I'm six months into a job where I get to work exclusively remotely. This has been a dream of mine for quite some time so I'm beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to fulfill it. It's not without its downsides but it's rewards can be tremendous. I thought I'd give a quick recap of some of my thoughts on the past six months for anyone else that might be considering a remote work position or managers who are considering the option for their employees.
My first steps to working remotely, even before I started the job, was to get setup properly. I wanted to have a workspace in my home that was dedicated to work and included the features of an office I most appreciated while eliminating the drab and clutter I desired to escape. We all spend an inordinate amount of time in our offices (whatever they may be, cubes, private corner offices with windows, the cab of a tractor-trailer truck, at the controls of a piece of construction equipment, etc.) so it only makes sense that we make it a place we enjoy being in. My office is an open room at the top of our stairs that is more of a large landing than a secluded room, but it works well for my needs. I started by considering the features of an office I most desired:
With those items in mind I set out to figure out the whiteboard option. Whiteboards of any significant size are incredibly expensive! I didn't want one of those small 18x24" dorm room whiteboards, I wanted a large conference room sized whiteboard - 4x8'! Whiteboards of that size often run in the $500+ range which was far outside my budget. After looking at various products including things like stick-on laminates, whiteboard paint, glass, etc. I finally decided to give a really cheap idea a try - melamine. Buying a sheet of 4x8' white melamine at Home Depot cost me a whopping $15! Add some inexpensive molding to frame it at another $10 and I had a whiteboard for under $30 installed! It's not as nice as a high-end ceramic whiteboard, but it does the job and it's HUGE!
Next I tackled the desk option. At a previous job I had been introduced to mechanical sit-stand conversion desks. While I never got into standing 100% of the time, it was a really nice feature to be able to change positions throughout the day and get some movement. I decided this was the kind of desk I wanted in my own office. There's a wide spectrum of desks out there that do this ranging from levered designs to manual cranks to motorized in an equally wide range of quality. Each option on the scale included a price to match its sophistication and quality. Ikea has an attractive motorized option for a very affordable $400 price while there are far beefier solutions out there all the way up to $3000+. I finally settled on a mid-range option in the Ergo Depot Jarvis desk at around $800. It is motorized, sturdy and has a good size work surface (about 4'x6').
The bookshelf isn't worth going into detail about - it's just a decent-sized classic-looking bookshelf I bought years ago to go with the executive corner desk set that matched. It holds books and other decorative items well. It does what it's supposed to and looks nice doing it.
Originally I considered the idea of getting a gigantic beanbag chair to add character to my office space, but they are also incredibly expensive! Getting a 5'+ chair of decent quality like a Fat Boy costs upwards to $300-500 which, in my opinion, is way too much for something that flattens out over time and has limited practicality. I ended up getting lucky and not having to spend a cent on this item in the end! My mom had a very nice barrel-shaped swivel/rocking chair that she wanted to get rid of from her house. The chair is in excellent condition so I quickly snatched it up and it sits comfortably in the corner of my office. In reality the dog uses it to keep me company during the day far more than I've ever used it, but I'm ok with that!
To complete the requirements, I have a large window facing out the side of the house behind my desk which provides lots of natural light in addition to the benefit of the room being open which allows lots of other light from around the house in as well. My wife & I chose to continue the mocha color of our walls through the office which sets off the white trim nicely. We added an accent wall where the whiteboard is of a rust-red color which contrasts the stark white of the whiteboard beautifully. It's a very warm and appealing space!
While the office space is incredibly attractive, warm and inviting, there are still some things I would like to change about it. The fact that it is an open space makes it difficult to concentrate sometimes. My kids are home schooled so they're around the house all the time. Usually they're very quiet and focused on doing their own work so it's not a problem, but sometimes it can be distracting. There's also the added difficulty of having video conference calls with other people in the house or worse, when the dog decides it's a good time to defend us from a passing walker in the neighborhood! I would love to have the ability to close off the office from the rest of the house when necessary but that is a much larger and more invasive project that I'm not sure I want to tackle.
Discipline is always required for remote work. I find it is very important for me to have a routine to my day to remain productive. Every day I get up and take my shower, get dressed and go through the typical routine I would normally go through with a typical office job. I treat my home office work exactly the same as if I were following a routine to go into work somewhere. The same applies to the end of the day. When 4 or 5 pm rolls around I need to be sure to step away and stop working (whenever possible). It's very easy to get sucked into working too much which is just as unhealthy as working too little.
Socially working from home is hard. There's just no way around that problem. You're secluded in your own home for days at a time with very little real human interaction. Over time it's easy to become a hermit and start making excuses about why you don't really need to go out anymore. It's important to combat this. The best ways I've found are to occasionally get together with my counterpart in systems administration and co-work remotely somewhere for a day. It might be a restaurant, a coffee shop or even one of our houses, but the key is to get together and have human interaction. I also have the luxury of being within commuting distance (about an hour and a half) from the main office so I also try to make a point of visiting the office about once a month to reconnect with the team. Frequent video conference calls and constant instant messaging also help remain connected. Communication is vital to a remote team.
All in all, I find working remotely to be incredibly productive for me. It allows me to control my distractions and focus on the work I need to get done. It eliminates the waste and frustrations of commuting time. It allows me to be available for my family when needed and help with the kids when my wife needs to be out.
There's so much more I could write, but I wanted to get down some of my initial thoughts. I hope to follow up with more posts about this in the future but I sincerely hope this will provide benefit to those that are considering remote work positions. More importantly, I hope there are managers out there that read this and realize that remote work can be very successful for the right people. Don't view it as a perk or benefit, but look at it as a way to boost your team's productivity and focus.
Remote work WORKS!