Working Hard, or Hardly Working (From Home)

Photo by Michael Mroczek on Unsplash

Working remotely has been a hot-button topic for the past few years. There are companies who have said no way and companies who hold that it’s the best way. And while opinions on working from home are about as wide as any other topic that we humans can find disagreement in, it seems that the proliferation of high-speed internet combined with ever-more-capable mobile workstations has made WFH more than just a way to dodge a day of work.

For many, working from home is the new normal. In the decade and a half that I’ve been a part of the modern workforce, I’ve spent more than half that time working remotely from the rest of my team, using technology to bridge the geographical divide. And as that technology has become more and more accessible, we see smaller and smaller companies who can afford to embrace this new style of work if it provides some competitive advantage.

At PartnerHero, we’ve taken the approach that working remotely is all about the individual. When we evaluate potential job candidates for remote positions, we focus on understanding how well they self-manage. When an existing employee chooses to work from home, it’s up to them to demonstrate that doing so actually improves their work product. After all, if working remotely is an opportunity to completely control your work environment while reducing commute, it follows that it should result in an overall optimization (even if it takes some trial and error to achieve it).

Commute Time: Zero has its pluses and minuses

The first thing you’ll notice about working remotely is that your commute time drops to zero. Where your previous morning ritual may have involved hurriedly slurping down a coffee while trying to catch a shared ride, bus, train, or even just sitting in traffic, you now have the ability to be at work without even leaving your bedroom. While this will give you back lost hours in the day, many who work from home say that they find it hard to step away from their work and actually find themselves working more hours in an average day due to work always being a few steps away.

To combat this, I recommend building new routines which allow you to transition in and out of a work mentality.

For example, here are some morning rituals I follow:

  • Tidy the house as if a professional contact might stop by
  • Eat breakfast and put away the dishes prior to the start of your shift
  • Put on pants

And in the evening:

  • Schedule one last email check before signing off
  • Set your Slack status to Do Not Disturb
  • Turn off the light near your workstation
  • Pants optional

The above rituals still take less time than commuting. With the time you save, consider reading a book you’ve been meaning to pick up or spending some quiet time meditating. Hell, teach yourself to juggle — just don’t take that precious time-savings for granted. As billionaire Warren Buffet points out, “I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can’t buy time.”

Distractions: Out with the old, in with the new

Working remotely removes the many distractions of the modern office. Things like cake in the break room, someone manically clicking a pen, or that coworker who just completely lacks an inside voice no longer stand between you and the ever-elusive flow. No, you’ve traded those distractions for new ones like laundry, pets, and (dare I say it?) Netflix. Your success in this work environment, just like at an office, rests on how you manage your distractions appropriately.

Just like building rituals allows you to separate yourself from work outside of work hours, building a proper workspace and adhering to a set of rules will help you stay productive and distraction-free inside of work hours.

For a workspace, I recommend:

  • Establish a desirable lighting situation. Some people prefer working near a window, others prefer relative darkness. The key is to find lighting that keeps you alert and focused.
  • Pick a spot that’ll make you look professional on camera. As a remote team member, you’ll likely need to have phone or video calls on a regular basis. Since this will be the primary setting through which people experience working with you, it’s best to make sure the space behind you is tidy and that there is minimal background noise.
  • Think about ergonomics. Depending on your company’s policies, you may be given ergonomic equipment or you may have to buy your own. In any case, hunching over a laptop on the couch day in and day out will take a toll on your back. Think about buying or building a standing desk so you can alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. Use an external monitor at eye-height. Try different types of seats to figure out what suits you best.

And for rules:

  • Keep chores to scheduled break times. This doesn’t have to be rigid, but the goal is to mentally separate work time from personal time. Folding laundry for 15 minutes instead of going for a cigarette break will definitely help you live longer and smell nicer, but when it’s not in direct competition for your attention with that report you should be working on it’s far less likely to distract.
  • Step away from the desk. Maybe walk to get coffee, spend an hour working from a park, or plan to have lunch with others. Not only will this keep you from slowly becoming feral and ensure that you dress and groom like a office-dwelling colleagues, it’ll help you build connections with the other remote workers in your neighborhood.
  • Train your family, pets, and roommates. It can take a while for family, friends, pets, and roommates to understand that just because they can see you doesn’t mean that they have full access to you. Make sure to be patient and help them understand your work setup. In my household, headphones are a sign that one should not be disturbed unless urgent.

Tech Support: That’s you now

Working remotely undoubtedly gives you a new level of control over your environment. One thing you’ll never escape, however, is the occasional technical failure. Maybe it’s your ISP having an outage, a power disruption, or even a failed hard drive. Being remote means that you must be your own IT and you must have plans in case of a catastrophic failure. In my case, I’ve done the following to ensure that I can stay online and accessible:

  • Have a backup internet connection. Most people can get by for a short time by tethering their phone in place of a home internet connection. If that’s not an option, stay aware of local cafes which will allow you to connect, even for a fee. I’ve mentally noted my closest LinkNYC hotspots as well as maintain a phone and tablet that allow tethering.
  • Be prepared to work all day without power. Thanks to laptops having built-in batteries, most of us can work for a few hours without power. It’s even smarter to have a backup power source of some sort. Depending on your location and living arrangements, this could be anything from a high-capacity portable backup battery to a portable generator. I keep a large battery charged and ready to go so that I’m not at the mercy of a power grid I don’t control.
  • Put aside some money for emergency repairs. Even if your company will reimburse you for repairs, you’ll want to have some funds set aside to replace or repair your workstation if necessary. As a remote worker, it could take a few days to a week to have a new laptop provisioned by your company. Being prepared will get you back on your feet in the event your furry best friend knocks a cup of coffee across your home row.

Personal Connections: They Still Matter

The final piece often overlooked by those new to working remote is staying in touch with colleagues across time and space. Sure you have 1:1s and attend the weekly all-hands, but it’s good to find other ways to connect with your colleagues. While each time will have to find their own way, there are countless ways to connect:

  • Play a video game together. Swap gamer tags, Steam IDs, or screen names. Just because that soccer game is virtual and involves cars instead of people, doesn’t mean it can’t be quality time.
  • Start a Slack channel for fun stuff. Sure, your team probably has a #watercooler or a #funhouse channel, but we also went the extra step to build channels like #i-made-this (where people can share things they’ve made: food, art, etc) and #cryptochat (where those interested in cryptocurrency and decentralization can chat) so that specific interests allow for a more in-depth discussion with others you may not have even known had the same interests.
  • Go visit each other. You know the cool part about working remote? You can be anywhere as long as you meet your responsibilities. Take turns putting each other up in your homes for a few days. Not only will you get top spend time with your colleagues, you’ll get to see other parts of the world for a lot less cash.

Final Thoughts

Working remote isn’t for everyone. At PartnerHero, we’ve had roughly the same number of people decide to work from home as we’ve had work from home and realize it wasn’t for them. What it really comes down to is you and your ability to self-manage. If you pay attention to yourself and the feedback from your team, remote work can be an excellent opportunity to further develop your self-awareness even if it turns out that you decide it’s not for you.

Do you have tips for working remotely? Comment below to share with everyone else working (or exploring) working remote!