Making "Work from Home" Work

4 ways to work from home better

Geoff Chan's profile picture

Geoff Chan

Design | Front-end

ยท 7 min read


I wanted to write about my experience working remotely in light of the recent influx of people embracing this new work reality due to the Coronavirus. I've had the privilege of working from home in some capacity throughout my entire 9-year career, most of which I spent full-time remote. So, my hope is to share some of my experience with you, as well as what has worked for me. Not everything here will apply to everyone, but I hope that this helps some of you as you embark on this new professional experience.

It was 2013 and my first daughter was on her way. My wife and I had also just purchased our first home. I was working as a front-end developer at a large non-profit and was moved on a team that was already fully remote. It was perfect timing, I thought. More time at home to spend with my wife and new child, and I would be around to help get things settled at our new place. This was my first foray into working professionally at home full-time and boy was it a mess. I pretty much made any and every mistake you can make working from home. Working remotely comes with a lot of perks, but it also comes with a lot of challenges.

Since that first experience, which was really more of an experiment, I've had to make a lot of adjustments to make working from home work. Some of these included adjustments to my mindset, workspace, routine, and schedule. I'll share the 4 most impactful changes I made that helped me to be the most productive I've ever been, and really enjoy the benefits of working from home (while avoiding the pitfalls).

1) Work it out with whoever you live with

If you have a spouse, partner, roommate, or someone that you live with, you need to sit down and have a serious conversation about your work arrangement. Working in an office comes with a lot of inherent structure and boundaries. None of these will be in place in your home. You might be thinking, "well I have the most amazing spouse and they'll always respect my boundaries". That's nice. Have the conversation anyways. If they are that amazing then they will appreciate the transparency and communication. Just don't leave things to assumptions. For me and my wife, we have a few ground rules that we have both agreed to. I won't go over all of them, but some examples include:

  • Messaging me first if my basement office door is closed and she wants to come down
  • Keeping the kids out of the basement during work hours (generally 8am to 4pm)
  • No expectation of me doing housework during work hours (I'll still change the odd diaper or take out the trash because I want to help. But the expectation is set so that there is no confusion and conflict)

The rules that you actually set don't matter and they will be different for each person. It's about pre-emptive communication when dealing with situations. Particularly situations that affect your work. One of the biggest benefits of working from home is the flexibility that it affords. It's great to take advantage of that flexibility. Just make sure that you and those you live with agree to respect it as well.

2) Have a designated workspace

I used to joke with colleagues that I could work from my bed or my couch. Have you ever tried grinding an 8 hour day from your bed? Hello chronic back pain! There is also something that triggers mentally when you put yourself in a place that is designated for work. Your mindset instantly shifts and it helps you to get into the flow of things faster. This is especially helpful if you do work that requires flow, such as design or programming. Personally, I've created my own office space in a corner in our basement. I have a standup desk that I bought from Amazon, along with a second monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer and filing cabinet. I try to keep my workspace relatively tidy because I've found that having a cluttered space affects me mentally. Most importantly, I have a door that closes.

3) Create a routine

When you work in an office you are almost certainly bound to a routine. The very act of getting up in the morning, getting ready for work, and commuting forces you into a routine that helps you to get into "work mode". That doesn't happen when you work remotely. Your work mornings can be the same as your weekend mornings. I'm sure for some people they are able to get into the flow of work without a routine. Maybe you thrive on the spontaneity of having a different morning every day. That's great! That just never worked for me because I realized that consistency made me more efficient and productive with my time. This is generally how my mornings go:

  1. Wake up at 6:30am
  2. Workout for an hour and then shower
  3. Make/eat breakfast
  4. Open WorkFlowy/Trello and review the tasks I have for the day
  5. Tackle one small task
  6. Have a standup call with my business partner Jordan
  7. Grab a coffee

There are variations to this morning routine, and obviously, there are days that are an exception, but I rarely go a regular workday without doing all of these things.

4) Make it a point to connect with people

It took me 2 years of working remotely to discover that I needed this one. I have always been a more introverted person and I love my alone time. It's different when you experience this every day for the majority of your workday. At that point in my career, I was also starting to transition from an intermediate developer to a senior. I think that this added to my feelings of isolation because I was longing for more feedback in my work. I wanted to find more areas where I could grow, and ultimately, find out where my career was headed. If your company doesn't have processes and procedures in place for regular feedback, then schedule them yourself. Make it a point to ask colleagues about their week while on a call with them about work. Connect with old coworkers on LinkedIn and invite them to a Google Hangout, then flip on your video just to put them (and yourself) in an awkward situation! Okay, maybe not the last one. But try to connect. It's a basic human need, and working remotely will make it more of a challenge.

Summary

This topic is something that has always been near and dear to me. Working remotely is something that I feel passionately about because I believe that it is a large part of taking control of work-life balance. This is also why we run our company, Stack Five, completely distributed and remote. There are so many organizations that could benefit from implementing a remote work policy or even, dare I say, turning themselves into a completely remote team. I hope that the 4 tips I gave above will help some of you that are adjusting to working remotely. And if you've already been working remotely, I would love to hear about what works for you in your specific situation. If you have questions around how we work remotely at Stack Five, or just want to chat about your specific remote work situation, feel free to drop us a line on Twitter @stackfive_io or Email!


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