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Cover image for Making remote work, work.

Making remote work, work.

barrymcgee profile image Barry McGee Originally published at barrymcgee.co.uk ・4 min read

I have been working remotely from home full-time for the past two years, and I love it.

Previous to this, I had always worked in an office environment, and now I wonder if I could ever go back to working an office full-time again.

I simply love the freedom working from home brings - be that the freedom from a daily commute sitting in traffic or the freedom to roam around my favourite coffee haunts with just my laptop on my back and my phone in my pocket (for tethering if WiFi is patchy).

Friends and family will often say to me when this topic comes up; "Oh, I could never do that, I'd get distracted too easily." The alternate view sometimes offered is; "I could never do that, I'd still be answering emails at 12 o'clock at night."

People seem to worry that they'd never be able to start working or they'd conversely never be able to stop working. Others would love to work remotely but feel they don't have the culture within their work environment to support it.

Everyone is, of course, different and your mileage may vary but here are some tips I've found help me.

Establish and nurture trust

When working remotely, trust is crucial.

That is to say, your customers, clients or manager must trust that you'll consistently fulfil or exceed any expectations placed upon you.

Problems will inevitably arise if you start to fall short without a good explanation as those who have placed their trust in you will start to wonder how you're filling your day.

Create your ideal workspace

A considerable advantage remote workers have over our office-dwelling colleagues is the ability to control our work environment.

I have a home office which I've gradually crafted to suit my needs perfectly.

Picking out my ideal desk, chair, screen and wall-art makes sitting down to work every morning a pleasure.

Having a separate room in the house for this also helps me create a divide between work-life and life-life.

Eliminate distractions

Distractions are everywhere. Nearly all of us carry a shiny, beeping, vibrating unrelenting distraction device on our person everywhere we go.

You need to eliminate distractions both in your physical environment but also in your virtual environment.

In the physical environment, if, for example, you have other family members at home while you work, you may need to agree with them not to disturb you when your office door is closed.

Virtually, certain tools and techniques to help this. Some steps I have taken include;

  • Disabling the red notification indicator on all chat icons
  • I've installed a Gmail app called Adios which will hold back my emails and only deliver them in batches, three times a day - 9am, 1pm and 5pm.
  • Turning the sound and vibration on my phone off and placing it face down on the desk.
  • Disabling the majority of my iPhone apps from pushing notifications.
  • Muting all Whatsapp groups for 1 year
  • I use a website blocker on a schedule. A myriad of distracting websites are blocked between 9am-1pm and 2pm-6pm.

Create a routine

One of the temptations of remote working is to upend the traditional nine-to-five and work unconventional hours. You can do this if it suits your team, but I find it's essential to maintain a routine.

A routine creates structure and consistency, both of which are conducive to productivity.

This will not only give you a strong indicator of when to start working and also a strong indicator of when to stop.

Exercise

One of the more dismaying aspects of working from home is the realisation of how little you move in the course of the day when your desk is mere metres from your bed.

When I was previously commuting to the office while living in London, I was regularly clocking up about 12,000 steps a day.

However, once I moved back to Belfast and started working from home, that plummeted to about 3000 steps a day. It's therefore very important to inject some regular exercise into your day.

One thing I've found that has really helped to regularly get me out and about, and which was only really possible because I now work from home, is acquiring a canine companion - in my case, Murphy, an energetic cocker spaniel.

Murphy, magnificent on a round bale

No matter how deep you are in a tunnel of code, a young pup will let you know he has needs too and a brisk walk in fresh air is infinitely preferable to mopping up a mess on the kitchen floor. 😫

Communication

When you're not visible in an office every day you need to find other ways to make yourself visible. you may even need to over-compensate a little bit. This may be daily status reports, piping up a bit more in team chat channels or taking on tasks not strictly in your remit but help remind others of your value to the team. Helping to clear a backlog of Pull Requests is a good example of this. You should also be mindful that if you're deep in the trenches of the particular task and but making any visible progress to your wider team, you should flag that up. You know you're working hard and making incremental progress but no-one else does unless you tell them.

In conclusion

Trust, discipline and communication are key to making remote work, work in my opinion. But, once you get it right, it's magic. πŸ‘ŒπŸ»

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Barry McGee

@barrymcgee

Trying to make HTML, CSS & Javascript play nice. Coming to an artisan coffee shop near you.

Discussion

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I've worked from home since 2011. Everything you've said is spot-on and would be my own advice.

One thing that I would add is about boundaries. You don't want work life and personal life to affect each other, so that office space is really important. The computer you use for work shouldn't be the computer you use for fun. It can be tempting to bring your work laptop into a common area and watch netflix, or to work on a side project. Don't do that. Because that brings the temptation of checking work emails and messages with it.

Do your side projects on a different computer.

 

I take a slightly different view actually - I quite like that I can grab a cup of coffee and sit down to a little coding or email late at night if I fancy it. I like being able to work through messages when I have downtime at the laundrette or wherever.

However, this is not so I can clock up 40/50/60+ hour weeks, it's because that then gives me the flexibility to drop out of my workday if I feel like it.

When I have worked for an extra hour on a Tuesday night, that then gives me permission to take a two-hour lunch on Wednesday.

This means I can do things a lot of my office dwelling colleagues can't like nip out to the barber at 11am on a Tuesday when it's super quiet. This flexibility is one of the great perks of remote working imo.

 

While I think it is crucial to have a clean separation between work and personal life I'd love to have the flexibility you're talking about. Finding time to run some errands is really difficult, I don't need to take personal time off too frequently but I'd find that option really useful!

 

Does the photo in the picture represent your desk? If yes which monitor is that one?

 
 

Really cool man.
I have a macbook pro 2015, for the time being I have a Dell 27" 4k, have you connected easily to your mac? which model do you have?
In the photo it seems just a cable to the DP.

I'm also running a 2015 MBP and yes, the screen is connected via DP.

Really excellent, thanks a lot for your answer I will plan my birthday present I think (XD)

 

Hi Barry,
thank you for sharing these tips, very useful even for working on personal projects.
I'm a junior dev without any experience and I'm searching for a remote job (for the moment I could not leave my town) since you are working remotely do you have any advice for someone in my situation?

P.S.: First post on DEV.to, be gentle guys 😁

 

If you've zero experience, I wouldn't recommend a remote job to start - get into an office, learn from those around you - learn about business requirements and deadlines. I was working for ten years before I moved remote full-time. Good luck.

 

Thank you again Barry, I would look for some "in office" local job.

 

Hi Barry,
thank you for sharing these tips, very useful even for working on personal projects.
I'm a junior dev without any experience and I'm searching for a remote job (for the moment I could not leave my town), since you are working remotely do you have any advice for someone in my situation?

P.S.: First post on DEV.to so be gentle guys 😁

 

You're going to need to prove you can work successfully from where you currently are;

  • Have a strong portfolio of projects
  • Contribute to open source
  • Try to pick up local freelance work so you can prove to potential employers you can meet deadlines
 

Thank you Barry, I'm working hard on portfolio, I hope to start contributing to open source soon and I'm on a couple freelance works, so I think to be on the right track for a future remote job.

 

I'm balancing between home office (Monday, Friday) and work in actual office (Tuesday-Thursday). Some days spent in normal office are little bit necessary, as some work need to be done after some discussion or after some code review, there are some team meetings etc and this is always better face to face. Anyway in my case, where commutation takes like 3 hours, working from home has real value. I can wake up 1 hour later, take a morning run and I'm still a little bit earlier "in work" than in case of normal office! Anyway it is true, that I have problem with my finish hour then, my working time is often prolonged till late evening. I agree it need to develop quality space and habits.

 

Nice write up. Remote work can be more productive because I can save an average 2-3 hours a day for commute.

How is remote work normally agree upon?

Does it usually transition from full time office into partial remote than to full time remote, after mutual trust is earned?

 

In my current role, I worked full-time in the office first. It was widely known I was moving countries at the end of that year and I had assumed I'd have to leave the company before they offered to support me remotely.

This meant that through circumstance I already had quite a bank of trust built up so my employers were able to trust that I could successfully work remotely.

If you're not in that situation - you will have to find other ways to build that trust. I'd start with one day a week and build on it from there.

 

Thanks for sharing how to make it work. Self-discipline, and gaining trusts are very good points. How do you negotiate with a manager for 100% remote? Should we selectively choose to work only at a company that supports remote work?

 

You could but depending on your experience, that might have quite an impact of the pool of roles on offer to you. There are sites however dedicated to advertsing only remote work:

 

I'm glad you found them useful! :)

 

Thank you for your sharing. Can you share with me the ways that you get the first job when becoming a freelancer?

 

Figure out a niche (restaurant websites, for example), build a really good example site and go knocking on local restaurants saying "Look, this is what I can do for you too."