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Cover image for Working Remote for Those Who Struggle with It

Working Remote for Those Who Struggle with It

aspittel profile image Ali Spittel Originally published at welearncode.com on ・6 min read

I have been open about the fact that remote work is very difficult for me. I'm an extrovert, and the social environment at work helps to motivate me and get me through the day. That being said, due to COVID and the evolving nature of tech work, I've been working remote for almost two years. There are a lot of benefits to it, like no commute time, the ability to live wherever, more flexibility, and accessibility. Also, I know it's a huge privilege to be able to work remote during this time, and so few of my non-tech friends have that ability. But, for me, working remote doesn't come naturally. So, I wanted to write down my strategies for making it as enjoyable as possible.

I also want to note before starting that right now many of us are working through the stress of a pandemic, shifting to new modalities at work, struggling with economic instability and unemployment, shifting childcare responsibilities, and dealing with health concerns for ourselves and our families. None of this is normal, make sure to take time for yourself and it's okay to not be okay.

Fake a Commute

This may sound super corny, but mentally having some sort of "commute" to work in the morning and after work in the evening creates some separation in your day. I have a dog, which makes this even easier -- I walk her at the beginning of the day before work and then take her to the park at the end of the day. I also have time to sneak in a bit of a podcast or an audiobook too.

Live with Someone else

When I started working remote, I lived alone. It made work from home really hard because if I didn't actively make plans, I could go days without talking to another human. Earlier this year, I moved in with my partner. Now, I am guaranteed to talk to someone pretty much every day, and I feel much less isolated.

Even if living with another person isn't a reality, having a pet really helps. Having Blair, my dog, makes me get out of the house, and I still have someone with me all day, even if she isn't human. I get cuddles during my breaks, and I even sometimes get a ball thrown at me!

Blair as a puppy

Have a Separate Place to Work

When I started working remote, I lived in an apartment that had essentially been my crash pad before. It was in a perfect location, but wasn't very large and was very old -- it didn't even have a real kitchen! I worked out of a desk in my bedroom. So, I was pretty much in that room for 22+ hours a day. It wasn't great for me mentally to not have a separate workspace, and there wasn't much separation between my work and the rest of my life. I know it isn't realistic for everyone, especially those with families or who live in cities with high rent and low square footage, but having a dedicated workspace that you can close off at the end of the day is so nice and helps you really separate work and the rest of your life.

Upgrade your Place

Earlier this year when the pandemic hit, I lived in a very old studio apartment in NYC, and while it was in the perfect location, it also had a horrible mouse problem, the temperature was always off, and I was pretty much in the same room 24 hours a day. It was miserable.

Moving out of that environment has made working from home much more bearable. Especially since my company has a work from home budget. Getting a comfortable chair, a monitor setup that works for me, and customizations that fit my personality make my workday so much more enjoyable. It has also become a lot more important for me to live in a nice space, and instead of prioritizing living close to work or right downtown, I'm more concerned with living somewhere that's updated, doesn't have a lot of issues, and has space to move around.

My desk setup

Move Around

Even though I think it's really helpful to have a dedicated workspace, I also move throughout my apartment throughout the day. I do a few hours of work at my desk, then take calls from the couch or the dining room table if I don't need a monitor. It's nice to change the scenery and have a different chair at some point in the day. It helps me re-focus as the day goes on.

Remote Lunches with Friends

One of my favorite parts of working in an office is the ability to grab or eat lunch with work friends each day. Something I do at least once a week is schedule a lunchtime video call with a friend, whether they are inside of my company or external. It really breaks up the day, recharges me, and keeps those connections intact.

Schedule Your Day to Work for You

One of the really nice parts of working remote is that other than calls, you can normally schedule your day to fit your schedule and how you work best rather than being standardized to a 9-5. I often read the advice to always get ready for work. I instead normally put on makeup and get dressed nicely mid-day when I don't have early meetings. I also sometimes take runs during my lunch break, and I often work a 7-3 or 8-4 day instead of 9-5. Use the flexibility to your advantage and work a schedule that fits your needs.

Plan Activities after Work

This is much less relevant now since there's a pandemic going on, but I think it's so important to still socialize with friends and do things outside of your house. It can be tempting to become a hermit since you have to actively leave your house to do things after work, but you still need social interaction and to experience life outside your living space. I find making plans with friends makes me more accountable and likely to do things. Even now, setting up virtual or park hangouts adds some variety to the day!

Co-Work with Friends

This is, again, more of a post-pandemic recommendation, but before COVID I used to do co-working days with friends who also work remote. I would either have them over, or we would meet at a coffee shop and we would work together on each of our work tasks. It's a great opportunity to catch up and have the opportunity to have someone to chat with throughout the day.

Schedule Watercooler time with your co-workers

One of the things I miss most about working in an office is unstructured discussion time with colleagues. Most remote calls have a structure and an agenda, but so much valuable brainstorming comes from free-flowing discussions. On past teams, we've scheduled watercooler time or virtual team happy hours, and it's been great to get to know one another and come up with ideas.

Find Online Communities

Even though most things are remote now, having a community who understands what you do and who you can learn from is so important. I love so many Discord and Slack groups in addition to public forums like DEV and Twitter. They allow me to stay involved with the larger developer community.

Conclusion

Remote work is an increasing piece of work in tech, and I know that it's a really amazing thing for a lot of people, especially parents and those who are disabled. There are many nice pieces of it, like being able to live wherever, no commute times, and the flexibility. That being said, the decrease in work/life separation and the decrease in social time also makes it difficult. Also, this year we aren't just working remote, we are working during a pandemic -- and many people have additional responsibilities as a result. I hope these tips are helpful!

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Ali Spittel

@aspittel

Passionate about education, Python, JavaScript, and code art.

Discussion

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I think it's a very important article! Not everyone will be naturally prone to working remote. One thing I have been thinking about lately is how to foster a remote company culture that is actually fun to work in? Remote video calls are good but there's no substitute for face to face interactions (yet). In the remote community there's been so much focus on co-workers who don't like each other and they are forced into an office, watercooler drama, etc. but what about if the co-workers are kickass and it's a genuine fun experience to interact.

also I was wondering: how to make remote video lunches not turn into some kind of weird live ASMR session ? 🀣

 
 

Yeah I guess everything has pros and cons. Personally I like remote work, even before everyone was forced to. So I already made sure my work space is very nice.

I think it's important to be disciplined and be good at planning if you work from home, otherwise there is no routine and boundaries. Also, for parents I think it's extra challenge, especially if they have limited space. But perhaps WFH also allows people to move to suburb or smaller and less expensive city/town, so they can actually afford better living standard.

 

Thanks for this post! Although I am not an extrovert, I’m way on the opposite end it is important to be mindful of how we are spending our days now. It’s been a real balance trying to make sure I stay healthy mentally and not fall into becoming a hermit. I have resorted to forming a pod with basically my partner and housemates and that has been super helpful to stay active.

 

Excellent advice. I've done a lot of these same things for most of my career (which has been 95% WFH self-employment).

I will add, I suggest finding a group of friends that can do social time on video calls of some kind. I've been seriously considering an early morning "Coffe with Seth" type stuff to give other early birds like me someone to chit chat with about work stuff, or to just shoot the breeze at a regularly scheduled time.

I've actually found myself really engaged with streamers when I never was before. That can be a lot of fun to find a small streamer and get to interact with whatever they are doing. I enjoy being helpful when I can.

 

is that 13" mac comfortable to work for you? I previously tried to work on it on a previous job, but without an external monitor it was horrible, such a small screen to work. Never considered a 16" instead of this one? Or mobility is your top priority there?

 

YES, I agree with all those great ideas.
My FAV; Get out of the house! Feeling pent up? For people with yards or front porches, just sit outside for 5 minutes. Get that Vitamin D!

 

Thanks for this!! Having a separate place to work and pets really help