On Remote Work

Posted on Friday July 5, 2013

In the fall of 2006, I took my first Developer job with a small software firm just north of Atlanta, GA. Soon thereafter, I became aware of their “work from home” policy which I thought was amazing.

It was exciting to think that a small company valued their employees time enough to allow them to work from home. The goal was to cut down on their employees’ commute and help increase productivity. Little did they know at the time but they were setting trends that would become an industry standard.

As the years passed, I began to work remotely even more and now I actually work from home full-time for Vertigo Software. In this post I want to outline how I work from home and some tips for employers.

How I work from home

If you have worked from home then I know you can identify the “look” you receive when people find out you get to work from home. At first it is a little bit of shock, next it is a little bit of curiosity and then a set of questions about “how do you do that?” For me it is pretty simple given my role but let me walk you through some strategies I have.

Set a schedule

Just because you have the flexibility of working from home does not mean you will just work “whenever you want”. While that may end up being the case on some days, most likely setting a rhythm of when you start and when you end (just like any normal job) will help you set pace and be efficient.

I have small children and thus I am usually up anywhere between 6:00 AM and 7:30 AM during the week therefore I tend to start work pretty early. In the same spirit, I want to make sure my kids have a good amount of “daddy” time therefore I tend to end my day between 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm. Having this rhythm sets expectations for my employer, my project teammates and my family which leads to a successful work and home life.

During the day I will take a couple of 10 minute breaks when I hear them stirring downstairs to grab some fresh water and make sure they know I love them. These little periodic check ins are not only great for them but they are great for my spirit too.

Set boundaries

Good boundaries can ensure that you are both productive and healthy when you work from home. Just because you can work from home does not mean you should work all of the time. Your time away from your job as a remote employee is just as important as the person who goes into an office everyday.

Make sure you are able to unplug, get away and enjoy your family and friends. For me, when I unplug, I unplug. I try to not look at my phone all night long while playing with my kids but try to be fully present with them.

When I began working from home fulltime, my wife and I also decided to remake our “mother-in-law suite” into my full-time office. For our home this is a part of the house that is completely excluded from everything else. It allows me the ability to shut my door and be “away”. Being able to get away and be distraction free is essential in any work place but especially when working remotely.

Setup feedback loops and healthy systems

One common problem that most remote employees feel is the disconnect with their counterparts who work at the office. If your team is not fully distributed then you will likely run into this. When you are in an office you can go to lunch with a peer and pop into someone’s office for feedback but being remote this is not so easy.

Scott Hanselman wrote a blog on this topic recently that I think you should read.

For me, I try to make sure whoever I “report” to or work on projects with know that I am available and that our systems allow others to see what we are working on and the progress that is being made. Using tools like GitHub, Google Hangouts, Skype and Join.me allow for my work to be transparent and contact to be a few clicks away. This type of transparency is imperative to making remote work “work”.

A few tips for employers

If you are wrestling with the idea of letting your employees work remotely or perhaps you currently do, here are a few tips from my perspective:

  • Celebrate equally - If you are doing something “in-house” for those employees who work locally, think of a way to also celebrate those who are remote. I know this is not always possible but even just the gesture goes a long way.

  • Connect regularly - At Vertigo, we do a weekly “all hands” meeting every Friday. This is a time for local and remote employees to connect, for our leaders to disperse important information to the company and for us to celebrate project releases. These little check points make for great comradery as well as boost morale which are essential.

If you a leader at your company and not currently doing remote work, perhaps you should consider the benefits. It would likely increase loyalty with your current employees, allow you to recruit the best talent and not that talent which is within driving distance, as well as make your people more productive.

This is the first time I have written on this topic, but expect more in the future. Let me know in the comments if you work from home and what your experience has been. Thanks!