Six thoughts on seven years of working remotely
There is one tweet that changed the course of my entire career. It was late 2013, and after a few frustrating months of freelancing, I sent it into the ether — fully expecting no one to read it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This one tweet was the beginning of nearly a decade of working remotely as a designer.
It’s now seven years later. Seven years is a really long time. It’s a long time to sip coffee alone in a poorly lit extra bedroom. It’s a long time to freak guests out during the day while you talk to yourself, sometimes very loudly. There’s been a lot of growth and pain along the way. Honestly, I wish someone had made me a list of considerations to help me adjust when I started working remotely, so I’m now making one for all of you. It’s not exhaustive but hopefully it’s helpful.
Put some pants on
Getting dressed in the morning is not easy. When I started treating my remote workday the same way I treated working in a traditional office, I felt a lot better and more focused. Setting alarms and creating a routine helped me establish healthy practices. I was able to come at my day as a fully formed human, ready to work. Did I wear gym shorts on the bottom and a button-down on the top sometimes? Maybe, but I also woke up on time, hit the gym, and made my kids breakfast. Find out what kind of schedule works for you and your situation to maximize both productivity and downtime.
How to make nice
Out of the box, working from home is not nice. It’s kind of a shit-show. For me, the home was a place that meant downtime. I was the king of my castle and it was relaxing and zen. When I started working from home I had to make it functional and productive. Those things aren’t necessarily at odds but measures have to be taken to maximize comfort, convenience, and usability. My home setup is unique to me and boy-oh-boy do I love it — not least of all because my rubber ducks and unicorns are being herded dutifully by Ron Swanson.
I won’t go into a gear list here (hit me up if you’re interested though :D) but my desk rules. It’s an amazing technical setup, a comfortable height for standing and working and there’s plenty of tabletop to sketch and draw when necessary. It doesn’t stop at physical items, though. Using tools like Headspace, Audible or Blinkist to keep your mind fresh and engaged outside of the day-to-day of your role can be incredibly helpful. The bottom line is that if you’re working remotely, either work to give yourself a great working environment or make sure your employer affords you some sort of budget to outfit your space.
Get a door
I worked in an office at home that didn’t have a door for many years. I have four wonderful kids but there are only so many times I can disrupt meetings during the day to be handed pictures of cats. I highly suggest making sure that at home there are well-defined boundaries that maximize family time as well as work time. Fuzzy definitions of time and space breed frustration on both sides. Frankly, it’s your fault if you don’t have a door. So get a door (both figuratively and literally — framing a door isn’t THAT hard as it turns out). Then if dad’s door is closed, it’s work time and you’ll need to deposit cat pictures into the document holder. If dad’s door is open, please shower him in cat drawings and hugs.
One is the loneliest number
“I’m just so lonely.” This is the number one thing I hear from other remote people. 100% accurate. When you work by yourself, regardless of how distributed your company is, you’re making a conscious decision to be okay with less human contact than someone who works in a traditional office. Because of this reality, it’s incredibly important to leave the house. Seriously. Get out of there and do something else a few times a week — set alarms and block off recurring calendar time if need be. I have social things I do on the weekends but it’s also important to grab lunch with friends, hit the barbershop/salon and check out cultural events in your area. Cabin fever is real. Get out of the house sometimes and get some perspective.
Networking… because I’m a monster
That’s right. Stale donuts and objectively bad coffee at the local Chamber of Commerce. Just kidding. Don’t do that unless you want to. Networking can be more than the traditional Chamber breakfasts and Young Professionals clubs. Designers… I’m talking to you now… USE TWITTER. Go follow designers that make work you like and care about. Read their opinions and respond with your own takes where necessary. Go to conferences. Double up with folks on AirBnB’s. Offer to work at the conference. Ask your boss to pay for the conference as a professional development expenditure. Just get out there and find ways to immerse yourself in the conversations happening around you.
… But I won’t do that
I already touched on home boundaries, but the other side of that coin is work boundaries. Making sure that you’ve aggressively communicated your schedule and set everyone’s expectations for when you will and will not be around. Some key tips include setting work times as a schedule in your calendar app of choice, blocking out time for family activities, and using Slack statuses to give context. Urgent requests will always come through that kind of blow up your scheduled time but good managers, open communication, and clear boundaries will usually make those times significantly less painful. That said, it’s on us as remotes to communicate these needs and requirements — so set expectations early.
I’m one of two remote members of the design team and I love talking about remote work, process, and design. What are some of your hot tips and tricks for rocking that remote work life? Let me know in the comments or @keaton_taylor on Twitter.