Time Management

Thoughts on Working Remotely

I’d like to share a few nuggets that I have learned so far in my experience working as a remote employee.  I have been working from home for around a year and a half and have learned some lessons in my experience thus far.  While I absolutely recommend trying the remote option if possible, there are a few things that are important to know.

Working remotely is definitely not for everybody.  In order to be an effective remote employee you have to have a certain amount of discipline, internal drive and self motivation.  Additionally, you need to be a good communicator (covered below).  If you have trouble staying on task or finding things to do at work or even have issues working by yourself in an isolated environment, you will quickly discover that working remotely may be more stressful than working in an office where you get the daily interactions and guidance from others.

Benefits

That being said, I feel that in most cases, the positives outweigh the negatives.  Below are a few of the biggest benefits that I have discovered.

  • There is little to no commute.  Long commutes, especially in big cities create a certain amount of stress and strain that you simply don’t have to deal with when working from home.  As a bonus you save some cash on gas and miles of wear and tear on your vehicle.
  • It is easier to avoid distractions.  This of course depends on how you handle your work but if you are disciplined it becomes much easier to get work done with less distractions.  At home, if you manage to separate home from work (more on that topic below) then you don’t need to worry about random people stopping over to your desk to shoot the shit or bother you.  By avoiding simple distractions you can become much more productive in shorter periods of time.
  • No dress code.  This is a surprisingly simple but powerful bonus to working from home.  Having a criteria for dress code was actually stressful for me in previous jobs.  I always disagreed with having a dress code and didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear a t-shirt and jeans to work.  Now that I can wear whatever I want I feel more comfortable and more relaxed which leads to better productivity.
  • Schedule can be more flexible.  I can pick my own hours for the most part.  Obviously it is best to get in to a routine of working the same hours each day but if something comes up I can step out for a few hours and just make the hours up in the evening most in most cases and it won’t be a big deal to coworkers.  This flexibility is a great perk to working remotely and it allows you much more time to yourself when needed because you aren’t restricted to a set schedule.

Achieving a Work/life balance

Maintaining a balance between life at home and life at work can get very blurry when working from home as a telecommuter.  I would argue that finding a balance between personal life and work is the number one most important thing to work towards when making the transition from an on site employment because it directly leads to your happiness (or sorrow), which in turn influences all other aspects of your life, including activities and relationships outside of work.

It is super easy to get in to the habit of “always being around” and working extra and often time crazy hours when you are at home.  One thing that has helped in my own experience to improve the work/life balance and alleviate this always working thing is by creating routines.

I try to start work and end work at the same time of the day each day during the week. Likewise, I make a point to take breaks throughout the day to break up the time.  A few things I like to do are take a 30ish minute walk around the same time every day and I also have a coffee ritual in the morning that always precedes work time.  These daily cues help me get in to the flow of the day and to get my day started the same way every day.

Another mechanism I have discovered to help cope with the work hours is to leave work at work.  Find a way to create clear distinctions between home and work, either by creating an office at home where work stays or consider finding a coffee shop or co-working space.  As a side note, I have found 2-3 days working at a coffee shop/co-working space to be the best middle ground for me, but everybody is different so if you are new to remote work you will need to experiment.  That way you can have a place that represents what a workplace should be, and you when you leave that place, the work stays there.  It is very important to separate home from work if you don’t have a clear distinction between the two.

Some folks mention that it can get lonely.  I definitely agree with this sentiment.  On the up side, working in this type of environment can sort of force you to find ways to interact with people.  It can feel uncomfortable at first, but finding social activities will help alleviate the loneliness.  Coffee shops and co-working spaces are a great place to start.  I find that working in an environment with others helps mix things up and having the extra interaction really helps feeling like you are a part of a community.  These environments are a great solution if you are introverted and have a hard time getting out and meeting people.

Regardless of what exactly you do, it is absolutely critical to get out of your house.  This should be a no brainer but I can’t stress the importance enough.  Even if you’re just taking walks or going to the store, you need to make sure that you find things to do to get out of the house.  I have found some things that work but it is something again that you will need to experiment with.

If you are ambitious then I suggest getting involved in some other communities outside of work.  Meeting new people (outside of a work environment) is a very powerful tool in managing your work/life balance.  Obviously this advice works as well in more scenario’s than working remotely but I think it becomes much more important.  If you want some ideas for ways to get out or communities to join, feel free to email or comment and I can let you know what has worked for me.

Communicate

Another important piece of the social aspect that I have discovered is that it is VERY important to have many open communication channels with coworkers.  Google Hangouts, Slack, Screenhero, WebEx, Skype, email, IRC and any other collaboration tools you can find are super important for communicating with coworkers and for building relationships and culture in distributed work environments.  In my experience, if you are working as part of a team and aren’t a great communicator, relationships with coworkers can quickly become strained.

Also, having regular meetings with key members of your team is important.  A nice once a week check in with any managers is a good starting point.  It helps you keep track of what you’re doing and it helps others on your team understand the type of work you’re doing so you’re not as isolated.  Gaining the trust of your coworkers is always very important.

Conclusion

The most difficult balance to achieve when transitioning to a work from home opportunity for me, was maintaining a good work/life balance.  You are 100% responsible for how you choose to spend your time so it becomes important to make the right decisions when it comes to how to prioritize.

For example, one thing I have struggled with is how to work the right amount of time.  There was a stretch where I was working 12-14 days just because I kept finding more and more things to do.  While that is good for your employer, it is not good for you or anyone around you.  The work will always be there, so you have to find strategies to help you step away from work when you have put in enough hours for the day.

Everybody is different so if you are new to telecommuting/working remotely I encourage you to experiment with different techniques for managing your work/life balance.  While I feel that working remotely is for the most part a bonus, it still has its own set of issues so please be careful and don’t work too much, and especially don’t expend extra energy or get too stressed out about things you can’t control.

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Josh Reichardt

Josh is the creator of this blog, a system administrator and a contributor to other technology communities such as /r/sysadmin and Ops School. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.