How does working remotely work?

Because I have worked remotely full-time for the past three years and it suits me pretty well, people ask me a lot about how working remotely works in practice. All of the advice here is just that: advice. These things have worked for me or been true for me, but they might not work for you. Take what works and leave what doesn't, just like in the cafeteria.

How did you get your boss on board?

When I first started telecommuting full-time, I was in a situation where I was moving no matter what (so my spouse could go to grad school), so my company was faced with either letting me quit or letting me be remote. 

A couple of things helped:

  • I gave my organization a lot of notice that I would be moving and would like to work remotely. Several months of lead time helped us all get answers to questions and make a solid plan.
  • I agreed to a trial period of six months. If after six months things weren't working out, then we'd go from there. (But I was pretty sure things would work out.)
  • While I was the first person on my team to go remote, I was not the first person in my whole company. I was able to give my supervisor the names of some other people who worked remotely so he could do his own research.

Has working remotely stalled your career?

Not at all. I've been promoted, transitioned to a new department, and accepted a job with a new company all while working remotely.  

I was initially concerned that working remotely, especially as the only person on my team who was remote full-time, would mean I would get left behind professionally because I would be out of sight and thus out of mind. I assumed that I would only work remotely for a year or two, and then I would need to get an in-person job in order to progress professionally. None of that happened, and now I'm so attached to remote work that I don't want to be back in an office full-time again.

Do you wear pajamas and watch Netflix all day?

Pajamas: Yes. Netflix: No.

Truth be told, the first couple of weeks that I was remote I had also just moved, so I was unpacking boxes and settling into a new routine in a new part of the country. So yes, there was more Netflix during the workday than I generally recommend. "My office is my sofa and I won't be distracted with a little Grey's Anatomy in the background!" I thought. But I quickly, quickly discovered that I need more structure than that.

So work happens in my "office," which is really just a little space off the dining room, and Netflix stays off until after work. But I don't have to wear headphones when I listen to Spotify because the cats don't care!

But there is no reason to wear pants that are not pajamas ever again if you work from home. Embrace the comfort.

Don't you get lonely?

Not really. I'm in a lot of Slacks, I schedule weekly Skype sessions or Hangouts with my colleagues, and I pair program pretty regularly. My non-work social life is healthier, too; since I'm not commuting, I'm not too tired in the evenings to catch a movie with a friend or go to happy hour!

I've always been the only person who was remote full-time on my team, but most of my teammates have worked from home at least one or two days a week. Still, being the only remote person on the team can result in some FOMO. Your colleagues can Skype you in to happy hour, for example, but it's not the same. Especially in those moments where work is emotionally difficult (layoffs, an emergency, bad news), it can feel extra isolating to not be able to have those water-cooler conversations.

But active Slack channels (with coworkers, people in your organization but on other teams, people in your profession, people who love cats as much as you do) can help you fill the gap left by the absence of the work water cooler.

What do you do for lunch?

I cook for myself or pour a bowl of cereal or walk to Subway. I generally spend less money on eating out for lunch than I did when I was in the office.

What is your day like?

I wake up around 7, have coffee, and take a shower. I'm usually online by 8:30, but I check Slack and email before then to make sure there are no fires to put out. If I have any meetings, they are generally between 10-1 my time (but I do have a rule that if it isn't at least 9 a.m. in Oregon, I don't have to turn my video camera on).

I take about a half hour for lunch sometime between 12 and 2, and then keep working until 5 or 6 in the evening. I generally hit my most productive "stride" from 2-5. Since I'm in Oregon and my colleagues are on central time, by 2 p.m. most of the emails have stopped and the meetings are over, so I'm no longer getting interrupted.

Depending on the day's schedule, I might take small breaks to pick up the house, make more coffee, or check the mail. When I was in an office, I took breaks to take walks, hit the vending machine, or see if a colleague wanted to get a Frosty with me, so this works out to about the same amount of time. I might also take a longer lunch to work out.

What about traveling or when someone else is home?

I am generally a fan of "vacation time is vacation time and work time is work time," but I've worked from Texas, New Mexico, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and California before! Once, for example, I was giving two conference talks in Texas a week apart, so flying back to Oregon in between didn't make much sense. But I also didn't want to take extra vacation time, so I worked from my mom's dining room for the week in between. I do know people who combine remote work with vacation time and that works really well for them. My one caveat is to make sure your team knows where you are (specifically what timezone you're in) and whether you'll be working half-time that week. Setting expectations is important.

Speaking of setting expectations, if you share your house with roommates, family members, or a significant other, it's important to let them know that your work time needs to be respected. What that means will depend on the situation, but it's always good to have an extra pair of headphones.

What about when your internet goes down?

Have a backup plan--a nearby coffee shop or library--if you lose your connection at home.

What else should I know?

There have been times I have felt pressure to be available on Slack, email, Skype, or phone. I have felt guilty for turning off those services so I could focus, and then having missed a call or message from a colleague with a question. I don't have a great answer for that except… don't feel that way!

One of the most common pieces of productivity advice is to limit the amount of time per day you spend in your email and Slack, and then close your email entirely outside of those times. Being constantly available can have a very negative effect on what you can accomplish, and in turn negatively impact how you feel about yourself. So if you missed a phone call because you silenced your phone so you could finally squish that bug, don't worry about it.

Some colleagues of mine also follow the pomodoro technique (25 minutes on, 5 minutes off) and let their teams know when they're starting a pomodoro and closing all their chat windows. That way everyone knows they'll be slower to respond to things.

Working remotely is also great for your wallet and the environment! 

Thank you to Rebecca Kindschi for her help with this post! Photo from Unsplash.