Why did I start working remotely?
Nearly 3 years ago I attended my first ever iOS developers conference in Aberystwyth, West Wales. Whilst socialising on the first night, a colleague insisted on showing me how to get girls to actually reply on Tinder. Fast forward to today, and I am now living with – and engaged to – a lovely Welsh lady who I started talking to that very night!
After just over a year of long train journeys, I decided it was time to make the move to Wales. However, one major drawback was the fact that I absolutely loved working for 3 Sided Cube and wasn’t ready to leave (even if there were no other options in rural west Wales).
It was with trepidation that I proposed to my boss that I could work just as well remotely as I could from the Bournemouth office. Thankfully both he and 3 Sided Cube could not have been more supportive.
I was given their blessing to move, as long as I visited reasonably regularly and continued to have the same work ethic I had in the office.
So, now that you know the backstory, I’d like to share some takeaways and advice from my year and a half of remote working.
1. Work-life balance:
Whilst it is important for anyone working in any job to have a good work-life balance, this is especially true when working remotely.
It can be very easy to let your work life bleed into your social life. This can cause stress, worry, and even strain on your relationships. Because of this, I’ve taken a few steps to make sure I have a clear separation between work and home life.
2. Set aside a workplace and avoid it outside of work hours:
Your home is usually the place where you can unwind after a long day’s work, but if your home is also your place of work it can become difficult to detach from ‘work mode’. I’m lucky enough to have a dedicated office space in our house, which we only use outside of work for printing the odd document and storage for all our worldly belongings clutter.
A dedicated and separate space to work in functions in a very similar way to an office environment. If you can work solely in that room then work thoughts do not invade the rest of your home, either during or outside work hours.
If you don’t have enough space for an office room in your home, you can always go to a nearby coffee shop or library (provided they have a decent internet connection). Just make sure it’s somewhere you don’t frequently go outside of working hours.
3. As tempting as it may be, don't work from your bed or in your pyjamas:
As much as people like to joke about it, I have not once succumbed to the temptation to work from bed in my pj’s. Treat your workday like you would if you were working in an office. I wouldn’t go to an office in my PJ’s, so why should I work from home in them?
Whilst you could argue it would be comfier working in Pyjamas or from the cosiness of a bed, it is important to maintain the separation between work and home life.
4. Define clear work hours, and take breaks:
Even if you are allowed to work flexible hours remotely, don’t. I work every day strictly from 9 am to 5 pm in order to separate my work life from my social life. This means I don’t work anti-social hours and also that I finish just as my fiancée gets home.
Whilst it is important to work set hours, it is vital that you take breaks – especially when you work in front of a screen. There are countless distractions in an office environment: going to grab a coffee, hot gossip, or a visiting office puppy, all of which facilitate natural breaks.
Breaks are important to give your grey-matter a rest and get your eyes away from the computer screen. Just because you’re working remotely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a few breaks throughout the day. It also goes without saying that a decent length lunch break is a requirement, and not just for nourishment!
It’s important that people know you are not permanently accessible as a resource outside of work hours. Make sure you are strict with yourself and with others about your hours. It is easy – through no fault of their own – for people to assume you are always available due to the lack of your physical presence in the office.
5. Make the most of your free time:
Having a life outside of work is important for your mental and physical wellbeing. Exploring the world around me is what I like to do with my spare time.
Free time doesn’t have to be spent being social, but it is important that you fill that time doing things you love. Even if you aren’t a social person, it can get lonely if you go from an office environment to almost no social interaction.
I’m very lucky that my fiancée’s dad often has days off in the week, as I get company on a lot of my lunch-breaks. I also now have a puppy which means getting out and about a lot and talking to lots of animal-lovers!
The logistics of working remotely:
It may seem obvious, but equipping yourself for remote work is vital to maintaining a good work ethic. There are a few things you’ll need for this.
1. A speedy internet connection:
I was very aware that to work remotely, I would need good broadband in order to do my job efficiently. Wales is notorious for its failure to launch fast broadband in rural areas. This meant the hunt for somewhere to live took us three months in total.
Multiple lovely locations/houses were unsuitable due to pitifully slow broadband speeds. Where we now live, the broadband performs fantastically and is often more stable and performant than the office’s business broadband!
2. Set office visits:
It’s important to know how often the company you work for is going to want you to visit the office. We didn’t do this very successfully to start with. The suggestion was, that I visit once a month to coincide with the work social event, but as this didn’t have a set date I was often already busy.
The social event is now on the first Friday of the month, meaning I can plan my visits in advance. If you don’t have accommodation in the area, agree beforehand whether you will be able to expense the cost.
Office visits are important in order to remain a core team-player within the company. Visits help to maintain the social ties that create a great work culture, and foster creative and productive teamwork skills.
3. Have an office champion:
It is inevitable that occasionally people will forget to call you into a meeting! The one thing I can suggest to try and avoid this is to allocate somebody to be your champion. This person should be the one to call you in for everything they can.
For me, this is Matt, who never fails to remember to call me in for a meeting he is in. Other than that, I will either rely on the meeting organiser or call somebody in the meeting myself.
At one point we tried having a ‘Si-Bot’, which I could drive around the office and chat to people with. Whilst this was great fun and hilarious to watch, it did end up being more effort than it was worth. Commercial bots are also highly expensive, making them more of a fun luxury than a useful tool.
4. Make sure you are heard:
It is very easy for your colleagues to forget about you when you are not there to be seen! Try and make sure you have an active presence on your internal communication software.
If you have connectivity issues on a call don’t feel like you can’t ask somebody to repeat themselves. We still live in an age where internet speed is unreliable and everyone will understand that.
An introduction to new employees is also important. In a changing team, people should be aware that you exist, are friendly, and happy for them to contact you. This makes sure that the workforce doesn’t change entirely around you causing you to slowly fade entirely from living memory.