Lessons Learned after working from home for 4 years

Dale Bingham

I am coming up on 4 years working from home and I love it! I have learned things that work, do not work, and ways to ensure I am in the right mindset when I sit down to work. And I have enjoyed the quality of life as well as the productivity gains in the work I produce from it. Below I will outline some of them just in case this helps anyone fight for working from home, tweak what they do not from home, or even just validate things that work for themselves. This is like bowling: everyone will do it differently. However I believe there are ways to make it work well in a general sense for all.

How I started working from home

I had to fight for it. In fact, I had to leave my company for it. Yes I made a choice and left. I am a computer geek (software developer) so I setup my office at my house (see below). I got a larger monitor and put a TV above my desk. I even wired in my wireless router in a better spot with my cable modem so I can have a fast connection. And I worked some from home here and there while at my old company to get more work done after hours to prove it works. I did all this and what did my company do? They said “No more working from home. We want everyone in the office.” It was 2015, and that was the last straw for me. I’m out.

So I kept updating my skills and found a position through a great friend and colleague and the caveat was “I need to work from home 100%” as they were in Boston, Massachusetts. They said “No problem!”. Done! When my company heard, they tried to keep me. Too late. They KNEW I wanted to work from home (for reasons I list below) and would not work with me up front. So I gave my 2 week notice and I left. (Funny enough, 2 years later they asked me back and said all the way up front I can work remote 100%)

Why I love working from home

Your quality of life goes up. I mean, WAY UP! You are there to get your kids to school AND when they get back home. You can take them and pick them up yourself. You can be there when your kids are sick. You have less stress from your drive on the road especially where I live in the DC area of the United States. You are not as tired from work during the week. You get more work done in less time. You can have things delivered to your house while you are there. You can watch your neighborhood. You get more natural light. You control the thermostat! You can get your coffee and food you like pretty easily. There are a lot of them and I am not going to put them all. You can get the gist of it from this. And, at least for me, you feel an obligation to get work done for your company for the right to work from home.

Working from home has its advantaged when structured correctly

Keep in mind, not everyone can work from home. I was doing it part-time and on my own to learn and do side work so I was comfortable deciding I could do it 100%. Some others co-workers I know personally need the office environment, the people, the in-person interaction and prefer the office environment. That is not a bad thing. Just know which you prefer.

If you are working from home now or wish to be soon there are some things below that I highly recommend. I am doing them all now.

Have a dedicated space just for your work

Have an office, or a specific part of a room, that is dedicated just for you to work in. That is not your kitchen table, your dining room, or your couch. I had an old living room space (one of those those velvet rope rooms!) that my wife said I could have fully if she got to sell the furniture in it and keep the $$$. Deal! It already had electricity, big windows, was in the front of the house, near the front door, and was 15' x 13'. It does not yet have doors on all sides as we have an open floor concept. So I use headphones for now. :)

Set your alarm to get up and work

By “alarm” of course I mean your smartphone, assuming you have one. I have mine set to 5:30a as I am an early person. And I get up before my twins get up to go to school. My co-workers know I am online by 6am, I take a break roughly around 11am to eat and workout, and I am back online after that until about 4pm or so give or take. I also work a lot of extra time because I save 10 hours a week not driving! I even set my alarm for 6:45a Saturday and Sunday to get up, read up on articles, watch webinars, or watch an early EPL game.

Figure out all your communication channels

Where I work we use Slack, email, GoToMeeting, Atlassian Jira/Bitbucket/Confluence, email and of course the phone for calls and texts. Know all the ways you and your group / customer / company communicate and keep that going. Do not, I repeat, do not just get work going and disappear into a box. No one but you will know what you are doing and doubt and questions start to creep in. It is just human nature. So kill those objections and issues by communicating, even over-communicating. Your co-workers and supervisor should know what you are working on and where you are with it based on your communication.

Take a break to eat, workout, go for a walk, hit the reset button

This one I very highly recommend for a bunch of reasons. First, you are probably sitting a lot at your desk working and need to get up and move health-wise. Second, you need to eat. Third, I found that if I took a break in the middle of my “work day” I was able to work more total hours and get a lot more work done because of that. If I need to go into the office (I live a little over an hour away so it can happen), I find about 2p or 3p that I get really tired. Probably because my routine is broken.

I can do easily to 2 5-hour “shifts” if I break it up. And I feel healthier mentally and physically because of that. I have been doing this 4 years and my body, mind, and health are better for it. So step back, lock your machine, and try some things here. Go workout. Take your dog for a walk. Go to a local diner and get a bit. Get some coffee or a drink. Even take a power nap.

Things to watch out for

Make sure you do not just work your life away! I fall into this sometimes. I get in a great rhythm and am getting a lot done and do not want to break that momentum. Sometimes I keep going a bit. However sometimes I understand I need to get up, breath, look around, see what my kids are doing, say hello to my wife, and make sure life does not pass me by. It is sooooooo easy to get more done because your computer/desk/work are right in front of you. Just be mindful of that.

I would also recommend from experience that you have a specific time/timeframe you wake up and get to work. You do not have to be OCD about it really. However I would make a structured time you get up and get to work. You and your co-workers should know the “time you arrive” at work to keep communication open and work moving along.

Find what works for you, and do it well!

As I said above, everyone walks / talks / bowls differently. You need to find what works for you on purpose. And then do what works consistently. Once you are in a groove and your company and you are on the same page, keep moving along! Get your work done, interact, communicate well, and increase their confidence and trust in you. You and your family (if you have one) will be better for it!

There are other things to keep in mind of course and you can search on those to get your head wrapped around it. And there are other options as well such as shared work spaces like WeWork or switching it up a bit and going to your local coffee shop or university library or even the park to get some vitamin D. The main thing here is to see what works well for you and keep doing that.

There are plenty of positions that let you work remote. However not all companies have the culture and mindset of a GitLab. You will need to make sure you ask on that specifically at your current job if you can, or at your next company. Or better yet: start your own company and set your own rules! Just make sure you have a contract and work coming to pay your bills while you build your portfolio.

Now, go make it happen!

Dale Bingham

Written by

CTO of Cingulara. Software Geek by trade. Father of three daughters. Husband. Lover of newer tech where it fits. Follow at https://www.cingulara.com/ @cingulara

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