These are some of the patterns I've learned about remote work after working remotely for 2 years and interviewing more than 20 remote workers on my podcast, Work In Programming.
Working remotely can be incredibly advantageous for its flexibility, but there are real challenges - even outside pandemic times. These are the biggest challenges I've faced and how I overcame them.
Writing as your main source of communication
When working remotely and across timezones asynchronous communication is vital. Typically, this means writing; in Slack, your wiki, Jira tickets, pull requests, and more.
While I've written every day for 8 years, I've mostly done so for myself, often in preparation for a verbal meeting. This meant that my notes were rarely concise, often conflicting, and meant for brainstorming. Writing for others is much more difficult.
There are some key lessons to learn about writing:
- Make it friendly. It's very easy to misunderstand text, so it helps to be friendly.
- Be comfortable disagreeing. That said, you need to voice your opinion. If you tend to be thoughtful, it's easy
- Say it anyway, even if someone else said it faster, or it seems redundant post. Many of us are too quick to censor ourselves over text.
So, like with all things, practice! For me, Ship 30 For 30 is that practice 😎
Dealing with social isolation / Maintaining a social life.
If you aren't familiar with remote work, it can quickly become isolating.
Work serves as a crucial component of a healthy social life. When going remote for the first time, it can be disorienting to have most of your social interaction move online.
There are two things you need to do:
- Set up regular time to meet with your coworkers. It's important to feel connected with your coworkers - especially in a remote setting. There are no lunches out, or water cooler virtually. You need to make those happen.
- Prioritize your relationships outside of work. This should go without saying, but of course it doesn't. We all fall out of touch at times, especially with everything going on. Keep up with your friends, your family. Make time to connect - virtually if you have to, but in person if you can.
Ultimately, it's up to us to keep ourselves from feeling isolated. But we don't do it alone - we need to reach out for help.
Balancing work and living in the same space.
Working from home has its advantages, but the lines between work and personal time can quickly blur without physical separation.
Focus during work time can become increasingly difficult when you are surrounded by your personal things. Pulling yourself out of the work mindset after work can be incredibly difficult and it's easy to work late to make up. This can become especially complicated when work and/or personal life becomes stressful - the very time when you need separation most.
Here are some simple tactics to build more separation into your life.
- Create a separate space for work. Similar to how people say only sleep in your bedroom, you should only work in your work space. This way, when you go to your desk you immediately know it's time to work. This is hard in a smaller apartment, but I've also found that turning things off makes for a similar effect.
- Take a walk before and after work. As much as commuting sucks, it still provides an automatic separation in your day between work and personal time. I like to replicate this by taking a walk to a coffee shop near my house. The same as I would on my way into the office.
- Create a work hours schedule. The more ad-hoc your schedule, the easier it is for the lines to blur between work and personal time - especially when the sun sets at 4pm. This is why you should time block your schedule to keep yourself on track.
Think of whatever routines or habits that would normally separate your work and personal day. Try to replicate them in some way. Take advantage of that sweet commute time.