As a year is coming to a close it usually triggers 2 things: old year’s reflections and new year’s resolutions. For most of us both of them involve our professional work. And one of the things that is gaining more and more popularity in these lists is remote work.
I’ve been lucky enough to practice it for over 4 years already and in that time I’ve learnt a few things. What works, what doesn’t, why would you do it, why wouldn’t you, how would you do it,…. I also spoke about it recently and got a ton of questions and emails afterwards. So I decided to write down those talk points and conversations and have them published for the whole world to consume.
Why would you work remotely
One of my favorite things about modern world is that you don’t have to live in the vicinity of the place you work. Good companies and good talent exist worldwide so why would you limit yourself to geographic constraints? This Bezos chart slide got the most attention in Lviv and rightfully so:
The other, maybe even more important, point is that you want to get actual work done and not waste it in the office. How many times were you interrupted in the office? You would run out of numbers if you started counting all the interruptions. Working in an office is downright horrid for productivity1. Especially if you have to keep a lot of things in mind to figure out how that thing even works.
Another things that greatly bothers me is commute. And it’s not just the driving - it’s dressing up, getting to your car, being stuck in traffic, avoiding that car accident that inevitably happens in the rush hour, finding a parking place, getting a cup of coffee, walking to your office,…. All that easily sums up to at least 30 mins even if you live near your office. And you can’t do anything when you’re the one driving. At best you can hope for enjoying a great podcast. Even if you use public transport, it’s unlikely you can get any actual work done. At least not time efficiently., but still that’s ~1h every day, ~5h every week, or roughly 1 productive day. Lost. To the wind. Every week.
How to start working remotely
There are 2 main options: quit your job and find a new remote one2 or convince your current lead/manager to give remote a shot. In the latter case I can give you some tips.
First: show them this blog post, especially the interruption comic.
Second: propose a trial - this can range from remote mornings to one or two days per week. Whatever suits you, your company, or your manager best. Measure your productivity in the office and remote as realistically as possible. Show them the results. This will enable you to extend and enlarge the trial. Eventually you can go full remote. Or not, up to you.
Third: try different things and figure out what works best for you. Great thing about working remotely is that you can choose your poison. You can work from home, you can work from cafés, you can rent a small office, you can go into large coworking spaces,…, the choices are limitless. Try it all - what works best for me might not work for you. Being remote gives you flexibility to give different environments a chance. And you definitely should!
If you are a team lead or a manager and want to give remote a try I’ll only give you one tip. Have at least 2/3 of the team be on board. If it’s less than that you might face serious issues of people being unwilling to adapt to the new processes which take out-of-office-ness into account.
Working from home
This is my poison. This is what works best for me. This is where I have the most experience. This does not mean it is how you have to work remotely, but if you want to I can share my experiences.
The first and arguably the most important lesson: separate work from the rest of your life. Either by having a dedicated room or a part of another room where you set up the office. If you do not have the space to do so in your apartment forget about working from home. And I’m not even talking about slacking all the time - it’ll be the opposite. You’ll have a hard time not to work crazy hours which will lead to burnout3. It’s just too easy to watch TV and grab a laptop when ads show up. Then you just quickly check email and Slack, and just like that it’s 2 hours later.
Ergonomics matter. They matter a lot. Get yourself as good of an office chair as possible. All of the expensive ones come with 10+ year warranty so when you divide its price over years of usage it’s not that expensive. I bought Herman Miller Aeron in 2012 and at that time it cost about as much as I made in a month. Almost 7 years later it still looks like new and it’s hands down one of the best purchases I ever made. For my health and for the look of the office.
When buying a chair the most important thing is that you try it out. Not for 15 seconds at the salon, but for at least a week at home. All of the respectable dealers and importers4 will be happy to lend you a chair to try out. There are a ton of “best office chair” lists on the internet so I’m not going to go into that. But you can’t go wrong by starting with Herman Miller or Steelcase lineup.
Another thing that made a huge improvement in my ergonomics lately is a standing desk. You don’t have to go full hipster like I did with Ergochord, but cycling trough sit/stand position during the day really helps. Not just with my posture and back muscles, but it also helps me think. I avoided this for too long but now I’m writing it here so you won’t.
Air quality. I didn’t pay much attention to this for too long. I had super dry air so I had a humidifier for a while, but that’s all I cared about. But a while back I got an Awair5 and now I keep a close eye on all the other factors like temperature, CO2, VOC, and dust levels. You wouldn’t drink dirty water so why would you breathe dirty air? It makes a tremendous difference in my ability to obtain and hold focus.
Last, but certainly not least, get good hardware. Now obviously I’m an Apple fanatic and can talk for hours how the iMac Pro is hands down the best thing that came out of that company in the past 10 years. Yet you will never hear me say that you should use their keyboards or mice. Especially Magic Mouse should not be used by anyone. It’s everything wrong with Apple in one product: form over function. The only thing that is magic about it is that its usage is detrimental to health and I’m sure is causing RSI issues for a lot of people.
Same as with chairs you should try out different mice, trackpads, and keyboards. I’m a huge fan of Logitech MX Master (and MX Revolution before that) but lately I’ve heard a lot of great things about vertical mice.
As for keyboards: now that you’re working from home the keyboard noise is no longer an issue so you should get a nice loud mechanical clicky keyboard. For me this is Planck with Cherry MX Green switches, but you should find one (or more) that suit you best.
Oh and if it wasn’t clear - get as good of a display as possible. Your eyes will thank you and you will feel less tired after a full workday.
Like every single thing remote work has its downsides as well. They come in different poison bottles depending on how you approach it. If you decide to work from cafés or coworking spaces interruptions will still very much be a part of your life. Less so and in different flavors but it’s no calm space. You’ll probably still need noise cancelling headphones. And if you work from home there’s a different beast that awaits you: cabin fever.
Hell might be other people, but isolation sure ain’t heaven.6
Even though everyone will always be just a click away on Slack7 it’ll still feel lonely. We humans are designed to interact in the real world. So join meetups, proactively hang out with friends, organize a picnic for your neighbors, go be a patron to that coworking space. Do something good for the community while at the same time helping yourself not go crazy of solitude.
Another thing is that when you work from home you’re not moving much. You can easily spend the entire day without leaving your cozy apartment. While that sounds like a dream to many it’s not so great for your health. So start running, sign up for gym, go do yoga, anything. Use the time you’d normally spend commuting for exercising. Your body will thank you.
I could keep on writing but I think this is plenty for now. If any of this resonated with you I recommend reading Remote by DHH and JF. Additionally you can always email me and I’ll be happy to answer any of the questions you have. Or you can interrogate me over lunch.
While I don’t think the future is 100% remote I truly believe a whole lot more people should (and will) work remotely soon. It just makes sense.
That’s unhealthy as well but a topic for another time ↩