Long Term Remote Work
Working remotely is a wonderful job perk and can make many developers more productive, happy, and less likely to leave for greener pastures. However, it’s no panacea, especially over the long term. The effectiveness of remote work over the short term is a result of your work ethic and your ability to think on your feet. Over the longer term, however, remote work is only successful if you have good habits for managing your remote work environment. In addition to easily forseeable problems, such as communication and productivity issues, there are a lot of hazards to remote work that you might not have considered until you’ve done it for a while.
Lots of things are stable over the short term that are completely unsustainable over the long term. For instance, you might need to work an 80 hour week for a week or two to hit a critical deadline that takes your career or your company to the next level, completely destroying your work-life balance, sleep, and personal interactions over the short term to get a much better long term result. However, you can’t do that for very long. In fact, we would generally argue that you can’t (or shouldn’t) do it all, but some people do manage it reasonably well on occasion. If you do it for very long, you not only quickly hit a point of diminishing returns, but you often do damage that can’t be easily undone.
The costs of not managing things for the long term are stark. Poor remote work habits can lead to job loss, degradation of skills, damage to your most important personal relationships, financial and health woes, and even chronic pain. We are in a unique period in history where it is not only technologically feasible to work from home, but where we are expected to do so while heavily collaborating with other people. However, if you really want to take advantage of this unique opportunity you need to plan ahead.
Working remotely over time has some challenges. While these can be overcome as they occur, you are usually far better off if you address them BEFORE you have to. Not only is this approach more sustainable, it’s also a lot less stressful than trying to fix things after problems have already occurred.
The layout of your work area can hurt you a lot. Choosing good equipment and positioning of devices is a must. Simply sitting still for a long period of time is pretty bad for your health in general. Be extremely careful about how everything your office is positioned, and pay close attention to any aches, pains, or stiffness that starts developing. You need to be proactive.
Social interactions happen incidentally when you go into the office. They have to happen intentionally when you work from home. While you aren’t going to get as bad as Tom Hanks’ character on Cast Away, isolation will “weird” you over time. A lot of people rely on work to provide them with socialization. The fix for this is to regularly meet with other people for lunch, or have a social life outside of work. You also need to set aside at least some time every week to have non-work conversations with your coworkers. Don’t let your rapport rot.
Health (diet, exercise, mental health)
It’s easier to ignore your health, physical appearance, and mental state when working from home where you can adjust a camera and not have people notice that you are putting on weight. There also tends to be a lot of snack food at most people’s houses and it can often be easier to eat that than it is to prepare real food (or to pick something up). If you had a routine of stopping by the gym on the way home, you’ll need to develop a routine oriented around either working out at home, or going to the gym at a certain point. You need to be working out, at least a couple of times weekly (preferably more), and getting up to walk around regularly, as well as stretching.
It’s easy to over-work (or under-work) when you work from home. “Just 10 more minutes” can turn into hours, whether you are playing games or trying to finish a work task. It’s also very tempting to always be available for your team or management, even if it is during off-hours. Social media, playing games on your phone, or even just sitting and staring can be a huge issue that destroys your productivity as well. The way to fix this is through good attention/time management, as well as essentially having rituals around what you do to start and end your workday.
You can damage your career by working remotely. This is especially true if your coworkers aren’t working from home. If management can’t see you, they easily forget you. Additionally, they often don’t have a good way to know that you are working. You are going to have to learn to over-communicate when working from home, otherwise you’ll be a casualty of the next round of layoffs, no matter how good you are. You should also have regular 1 on 1 touchpoints with your management, both to make sure that you are hitting the targets they want you to hit, and to make sure that your career trajectory is maintained and respected.
Training and Skill Maintenance
Mentoring relationships and casual conversations that can teach you how new technology works are a rarity when working remotely. Remote work is a lot like working on an island. If you don’t bring something there, it’s hit or miss whether you are going to find it there. You should regularly be having coworkers check over your work. You can learn a lot from processes such as code reviews. You also have to take control of your training. While your employer might help you with that, you’re out of your mind if you rely on them too much.
While you will almost certainly save money by working remotely (at least in the short term), that doesn’t mean that you can be lax about finances. Lifestyle inflation happens to everyone, and starts to really hit you when you spend all of your time at home, because it’s easier to justify. Additionally, it takes longer to get a new remote job most of the time, so the amount of extra savings you should have on hand will need to increase so that you aren’t forced back into an office. Besides having a good emergency fund, try to make sure that you still live way below your means if possible. Pay special attention to things you are spending money on. Are they necessary, or are you purchasing to relieve boredom and isolation?
Organization in general
The first month of remote work is all about learning how to get things done. Subsequent months are about learning to keep getting things done. Good organizational skills will be necessary if you want to be effective working remotely. And you can no longer count on your teammates or management for this. One thing in particular that will get you in trouble is not asking for something until you need it. When you are remote and can’t tell whether a coworker is at their desk, this is a recipe for wasting a lot of time waiting. Generally speaking, you are going to have to get better about anticipating problems and solving them before they happen. This includes your own equipment issues.
Distractions and Discipline
Distractions in the home can really cut into your ability to work effectively. Worse still, your boss isn’t going to be able to help you. Besides the obvious distractions in your house (including other people), you can also be disrupted by the actions of other people that are beyond your control. You may find that certain distractions occur at predictable times and simply have to be avoided. Others may be completely unavoidable and you may need to make up time to keep them from hurting your work. You may also want to choose distractions that are useful to you. Watching TV isn’t, but stepping away for a few minutes for some kettlebell swings or to fold laundry probably is. A certain amount of distraction is actually unavoidable and useful, provided you use it properly.
A lot of people working remotely (especially now) have reported really messed up sleep patterns. Unfortunately, this is very common. While you can get away with poor and inconsistent sleep habits for a while when working remotely, they do tend to catch up to you. The amount of sleep that people need varies greatly, however, barring other medical issues, if you are frequently sleepy during the day, it’s pretty likely that you need more. You also need to go to bed and get up at a consistent time every day. It’s easier to let this slip when you go into an office (and to recover from doing so), but when you work from home it can easily become a destructive habit.
Chapter 8 – Remote First: A Guide for Organizations In this chapter, I discuss how organizations can move from being remote hostile to being fully accepting (and functional) remote work environments. As a manager, it can be difficult to sell your own management on the idea of remote work. Not only do you have to convince them that it’s possible, but you also have to have systems in place so that when the people you manage start working remotely, that you can still deliver value on time. In addition, you have to worry about a lot of stuff that regular employees don’t, such as team cohesion, communications processes, and how meetings are conducted in general. In fact, your own workflow (as well as that of upper management) may need to change to accomodate the new reality. In this chapter, I break down an approach to doing this that will let you eventually create a strong remote work culture, while still being able to deliver while you are getting it all working.
Tricks of the Trade
It’s very easy to get into it with other people on social media. When you are posting on social media think about your reasoning behind what you are saying. Why are you posting or responding? Is it to help people grow and learn or is it it make yourself feel better?