from work on the way back. Skipping this step results in me not being all there, especially in the evenings where I would often remain grumpy, distracted, and mentally focused on work problems. Walking the dog, running an errand, or even doing dishes can provide that break. The key is to find that mental separation.

Tip4: Find a place to work. Make it your own. On the occasional work from home, I tended to float. Full time remote requires carving out a work spot. It doesn't have to be an office, it can still be the couch, but it should be a specific place where you will focus on work during the day. Also take the time to make it work for work. Thankfully this period is social distancing, not full quarantine, so stores are open and Amazon is still delivering. Buy a mouse and keyboard, plug into your TV, there are likely little things you can do to make your space work for work. This is especially crucial if you are sharing home space with someone else. My wife is full time remote too and we each have our own spots that we've reserved for work. When we are there, it is clear that it's "do not disturb." Since we stick to it even the dog leaves us alone.

Tip5: Use video and find a way to banter. Humans have been communicating with sounds and visual cues for hundreds of thousands of years. Written communication has existed for only a small fraction of that time. We often get it wrong and we often find the statements of others harsher and more critical than they were intended to be. It's a lot easier to adjust your social barometer and apply the correct interpretation to the wall of text you just received when you've had other recent cues to supply the context. Nothing replaces in-person, but video camera and a few minutes of small talk will add the human element back into the environment and keep team cohesion high even when everyone has become loosely coupled to the office.

Underlying all these tips is that productivity is a skill. If you go to an office every day, you've picked up the skills to be productive in that environment. Long-term remote requires other skills with an extra sprinkling of self-discipline. I'm biased; I love being remote. My house is a lot more comfortable than a cubicle, its quieter, the coffee is way better, and I never have to search for a toilet. Even then it took some time to get in a sustained, productive groove. There's no one-size-fits-all. These tips worked for me and can hopefully help you quickly adjust.

If you want to share your story or offer other suggestions, I'd love to hear from you on twitter.

Original image is CC-licensed [original source]

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Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter:

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