2011 was the year I finally got tired of driving.
At the time, I commuted to downtown Little Rock from my house in the suburbs. This drive normally took about 15 minutes, but during the morning and afternoon rush hours it could easily take 45. Add in snow, ice, or a bad accident, and you might be looking at an hour or more each direction.
While I was stuck in my car, I started fantasizing about reclaiming those wasted hours of my life. Surely there must be better jobs out there, where employees weren’t required to be at the same desk from 9 to 5 every day. I began searching for companies who were hiring remote workers, and in 2012 I joined DoneDone and We Are Mammoth as its first full-time remote developer.
The change for me has been enormous. I’m more productive, more relaxed, and I no longer spend upwards of five hours trapped in my car every week. Working remotely has been fantastic for me, but there are some pros and cons. Here are a few helpful tips I’ve learned over the past two years.
Establish a daily routine
“Must be nice to sit around in your pajamas all day!” I heard this joke a lot when I started working from home. And as tempting as it may be to work all day from bed, I’ve found that I’m much less productive when I don’t stick to a daily routine.
So every morning, I wake up at the same time, eat breakfast, clean up, and get dressed — shoes and all. This helps me mentally “go to work” without traveling to an office. Once I’m ready to start the workday, I tidy up my workspace, respond to any awaiting emails, and then start my day of coding or writing. Finally, I try to always end my day at the same time when my wife gets home, and stay away from work until the next morning.
While some employers fear that remote working might lead to lazy employees, the opposite can happen — it’s very easy to get in the habit of stretching work to longer time periods because getting to work is so convenient. Keeping a daily routine will standardize your hours and keep you from feeling like you’re always near work.
Put in daily face time with your team
It’s easy to feel isolated as a remote employee. A lack of social interaction is the biggest disadvantage of working from home. You start to miss things like taking a break to stop by a coworker’s desk, or simply catching up with people in the break room. Face-to-face communication is extremely important to our personal relationships; without it, we lose out on important information conveyed by facial expression and body language. You tend to have a stronger connection to someone you see every day, compared to someone you only communicate with by text or phone.
In a recent study, 87 percent of professionals think face-to-face meetings are essential for sealing a business deal, while 95 percent said they are key to successful, long-lasting business relationships.
Luckily, there are some great tools that help remote teams communicate over video. At DoneDone and We Are Mammoth, we use a combination of GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, and HipChat. We also have a daily online stand-up meeting, which gives everyone a chance to see each other at least once a day. Jennifer has a great post about these meetings on the WAM blog.
Keep your work out of your home life
Pick a room in your home to be your office and, if possible, use this room only for work. This is also important if you live in the United States and want to deduct your home office from your taxes. When you enter the room to work, shut the door. When you’re done for the day, stay out of the room. This will help you mentally separate your work life from your home life, even though both happen under the same roof.
Get some fresh air
Now that you have a home office, that doesn’t mean you have to stay there! A change in scenery every once in a while can improve your mood and bump up your energy level. Find a secondary office location like a coffee shop, library, or coworking space — any place where you enjoy working. You don’t have to go far. I like to sit on my back porch and toss the occasional tennis ball for my dog while responding to customer support issues.
Spend your free time
By working remotely, you gain freedom over where you work. But you also regain some of your time, which would otherwise be spent commuting to a traditional office. Remember to use that time doing something meaningful — spend it with your kids, start a hobby, work on a side project, volunteer for charity – the sky’s the limit!