I’ve been working remotely as a programmer for years now. Sometimes I work from co-working spaces or cafes, but much of the time I work from home. While working remotely is great and provides a lot of flexibility, it can be tricky to get right. With the recent coronavirus pandemic there has been a huge push towards remote working, so I thought I should write some practical advice for people who are trying to work from home for the first time.

Remote working poses challenges on an organisational level, for example how should people communicate, how to avoid a remote/non-remote divide, how are decisions made and recorded? To answer those kinds of questions, you might want to take a look at GitLab’s remote working guide or one of the books by Jason Fried on the subject. But many of those decisions need to be made at an organisational level and so are likely out of your control. Keep flagging anything that blocks you from getting your work done, and with luck those obstacles will be systematically removed by the organisation one-by-one.

Remote working also poses personal challenges to the individuals working remotely. Especially when working from home instead of a co-working space. Staying sane, keeping work separate from personal life, focusing on work, keeping healthy, keeping sociable, etc can all be a challenge.

When working on-site in an office, there’s a lot to take for granted. You have to get up on time, wash, get dressed, eat, physically leave the house, get some sunlight and fresh air, get some amount of exercise travelling to the office and talk to people at some point. You’ll often take a lunch break and walk somewhere to eat. You have no opportunity to do your laundry or house-hold chores when at work, and hopefully when you return home no opportunity to continue working either.

In my experience, the trick is to consider those aspects of working on-site which you might otherwise take for granted, and figure out how to achieve similar results working from home. Here are some concrete examples which help me:

  • Try to go to bed and get up at a regular time.
  • Always take a shower, get dressed and have breakfast before starting work.
  • If possible, go for a short walk or do some exercise before starting work.
  • Work regular hours, especially important is to avoid the temptation to continue working when it’s getting late.
  • If possible, work from somewhere different from where you relax. Don’t work from bed!
  • When you start work for the day, try writing down what you need to get done with a notepad and pen. It somehow helps me focus.
  • Try listening to the radio1 while you’re working, or a podcasts/audiobooks while you’re cooking or exercising.
  • If possible, switch off all work notifications when you’re not working.
  • Try to get out of the house at least once a day for some exercise. Even if you feel too busy. Try to time it for when the sun’s shining!
  • If you’re getting “cabin-fever” and it’s possible, go work from a cafe or co-working space for a few hours.

I don’t always manage all of those, in fact I often don’t. In my experience, working remotely effectively is an ongoing process and takes time. Be patient with yourself. When working on-site an unproductive day doesn’t seem so bad, you still showed up and “did your time”. When working remotely, it’s easy to panic when you have an unproductive day - “I’m a fraud”!. It happens to us all, try to keep calm and maybe tomorrow you’ll get more done.

Notes

  1. Talk radio can be kind of distracting though, I recommend a station like Radio paradise which is mostly music.