Usually when I meet someone new and explain to them that I work from home I get the usual wink and nudge- that I’ve somehow figured out the world and found a job that lets me sit on my couch all day on cruise control. Working from home definitely has its advantages when it comes to flexible hours, being able to run that errand in the middle of the day, or writing blogs from your patio or porch, but it's definitely not a cake walk. I’ve been working from home on and off for over 8 years, but for the last year and half, I’ve been working remotely full time as a Senior Drupal developer with Appnovation. It was still an adjustment for me but I’ve come to truly understand some of the perks and pitfalls of this working environment and hope to share with you some of the things that have made it work for me.
There is no more important skill for a remote worker then being an effective communicator. You’re going to be spending a lot of time on the phone, IM and video chats, with people you probably haven’t met before in person and being able to convey your thoughts and ideas with these people is key. Make sure you’ve investing in a good teleconferencing equipment, no one wants to listen to someone that sounds like they're in a tin can, or at the bottom of a well. Purchase a good headset. They’ll come in handy and are great when you’re in a coffee shop, or on the road in an airport, or when you need to have a private conversation with someone. Make sure to get a good speaker phone as well, holding the phone up to you ear for those hour long phone calls can get tiresome awfully quick and most laptops have horrible feedback loops when using built in components. Reach out to the people you are working with sometimes to chat about things un-related to work. You won't have the same opportunities to bond over a water cooler or a lunch room to hang out with your co-workers, so make sure you take the time to get to know your co-workers (and clients!) when you can. When the crunch is on you'll know you've got some friends in your corner to help you through.
The Daily Commute
Most people think that one of the advantages of working from home is that if you're able to eliminate those extra hours you sit in traffic each day you’ll be so much more productive. I couldn’t disagree more. Establishing your commute is an important part of the structure you’re brain needs to get ready for the day. After I get my kids out the door in the morning for school, I take 30 minutes of “me” time to retreat back to the house, to grab something to eat, take out the garbage, watch the birds, or tidy up a bit. I try to keep this time “screen free” so that I’m not tempted to check email or IMs. I know that soon enough I’ll be spending a enough time in front of my screens during the day to check emails at that time.
Separation of Space and Time
When you work in an office building this structure is created for you, everyone generally shows up at the same time, eats lunch together and leaves around the same time. Your day is easily encapsulated by the environment you are in. When working from home you need to be the office manager as well as the employee. For me to be successful, I personally found that I need to have a separate desk and computer for work in my house. I keep my work laptop free of distractions, it’s a programming / teleconferencing machine and that’s all. I jokingly refer to my office space as the “Ottawa Branch”, but I’m serious about it. Managing your hours is also very important for any remote worker, we all have a tendency to lose track of time when we’re focused on something. Establish times when you are and aren't available and make sure you communicate those clearly to your team and managers.
When I tell people that I work from home full-time I’m usually asked how I keep the distractions to a minimum. It's always interesting to see their reactions when I tell them I try to create more distractions throughout my day. I can easily lose track of time for 4-6 hour stretches when I'm heavily involved in something. I try to get up from my desk every 2 hours, to stretch my legs. I’ll go check the mailbox, grab a snack, switch the laundry over or empty the dishwasher. It's usually during these times when I have most of my ‘AHA!’ moments for the problem i'm working on as I’ve removed myself from the situation a bit and given my brain a chance to process all this info I’ve gathered. Lastly, make sure you don’t turn into a hermit. Get out of the house as often as you can! I like to setup lunch dates with friends and past colleagues, I play tennis on the weekends and run the kids to their appointments or lessons at night.
There is no right or wrong way to work from home. While some of these things work for me, the most important aspect of working from home is to find YOUR routine, YOUR rhythm. Experiment and try new things. Got a slow day? Take a walk! Things starting to feel repetitive? Go work in a cafe for a few hours. I've never felt more empowered as a developer and it's all about owning the responsibility of working from home, even if it's in my comfy slippers!