A few days ago I remarked on Twitter about how interesting it was to be back in an office again. It was only for a day (I was in town for a meeting at work), but just the actual feeling of being in an office is something that is rather unusual for me. I’ve been working from home for roughly twenty years and have been - if I may say so - a bit successful at it. A few minutes after I tweeted, a follower asked me how I’ve managed to do this. I thought I’d share my opinion on this out here for everyone to see and as always - I welcome people to chime in with their own thoughts and opinions.
When I think about working remotely, I tend to break it down into two main categories - the first being the core mechanics of making it work (i.e. things you need, should have, etc in your workspace) and the second being how to find a remote job and be successful at it.
In terms of what you need in your home, there is the “ideal” and then there is the practical reality of your situation. When I first started working from home, my “office” was a small desk in our bedroom. Later on, we moved into a slightly bigger house and I got my own office, and that is definitely the ideal situation, but I certainly don’t expect everyone is going to have an extra bedroom around. I do think it’s important you have some separation. So if your bedroom is your office, then during the day you may want to consider closing your door to create a more private space. You may want to invest in some nice noise canceling headphones to keep out noises from the rest of the house. Try to find some way to separate yourself from the rest of the house to help you focus.
If working at home is not an option, then you may want to consider a “coworking” space. These are buildings that let you ‘rent’ out space (normally not private though) a day or even a couple of hours at a time. This may be a great option for simply taking a break from working at your dinner table.
You can - within reason - also work at a coffee shop, but you’re kind of pushing your luck there in terms of actually being able to find a decent seat (with power) and not overstaying your welcome. And I don’t know about you, but as much as I love coffee, the smell of it after thirty or so minutes really begins to bug me.
Working from home means I’ve much more available to do things like running a child to the doctor or picking up supplies for school, and that’s great. While I have that flexibility, I still ensure that I follow a pretty strict schedule. I’m at my desk by 8 AM and I’m done around 5:30. (I take a good lunch and exercise break in there.) By having a schedule, I mentally switch over to “work mode” and I don’t (typically ;) have issues paying attention and staying on task. I strongly recommend picking a schedule and sticking to it. Your schedule will also depend on when your coworkers are working which can be an issue if they are far away time-zone wise. As an American, this is not really an issue. I’m in CST. I have coworkers in PST and EST. Every now and then (although rarely) I’ll have a meeting “late” for me (5 PM) but in general, we tend to be aware that the best times for meetings that covers all the bases. In the end, just be sure your manager knows your working hours and is ok with it, and be willing to be flexible when the need arises.
I wasn’t even going to mention it - but I assume high-speed Internet is an option. If not - obviously that impacts your ability to work at home. But if you can afford it and haven’t upgraded your connection, then I would definitely do so before transitioning to working at home.
Everything else I think is pretty secondary. You can think about your desk and chair and stuff like that, but honestly I never really spent much time on that. I got a cheap chair and desk from Office Depot and it works fine for me. Some people have physical conditions where that may not be an option, so maybe think about that before setting up your workspace.
So - this all assumes that you’ve got the job. How do you actually find it? Many companies now are being very upfront about whether or not remote is an option. This saves you from having to ask up front. Obviously, if they do not, it is in your best interest to ask immediately. For someone new to the field, it’s going to be difficult to start remotely. You don’t have the history of work to prove your worth and your ability to get work done without supervision. You will probably want to go out of your way to ensure your manager knows what you are doing, how you are progressing, and generally, making sure that even though you aren’t in the office your presence is felt. To be fair, that’s true for people with years of experience as well. And heck, probably just as true for folks in the office too. If you can’t document your achievements, in most cases it won’t matter what you actually get done.
In terms of the tech industry, are there specific parts that are more open to remote work? I’m in developer relations, and since travel is a part of my job, in general remote has been ok. (Although IBM is beginning to crack down on remote workers and that’s part of the reason I left.) I’d imagine that an engineering position may be more difficult to get remote as an employer may want you physically close to other engineers, but I’ve also been in an office where people in the same building only met on Slack. I have no proof of this, but QA feels like it would be good for a remote person as well. Unfortunately, since my career has been focused on dev rel and “general web”, I can’t really talk to other fields very much. This is where I’d love to hear from my readers in the comments below.
Header photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash