Morning Coffee About

One year since I started working remotely

Igor Šarčević Igor wrote this in November 2018

A year ago, I made a big decision — I decided to start working from home. This decision had a significant impact on my personal and professional life. It changed the way I approach people. It changed the way how I plan out my day. Most importantly, it allowed me take full control over my schedule.

The big question I had one year ago:

Can I be trusted to work as efficiently from my home as from an office?

The answer is a big yes. With great support from my team and company, the transition to a remote role was much less stressful than I anticipated. In fact, after a month of adjustment period, my efficiency was back on track, and after three of four months I noticed significant improvements in my efficiency and general life satisfaction.

What follows are some lessons I learned during the previous year.

More free time doesn’t correspond to more freedom

The first thing you notice when you start working remotely is that you have an additional 1-2 hours free during the day. Commute to and from work took me about an hour each day. Simple chores around the house, like washing clothes, washing the dishes, can now be parallelized with my work hours and are not taking up slots in my evening.

However, more free time doesn’t necessary mean that I will spend it on anything meaningful. For example, instead of walking 30 minutes to the office in the morning, I would spend 30 minutes more in bed. Compared to a healthy and relaxing activity like walking, sleeping in had only negative effects on my life.

Putting on nice clothes in the morning is also optional. Until you start a video call you can spend your day in your pyjamas. Turns out, this is also a bad pattern to follow. Without putting on formal clothes, I had much less focus during the day. It also encouraged me to go into hermit mode, and not leave my apartment for the whole day. It is hard to convince yourself to change clothes and go out when you’ve spent the whole day in your sweatpants.

When you catch a cold, or don’t feel the best, remote work offers you the ability to sleep in a bit more, and to spend your days in pyjamas sipping tea trying to get better. However, doing this every day will only worsen your well being.

With more free time, you have to take concious effort to invest that free time into something productive. Always put on your pants in the morning, and never forget to get out of your apartment.

The line between work and life

You have more flexibility. You can wash your clothes during the day. You can order books to your home address during work hours. You can cook your own meals during the day. However, you can also try to fix bugs in 8pm, then watch a movie, and then continue the upload process before you go to sleep.

Remote work blurs the line between life and work. You need to take precautions and make sure to not follow your instincts. It’s hard to stop coding when you are on the blink of completing the feature. When tracing the root cause of a bug you can easily waste an extra 3 hours in the evening.

This is not in the best interest of you personally, nor your company. Overworked people can’t produce the best software, and the possibility of burnout drastically increases with each day you spend “fixing only this small bug before I finish my day”. Make sure to get the proper rest every day.

Keep in touch with your team and learn how to work in async mode

When working from home, you can no longer smalltalk with a colleague next to the water cooler and share that you are stuck on your project. Things that happened organically in the office, now need to be shared in a more official setting.

Proponents of on-site, office development, always take this argument and point out that remote work reduces collaboration. However, in practice, this is far away from the truth. Look at any major open source software that is developed totally asynchronously with great success.

I strongly believe that this is one of the great benefits of working remote. Verbal only communication is hard to scale. A remote setting pushes teams to become more asynchronous, and less dependant on the physical presence of each other. This in general is a very positive thing.

When you write things down, you are more precise and you reduce the possibility of misunderstandings. On top of that, we can always find historical reasons for any technical decision, which makes onboarding new people to the team much more efficient.

Invest time to learn to express your ideas in written form.

Use the opportunity to become a better version of yourself

Avoiding the common traps, like going full hermit mode without social interactions, reducing your personal hygiene, and not learning how to communicate, is only one part of becoming a successful remote employee.

To get the full benefits of remote work, seek out and implement opportunities that are not available to you while working in an office. Here are some examples:

  • Go into the “zone” regularly. If you have a quiet room for yourself, you can afford to go deep into the “zone” and invest your whole day in deep technical issues. This will not only increase your skills, but also reflect on the quality of your product.

  • Start a day by hitting the gym. Instead of the 30 minutes walk to the office, use this opportunity to visit the gym in the morning.

  • Eat healthy and cook for yourself. If you enjoy cooking like I do, you can go to the local farmer’s market during your lunch break, pick up some fresh ingredients and prepare a healthy lunch for yourself.

  • Travel. When you learn all the intricacies of remote work and become comfortable with not being surrounded with colleagues, travel to some nice place for a month or two. I don’t suggest going full digital nomad mode, because that requires another level of skills, but a longer term visit to some country with good internet access. Make sure to invest in high quality equipment like a good microphone and a powerful computer, and you are ready to go.

  • Have an irregular work schedule. Working every day for precisely 8 hours is not necessarily the best course of action you can take. Spending 16 hours one day on a technical issue and taking it lighter the other days can be more efficient then artificially limiting it to 8 hours everyday. Some issues demand long uninterrupted sessions, other issues don’t. Spread your time wisely.

  • Work from outside or from a coffee shop. These settings can increase your focus for writing oriented tasks such as writing documentation or a blog post. This advice needs to come with a warning — engineering, operations, and videoconferencing are generally ill suited for working from a crowd.

  • Eat lunch with your friends, girlfriend or family. Spending time with close people outside of your company can fill you with life energy.

  • Instead of a coffee break, ride your bicycle for 15 minutes.