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Peter Anglea
Peter Anglea

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6 Months of Working Remotely Taught Me a Thing or Ten

Six months ago, I started as a Senior Front-End Developer for Helix Education. Most of what I do now is identical to what I did for my past employer–making websites, writing code, collaborating with writers and designers, and all while navigating the choppy waters of higher education.

The only difference is that now I’m working remotely. In fact, I’m not even in the same time zone as most of my coworkers.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into my first remote job. I did a lot of research before taking the plunge. Ultimately, though, I wasn’t sure if it would be as glamorous as others made it out to be, or if I would find it counterproductive to working, learning, and performing to the best of my abilities.

As it turns out, it’s a mixed bag. A lot of positives… and some negatives. If you’re a remote employee (or considering a remote job), here are my top ten tips that I’ve gleaned in the last six months.

1. Be as available as possible

This is probably the best piece of advice I received from a friend prior to starting my new job. Things move quickly back at the home office, and since you’re not there, there’s a built-in delay for someone wishing to communicate with you.

If it always takes hours for someone to get your ear for just a minute, you’ll build a reputation as someone who’s “never around”–even if only subconsciously–among your coworkers.

As a remote employee, you have to work harder at being available to avoid the impression that you’re never available.

Strive to build a reputation as someone who is quick to respond. Be eager to hear the latest developments on projects so that you’re never out of sync with everyone else in your office.

Sometimes there are time zones that separate you. I’m two hours ahead of the rest of my team. If it’s not possible to align your working hours with those of your team, make sure there’s a clear expectation for when you will be at your desk, and be there. Use your alone hour(s) to be as productive as you can be so that you can spend time communicating with others later. Speaking of communication…

2. Communicate clearly

You may find a majority of your communication happens over chat, Slack, HipChat, text messages, (GitHub commit messages?) and the like as opposed to face-to-face conversation. With non-verbals and facial expressions removed from the equation, miscommunication is just waiting to happen.

Until your coworkers get a chance to really know you, avoid sarcasm to prevent misunderstandings. Read what you write before you hit “Send” to make sure it can’t be easily misread in a different mood or tone of voice.

When talking via video conference, exercise brevity and conciseness with your words. The occasional “glitch” in the video can cause words to get cut off and can leave people confused or asking for clarification. Also, smile. It improves your face value.

3. Go out of your way to be human

Spend time getting to know your coworkers–especially if you’re coming into a new job with new people you’ve never met before. Don’t make every conversation just about work.

Ask your coworkers how they’re doing, what the weather is like, or what the mood in the office is like lately (without being too nosey). You won’t be around the office to hear the banter and water cooler conversations.

Unless you make a concerted effort to be a part of what’s going on, your coworkers’ birthdays will come and go, people will leave the company, important announcements will be made… and you’ll miss it all.

4. Offer praise and positive sentiments early and often

You will also need to go out of your way to foster a sense of teamwork. You won’t be around to share the little daily “wins” with the rest of the team, but having positive relationships with your coworkers is essential to being able to do your job well.

Some of your coworkers may not communicate with you very often; in those cases make sure what little they do hear from you is positive and optimistic. This all goes back to the fact that you need to work actively to shape others’ impressions of yourself. And no one like a Negative Nellie.

5. Create a comfortable space conducive to productivity

The idea of being able to work from your favorite coffee shop everyday is tempting to wannabe remote employees… but it’s also extremely impractical. I am three times as productive when I’m sitting at my normal desk at home (which incidentally lets me work on three times as many screens–laptop + 2 external). Get out every now and then for a change of scenery if it’s needed, but ultimately you’ll work best if you shun the nomadic life.

Also, don’t work out of your bedroom. You absolutely need to separate your work and personal lives (and taking a nap on your bed is just too tempting). If possible, have a dedicated space in your home where you can be productive, work undisturbed (especially important if you have kids… or an attention-starved kitten like I do), and leave at the end of the work day.

To keep from being too sedentary, I recommend getting an adjustable sitting/standing desk. I’ve also invested in a ball chair which helps me burn more calories, have better posture, and just keeps things more interesting overall.

6. Put your pants on

Another good piece of advice from another friend who has worked remotely for a long time (bonus tip: you can learn a lot by asking people their advice) is to get completely ready in the morning. Make your bed. Fix your hair. Get dressed (completely–yes, that means pants). Just because they might only see your face via video chat doesn’t mean you should get that comfortable.

You might consider holding yourself to the same dress standards as the others in the office—you don’t want to be known as “that guy who works in his pajamas all day.” Putting yourself together at the start of the day will put you in a productive mood and help you fight lazy tendencies from the get-go.

7. Go outside

Even if you enjoy the solitary life (I include myself here), resist the inevitable tendency to become a hermit. I realized there were some days I didn’t even go outside the house–not even once.

Go check your mail (I mean the physical mailbox… outside). Walk around the block on your lunch hour. And on the weekends, try to do something away from home, even if it’s running errands.

A quick, brisk walk and some sunshine will do wonders for your productivity, boost your mental health, and maybe get the creative juices flowing again when you’ve hit a wall.

On a related note, when you’re done working, leave work (and don’t come back if you can help it). It’s harder to “leave work at work” when “work” is just in the other room. But try not to return to your desk. At the end of the day, make a list of things you want to accomplish tomorrow, and then wait until tomorrow to do it. This is another reason why it’s ideal to have a dedicated space in your home just for your “office.”

8. Turn on your camera

You can’t foster the right kinds of relationships if you seclude yourself and only ever talk over the phone. People need to see your face to connect with you. A friend told me once that he can never get one of his remote employees to turn on his webcam for their team meetings. As a result, he has very little insight into this guy’s life.

9. Work on more than one project at a time

You read that right. It might sound counter-intuitive to “burn the candle from both ends,” so to speak, but when you work remotely, you can’t always get someone’s attention right away when you need a roadblock cleared. Always have something else you can work on while you’re waiting for a response from a teammate.

Communication is almost always slower when you’re remote—be forewarned and plan your work accordingly.

10. Take advantage of the perks… and be responsible

I won’t lie–there are a lot of perks to working from home. This isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. You’re saving time and money in ways that your commuting coworkers aren’t. So, don’t flaunt it (no one likes working with that person).

Use your extra time to your benefit and that of your company and coworkers. Since you don’t have to fight traffic for an hour every morning, you could choose to get that extra sleep if you need it–but then show up and work hard when you’re at your desk. You could also choose to use at least part of that time reading, listening to podcasts, or learning a new skill.

In conclusion…

Working remotely is a privilege. It isn’t always ideal, but it can be incredibly rewarding. Know the potential pitfalls and make a concerted effort to compensate for them. You will be more productive, have better relationships with your coworkers, and make your employer look great.

Back to work.

And for goodness sakes, put your pants on.

Thanks for reading! What are your best remote working tips? Leave a comment or follow me on Twitter at @peteranglea and start a conversation.

Top comments (65)

cdw9 profile image
Chrissy Wainwright

Something else that is almost necessary to ensure success is for your company to help facilitate remote employees.

Things like:

  • Keeping conversations that involve remote employees in Slack instead of in-person.
  • Regular video calls. We have a daily developers meeting, and a weekly team meeting. I've been surprised how much you can pick up a person's mannerisms over video call. It means I've gone a couple years without meeting coworkers in person without realizing it, because I already feel like I know them.
  • Schedule time to get to know each other. Our weekly team meeting involves each person sharing three personal wins from the last week, something that was learned, and status on a habit you're working to develop. The meeting is also a chance to get updates on things happening in the company.
  • Regularly bringing all remote employees into the office for an event.
  • Encourage pair-programming with screen sharing. Since those of us remote can't just walk up to another employee to ask a question, we regularly hop on Zoom to do a screen share and talk through a problem.
  • A shared calendar for everyone to post when they will be out of the office.

I'm sure there's more, but these are a few things our company does that I feel really help me to feel involved.

cdw9 profile image
Chrissy Wainwright

Oh, and I also have the same problem of being in a different time zone. I have trained my coworkers to always add a timezone when they write a date

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Yeah absolutely. +1 on all of this.

joshsmith01 profile image
Josh Smith

I use a Text Expander snippet so I never forget to add the Time Zone. My snippet even knows when PSD changes to PST.

jasonkretzer profile image
Jason R. Kretzer

I have been remote for a little over 4 years and I can say without hesitation that getting ready for the day -- ie. putting your pants on -- is probably the most important part of this list. I personally dress for work every day. When my day is over and I "go home," I change into other clothes just like I would coming in from the office. It definitely helps to separate your home and work life.

foresthoffman profile image
Forest Hoffman

This is something that I started doing to work on personal projects at home. The process of getting ready also gives me time to wake up. Works pretty well for me, and it's nice to hear that it's a legitimate strategy.

sdake profile image
Steven Dake • Edited

I've been working from home for a little north of 12 years as a PSE at Red Hat and now a PE at Cisco (which is different from principal at Red Hat - PEs at Cisco are technical directors).

Out of all the things on the list, the put your pants on - that is to maintain your appearance and not slip into the "don't shave, don't shower, don't wear shoes" is #1*9000. Don't even think about working remote without instilling this as your #1 priority. Get monthly hair cuts. You know, all that hygiene stuff that is mandatory when working in an office? That goes fast in the first 3 months of working from home. Hold on to those habits - they take time to rebuild if you drop them.

Second priority is physical exercise. A membership at an indoor gym is 10 bucks a month, triggers the release of endorphins during exercise, and keeps you physically in shape and mentally healthy by reducing stress. It also gives you a chance 3-5 days a week to force yourself out of the home.

Third priority is not to isolate. Hang out with your friends. Spend time with family.

Forth priority is learn to unplug from work. Should be obvious but it is not.

If you are lucky enough to have an office to commute to 1 or 2 days a week, even if filled with sales people, I'd highly recommend it. I go into an office every Wednesday even though its a remote office (when I'm not traveling) to get out of the house, see what the traffic is like, and get away from the racket in my household. I don't get the benefit of having water-cooler with my coworkers, but at least there are other folks that i can speak with.

To all those building remote organizations, I'd recommend quarterly or bi-yearly 3 day events where you bring the staff together to plan the business / meet each other / boondongle / etc :) It is worth the budget. There are lots of risks if these 4 priorities are not enforced. Your employer won't enforce them, you have to do so.

peteranglea profile image
Peter Anglea

Excellent! YES to all of this.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

This is really great Peter. We're aspiring to be a remote organization and I'm going to pass this post around.

peteranglea profile image
Peter Anglea

Great! A good remote experience doesn't happen by default. It takes active effort to reap the benefits. That's the TL;DR version. :)

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Do you have any technical suggestions? Software, hardware, anything that makes things go more smoothly?

Thread Thread
peteranglea profile image
Peter Anglea • Edited

I'm not sure we use any software that you haven't heard of before. Having solid communication and project management tools are an imperative. We use HipChat (but Slack is great, too - probably better, IMO), GitHub, Zoom, Hangouts, etc. Been a while since I used Slack (my old job used it) but HipChat's integrated video call button is great. As a general rule, I opt for video call over audio only whenever possible. Being able to see who's currently online is also a must-have feature. Our PM tool is Workamajig, but for the purposes of being remote, any tool that can let you see the current status of any project, who's currently working on it, and any conversation threads surrounding it is a huge plus.

In short, any tool that enables and facilitates transparency, openness, and communication is worth your investment.

There are gimmicky tools/gadgets out there, too. Our office has one of those remote controlled robot-iPad-on-wheels things... but it doesn't get much use.

Thread Thread
ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Yeah I don't think we plan on getting the iPad on wheels any time soon but I do want to put some effort into the little things that can make audio/video/connectivity better. We use Slack and are happy with the calling features. Slack also acquired Screenhero so I'm excited for some of those features to get more integrated.

Thread Thread
borski profile image
Michael Borohovski

The "robot-iPad-on-wheels" was actually a lifesaver for our company - we didn't have the discipline to avoid the water cooler conversations or instantaneous whiteboard sessions, so having the robot be able to 'overhear' the conversation was actually immensely helpful for the remote person.

Thread Thread
joshoiknine profile image
Josh(ua) Oiknine

We just switch from Slack to Discord. The voice channels add an "office environment" feeling to just speak when you have a question. And it also has all the chat features of Slack/HipChat. The only downside is no integrations so if you need that then Slack is your best bet.

maxdevjs profile image

There is any article about how team is currently organized?

mspiezio profile image
Mark Spiezio

I've been working remotely for 4 years now and you summed it up perfectly. Every point you've made really does define what it takes to be a successful remote employee. It should go without saying, but putting pride into how you go about doing your work, communication, humanization, and professionalism are a must.

data_mars profile image
Marcelo Rodriguez

Thanks for the post.
I work at Elastic which is primarily a remote company.
These points are constantly reinforced at our company and part of our values.
Just because you are remote doesn't mean that you are alone.
All of us contribute to company values, culture and "hands-on-keyboard" work.

We value this privilege that our CEO has fostered and that's what makes us a Great company.

ograbek profile image
Olga Grabek

One simple rule that I recommend people starting to work remotely is - "Build your routines". It will be easier to preserve your discipline when you know how you start your day, when you're taking lunch break etc. Also remember to communicate when you're leaving or you won't be available. It is really annoying when you see on chat that somebody is available but he doesn't respond.

theideaguy profile image
Paul Scivetti

Peter, all great points. I've been working full-time remote for 25 years at this was called 'telecommuting' back in the day.  :)

A few other points I'd like to add...

  1. Working remotely requires ACTIVE LISTENING for important meeting, especially one involving multiple people.  That involves asking clarifying questions to make sure you're picking up on the speaker's intent ("So, what I'm hearing you say is....").  Video chat has actually help with communication, but even with video, it is easy to miss something in a remote meeting.

  2. No side conversations in meetings.  When you have a meeting where some folks are remote and some folks are together in a room, the 'side conversations' that go on in the room are incredibly difficult to focus on for the remotes.  In these hybrid situations, it is really important to have just one person speaking at a time in the room.

  3. Leave home every day. (psychologically, not physically)  When you're at work, be at work.  Separate physical space - even a corner in a room - really makes a difference.  If you're partner/spouse also works from home, you each need separate work space (from 'home space' and from each other)

  4. Leave work every day.  Sometimes when you work remote, there is a tendency to be on call 24/7 and never (mentally) 'leave work'.  This is more insidious that you might think.  It totally screws up your work/life balance and messes with your relationships in a negative way.  And it can be hard to do when you're passionate about what you're working on or the people you're working with - but it is vitally important if you're doing this long term.

  5. Actively look for ways to foster team spirit and knock down barriers to efficiency.  Sometimes folks are just toodling along doing what they do without looking at they what and why of it.  If something bugs you or strikes you as not optimal, bring it up.  It is amazing how small improvements to common issues can help bind a team together.

kayis profile image
K • Edited

If you let you lead into the trap of being available as possible and on cam people will use it to bind you.

Synchronous communication is an issue of process.

Tools like Slack and Hangouts are the wrong way.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

We use Slack but still guard against the synchronous expectation trap. We try to make most things async, but sync when it's convenient. We primarily treat GitHub issues as asynchronous. Tools-wise, what's your general alternative to Slack?

I will note that I am 100% off Slack, etc. in non-team settings like these big open source projects. I've found it wholly useless.

kayis profile image

I think chats are nice sometimes.

I'm in the Reason and React-Native Discord channels and it's sometimes nice to get stuff explained so I can ask additional questions on the fly.

But my experience with chats at work was always that people went batshit crazy with them. Suddenly you had 20 messages in Slack, WhatsApp and SMS.

Often the problem was process based, like, when you have no process at all. Stuff getting tested in-production, customers getting mad, ops and PMs shitting their pants and calling for a dev to save their butt and getting angry because no-one is online.

I try to get most things done via email or issue trackers, people expect them to be slower than chats or messengers.

I heard that Automattic uses nice async tools, but I never investigated which, I just met an employee who told me about it.

jasonkretzer profile image
Jason R. Kretzer

The synchronous expectation trap is hard to get around especially in places that are new to remote working. Of course open communication about expected hours of availability can go a long way to alleviate this but everyone has to be open to compromise on that. The fact that your home is also your "work" should not lead to your supervisor/manager/lead/whatever assuming that you are available whenever they feel like it.

kayis profile image

Yes it sucks if people call you at weekends or at night, but it also sucks if they want face-time in working hours, independent of the fact that I'm in office or not.

I mean I don't have a problem with 1-2h a week or a 1-2 day workshop every few months, but some people are just always behind your back :D

rickg profile image
Rick Gregory

All good points and I see people have hit on the top 2 for me (I've been remote/freelance for a decade) - have a separate space if you possibly can which is your office and dress for work. I'll add another that, if it was mentioned, I missed. Set office hours.

it's incredibly easy to never really stop working, even if you move from your home office to your personal space and change from 'work' clothes into sweats, etc. Don't do that as a habit. Just as physical boundaries and appearances are import, so are temporal ones. Keep a regular work schedule that fits with your needs and those of your colleagues and the company. That might be 8-5 or not, but whatever it is, set those hours and try to keep them consistently. Do the same thing for days. If your regular work days are Mon-Fri, then work those days and NOT on the weekend.

Sure, make exceptions here and there if a project is in crunch time and really needs the extra push. But don't fall into the trap of working 24/7.

That said, working remotely has a big advantage that being in an office does not. Work permitting, you can take a couple of hours on a random day to have a long lunch with a friend you've not seen and make those hours up in the evening.... so don't straitjacket yourself. Occasionally, it makes sense to break the schedule and if you can do it without letting people down and you want to... do that.

rpalo profile image
Ryan Palo

My dad worked remote for a while and the getting dressed for work thing was definitely one of the biggest for him. It helped him get into the work mode and get stuff done, like you said. Thanks for the tips!

Also. I expect pictures of your kitten with a future post. :)

peteranglea profile image
Peter Anglea

Thanks, Ryan. I'll try to work in your request. ;)

bhwd profile image
Ben H

I have been working from home for approximately 6 months now too. After we decided to move further from the office I managed to convince my employer that it would be a viable and effective option. I struck a deal with my employer that allows me to work from home 2 days a week and I currently do the 100mile commute and stay with family for the other 3 days. This allows for communication in the office and means that I still feel part of the team.

It is very easy to get forgotten/to forget about others when you're working from home. If you have previously been in the office you will notice that at times you feel you miss out. For example, office lunches...since I have moved away we haven't had a single lunch when I have been in the office. On the other hand everyone else has been there for 3 lunches on a Friday. I guess my bonus is that I am at home. Hard to deal with sometimes though.

Isolation is a huge thing and I am not the most outgoing of people so I truly need to force myself to go out at lunch. Most days I forget and just continue working and on a few occasions I work late, sometimes very late.

It is all part of the learning process and it is getting easier/better for the most part. Hopefully I can swap the days so I am home 3 days a week. The hardest part for me is being away from my SO.

Slack helps, although we haven't used video chat. I am 10x more productive when at home as there are fewer distractions thanks to being the only one home during the day, no office chit-chat and a dedicated office at home.

My advice in summary would the following:

  • Look after yourself, appearance and health
  • Don't shy away from the world, enjoy the outside
  • Speak with your co-workers. Ensure you ask for feedback to ensure you are meeting their expectations
  • Inline with point 3 - Give feedback, if someone isn't accommodating you or making your life harder for no reason, offer feedback to improve the workflow.
  • Enjoy it! Plenty of benefits to make the most of this opportunity!
m19nl profile image
Martijn • Edited

Great post! As expected everyone has personal preferences. For me a coffeeshop is my number one productivity boost as opposed to being at home.
My brain now knows that when I just paid $5 and setup my gear (macbook + keyboard + mouse = + Roost stand) on the table that I better make use of this time whereas at home it can be more tempting to procrastinate.
This could change if I had the luxury of a real home office of course. Keep experimenting and see what works for you would be my advice.

ivanhoe011 profile image
Ivan Dilber

Good points, except that I don't agree that remote work is a privilege. It's not a right either, it's just a part of a deal between you and your employer, the same way you might negotiate a better salary or the use of company car or something else. You save some money (and more importantly time) on commuting, but the company also saves tones of money for not having to provide you a workplace and all that goes with it. Also you spend a lot of money that otherwise you wouldn't (you use your own computer, office equipment, Internet, pay for heating all day, you need to cook/buy lunch, coffee, etc.). So it's just another way to cut a deal with your employer, and each one of us pushes for what he/she finds important. To me it's working remotely, so that I can live where I want. But my colleagues at the office also get their share of benefits, so I don't see myself as being in privileged position at all.

shobhit profile image
Shobhit Puri

I switched to working remotely 8 months back for the same company for which I used to work from their office. Can't agree more to all the points. I wish I came across this article 8 months back. I've setup my office at home. Working everyday from home got boring. Occasionally going out and working from a co-working space has been very refreshing.