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What are your best tips for working from home?

sublimemarch profile image Fen Slattery ・1 min read

I had a great conversation yesterday with some coworkers about working from home, including why some prefer it and others hate it, and our productivity tips. I've been working from home more frequently for health reasons, and I'm trying to get better at it! For example, I make an effort to get dressed and ready every day as though I was going into the office. Then, I try to leave my house for a few minutes, even if it's just for a walk around the block.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to most effectively work from home! What do you do to make your space more welcoming? How do you make sure you stay on task, or conversely, how do you make sure you remember to stop working at a certain time? How do you communicate with your team when you work remotely? I'm interested both in productivity tips, as well as self care tips, as I know that lots of folks feel more anxious and pressured to get things done when they work from home.

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Fen Slattery

@sublimemarch

Accessibility lead and front end engineer. they/them

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Hello there,

I will drop my 5 cents on this topics since I am on remote for 1+ year.

First of all, I never work in the same room where I sleep (usually), that is productivity killer because our brain gets used on the same routine and when you are home you are more comfy to lay down a little or just watch neverending TV shows.

When I finish with my job I just go out for a few hours, to refresh my self and to continue with social activities, I saw a lot of developers becoming too much asocial. How we would say "Leave me alone, I want to bite everyone" == anxious

For communication inside the team, we use SLACK, we have daily standups and we go often to grab a beer/ coffee during the week to catch up.. (besides when we are traveling).
There is Google Meet / Hangouts which help us to communicate faster and to kill the feel of our non-presentence in the firm.

For productivity, we are using the kinda agile method. We adapted SCRUM to our needs.

Every week we have a revision and planning for the next tasks and we have one rule, never move the task to another week and if you are done with everything you are free to go. (So we have these rewards to keep us productive)

Tips for productivity

  • Never start to work if you don't have 3 hours at least to sit and work on it
  • Drink water => I have SLACK reminder for every hour
  • Take more breaks => I always walk a little bit after finishing small features, but if I worked on something bigger and harder I always take a bigger break and sit drink some tea)
  • I stopped over-eating because my bed can call me to lay down a little bit, I am eating smaller parts but frequently
  • Set your mindset. I always think that I am in the office and someone can ask me what are you doing.
  • Make everyone know when you are at remote that you are not available when they want.. Sometimes I have those problems... I am working and boom you don't know where you are because of 1000000 questions asked by people around you. Because the focus is our precious
 

Love the water reminder. For some reason, I'm good about staying hydrated when I'm at the office..but terrible when I'm in my own home!

Something I need to do is get a better setup. On days when I work from home, I'm at our big kitchen table that has a coffeeshop vibe. While it's really nice in concept, it's not ergonomic at all and my carpal tunnel always starts to kick in after a few hours. The only other suitable table is a desk in my bedroom which, like you suggested, is a terrible place to work!

 

Definitely prioritize developing a shared understanding with your team about expectations.

  • How quickly am I expected to respond to messages?
  • How clear do I have to be about my presence/availability?
  • Is it okay for me to start and end my day at odd hours?
  • Is it really okay, or are you just saying that while low-key pressuring me.
  • Is it okay for me to attend meetings via audio only?

When you are communicating, it's really on you to be extra clear, but in between moments of communication, it's really a group effort to have shared understanding of expectations.

Working from home can be really magical when you don't feel the anxiety of not knowing whether you're expected to be hyper online all the time. I also think it's totally cool to determine that you should be at your desk and available between these hours and to have a clear break, but if it's not clear one way or another, you're always floating in a low-key anxious state.

My 2 cents, anyway. I'm not sure we've gotten this just right, but I think it's always good to push for and deal with it before it becomes an issue.

 

I've been working remotely for all of my career (8 years+). Here are some tips that have helped me thrive:

  1. Keep your work environment separate from any other area of your living space. When you're here you're in work mode. Period.

  2. Do not have any work related things on your mobile phone. No Slack, no company email, nothing. At most I have Pingdom alerts when required in case shit blows up.

  3. Invest in a great microphone. You don't want to be "that guy" that uses a terrible mic.

  4. 9am sharp, "Good morning!" in Slack. 5pm sharp, "see you tomorrow team!" - On time, reliable is what you want to project. Being reliable is very rare for people. Be that person. People learn to respect your work-hours if you follow this advice.

  5. Over-share. You never want a client or someone on your team to ask what you're up to. If they ask you have failed as a remote worker. Give frequent updates on what you're up to. You'll keep on task, but more importantly people won't bother you.

  6. Be very careful about how you express yourself. Your facial expressions or body language doesn't go through the wire, people will take what you say at face value. This happens even with a webcam!

  7. Enjoy the perks of being a remote employee! Dentist appointment? Go for it! Want to go on a Costco run early monday morning? Why not! Dog park Wednesday afternoon? Yep! As long as you over communicate and do your work, no one will care, believe me.

 

I LOVE working from home but it can be a challenge. I find I usually end up being more productive because there are less distractions but it is hard to find the right balance. I've had some experience over the years working for different companies that have a work from home policy and while everywhere is slightly different, here are some of the things I try to do when I'm working form home:

Morning Routine - Before I jump into work, I like to take some time for myself, stretch, shower, get dressed, cup of coffee or tea, breakfast, or maybe a walk. Whatever sort of routine you do to start your day is important to keep up even on work from home days. I sometimes find when I jump right into working my whole day feels a little strange and more chaotic.

Pick up the Phone - Slack is great slack for being able to stay in touch when working remote. But I also find sometimes its easier to jump on a call and sort something out in 1-2 minutes instead of taking longer going back and forth messaging. I think some people feel hesitant to do this, but if you ask the person if they can hop on a call, it might be easier.

Change of Scenery - When I'm feeling stuck or feel like I'm not being as productive I like to go to a coffee shop and do work there. Usually I lay out the tasks I want to accomplish while I'm there and don't leave until I feel I've done that or made pretty good progress on it. I don't always need to leave your house, sometimes moving from the desk to the couch can also do the trick!

Set an End Time - I usually plan to go to yoga, the gym, or go for a walk at the end of my work day. If know I'm planning to go to a 6:30PM yoga class, I'll be more mindful of the time at the end of the day and not end up working way later than I meant to. It also allows me to fully sign off and transition into non work mode. For awhile I found that really hard, I would say I was done working, but then my computer would still be open so I'd keep going. These days I find it best to shut the computer when I feel I'm done for the day.

 

I've been a freelance developer for about 20 years and 99% of the time I work from home.

For the past ~5 years or so I've been doing:

  • Walk ~3-5 miles a day in multiple 30min to 60min blocks, every 3-4 hours.
  • Standing desk, where I typically wear flip flops and stand 95% of the time.
  • Optimize for comfort (shorts, tshirts, etc.)
  • If you like music, alternate between headphones and speakers to give your head a break (if you wear serious business studio quality headphones)
  • Spend as little time as possible scanning Reddit, HN, dev.to (sorry Ben :D) and try to limit this to maybe once or twice a day
  • Besides walking / exercise, take a legit meal / mess around break (Youtube for fun, games, etc.) at some point.
  • If your job requires email communication, try to get it done as early as possible, and avoid Slack unless it's absolutely necessary (to ask questions, get feedback, etc.)
  • If you find your brain is melting, take a short break because it'll save time in the long run

My brain is wired to finish things as fast as possible, otherwise I'm not happy. I don't mean to rush, but overall I'm much happier if I put in 10 hours one day if it only means doing 6 hours tomorrow, rather than 8 + 8.

With that said, I don't really stick to any real schedule. I get up when I wake up and goto bed when I'm tired. I only use alarm clocks when I'm traveling, in which case I usually set like 3 of them even though I'm a light sleeper, I'm super paranoid I'll miss important wake ups.

Also, if you're dealing with clients in different time zones, always communicate to them with their native timezone. Make things as easy and pleasant as possible for them.

 

I only have a few tips:

1) Get out of bed. It's easy, and quite tempting, when working from home, to work slouched over/under your laptop in bed. It's not doing you any favours in terms of your work/life separation, and I doubt it's good for your posture.
2) Stay connected. Either with co-workers on something like Slack, or with other developers on something like Twitter or dev.to. Most of us really enjoy talking shop, and if you don't make a deliberate effort to chat to peers, it's easy to feel like you're working from a prison cell.
3) No procrasticleaning. Unless you're deliberately taking advantage of the flexible hours that working from home gives you, avoid getting pulled away by errands that "only take a minute" during work time. Before you know it, you'll have a sparkling house and that horrible feature that you've been putting off because it's too complicated will be no closer to completion.

As for stopping work at a certain time, my partner tends to let me know if I'm dilly-dallying on the computer for too long after clocking off time. 😅

 

Most of us really enjoy talking shop, and if you don't make a deliberate effort to chat to peers

I consistently underestimate how important this is.

 

First, it's all about routine! You need to get your brain ready to start work than a real way to shut off the work. So for me before work, I get my workout in and then I can focus in on working. After work, I fully shut down my systems to be fully integrated in my family life. When I first started being remote I struggled with the start and end because it's easy to be flexible. I know for myself I need a routine.
Second, leave the house once a week to get work done in a "social environment" aka for me the coffee shop for half a day. Helps restore my energy.
Third and my last tid bit, make your social interactions outside of work intentional. Set up friend dates or events to get out and be social. This will help keep the loneliness at bay.
I'm also an extrovert so these things help me but I'm sure they can help someone else too!

 

When I work from home I find these things to work for me.

First, I make sure to actually dress like I was heading into work. It helps my mindset think that it's not the weekend or a slack off day. Second, I have water available wherever I'm working and take a few walks outside or indoors when I need a small break.

 

I often work standing at my kitchen bar, or sitting on the floor wrapped in a blanket depending on how I'm feeling. I'll also put on conversational podcasts to simulate being in an environment with a bunch of people.

 

These are just the things I started (or stopped) doing after a few years of working from home, but I have to say I don't always work "from home" often I work from the homes of my girlfriends.

I try to set a goal of things to do for the next day, so I can start work right after standing up.

I stopped setting an alarm and sleeping until I felt rested.

I stopped using chat/phone nine to five and do more communication via email and issue trackers, so people stop bothering me all the time, haha.

I stopped to work in hours, but in tasks. The day is done when the task(s) I did felt enough work for the day.

Lately, I started to think about what I want to do for the week and write it down, so I have a list of accomplishments at the end of the week. I tried to fill this list with enough stuff so I don't feel overwhelmed but still had the feeling I am productive.

The problem is that you always can do more, but you still have to live your life XD

 

The biggest pain point for me was setting the expectations of my family that working from home requires the same focus as working in an office. Just because I’m “at home” does not mean I am there to babysit the neighbor kid, run extra errands, or do chores during my work hours. I am still “at work” when I’m in my office.

 

First time working from home and I love the flexibility of it!
Here are a few tips that I followed ever since the epidemic started.

1. Do not work in your bedroom. Often I find myself sleeping instead of working when I'm in the bedroom. I recommend you move to somewhere that has a desk, good light, and no bed.

2. Set a schedule. This is very important. You should keep a clear schedule to track your progress. My colleagues and I use Quire to collaborate on our projects. This helps us assign individual tasks to different people and also check if the progress is going well. It also has reminders so that we can know clearly when the deadline is.

3. Start work the same time you would normally enter the office. This helps you maintain your original routine, and also stop you from slacking off.

4. Take breaks. Taking breaks help you clear your mind and stay focused, I usually take a break after two hours of working non-stop. I would go make a cup of coffee, let my dog out to the backyard, or throw a few hoops before I get back to work.

Hope this helps! Don't give yourself too much pressure and take some time off to enjoy the flexibility of this. Stay safe :)

 

I find the Pomodoro Technique super useful. I try and stay on one task without context switching for 25 mins, and enforce a 5 min break between pomodoros. Every 4, I take the dog out for a walk and get a screen break.

 

My best friend and I have been preparing for our launch for 11 months. We DRAMATICALLY improved our productivity with Workplace by Facebook and Zoom. We have regular Zoom meetings and use Workplace like Slack.

The real key to productivity has been the accountability and 2nd pair of eyes. Some call it "peer review." It has worked so well that we have incorporated it into our onboarding/training program.

 

I find it really helpful to have a delineated "Start" and "End" to my day. The end is probably the more difficult of the two. I received a lot of suggestions in this thread:

At the start of the day, I usually like to go for a lap around the block, or to pick up a coffee. That way, when I walk back in, I can tell myself I'm "at the office" and it's ready to start work for the day.

 

I've been working remotely for over a year now and here are my takeaways:

  • Regular working hours and making people aware of these. For example I’m normally around from about 8:30 - 5, but never past 5. If that changes for whatever reason I let everyone know
  • Responding to messages right away. Its difficult for people to know if you’ve read a message on messenger and are looking at it or if you haven’t seen it. I tend to let people know I’ve seen a message and give them a rough timeframe of when I’ll respond. Usually I’ll ask when they need a response by and work off that
  • Getting out of the house! Can highly recommend going out for a walk if nothing else once a day. Only 10 minutes to clear your head
  • Keep your phone in another room
  • Never try the ‘watch TV and work’ thing. It doesn’t work. I find music or the radio works well for keeping me on track
  • Its tough to stay focused when there are dishes to do and that. Maybe something like the pomodoro technique is worth looking at? It doesn’t work for me, but it might for you
  • appear.in is the best conference system I’ve found and its free
  • Take advantage of being in your own home. Lunchtime naps are the one!
 

Hi Fen,

For me i can not focus at home so i choose to work at cofee shop with good ambience.