How To Be a Rockstar Remote Developer
The possibility of working without leaving your home sounds amazing. No commuting, having lunch at home every day, more power naps during lunch time (if you are the kind of person into it).
With the tragic situation we are facing in 2020, it’s understandable why lots of companies adopted remote work pretty quickly. However, as much as remote work seems pretty simple and fun at first glance, it’s not always easy to transition to remote work.
The Real Deal
It’s common to hear people complaining about remote work after a few weeks experiencing it: “my chair at home is terrible”, “it’s really noisy at home”, “I’m not as productive as I was before remote work”, etc. At the beginning, we are used to the “office” experience: we have an “ok” desk and chair, it’s usually a reasonably quiet environment (questionable) and no interruptions (hopefully).
A major problem when working from home is to control how many hours you work. I always liked to use timers to analyze some things like: how many hours I’ve spent on a specific task, how many hours I’ve spent on calls. When I started on my first remote job 3 years ago, I realized that I was working 12 or even 14 hours a day. I was so excited about my new job that I didn’t think about my body and mind. First my hands started to hurt, then the wrists. In a few weeks, my whole body was a mess.
I still lived with my parents. It was really a challenge to get them used to the idea that I was really working from home and not just browsing the web. I think that it was pretty common for my coworkers to spot my parents randomly in the background of the daily video calls. Another problem that I’ve faced in the beginning was the noise. People talking on the phone, other relatives visiting us, etc.
Sudden changes to our routine can always be a pain, so don’t worry: it’s normal to feel frustrated with remote work at the beginning. There are some things that only time can adjust. But we are going to talk next about what you can (and probably should) change.
Follow Your Schedule
As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t know when to stop working from home. This is a really common problem when I talk to some friends that work or have worked remotely. Just as knowing when to stop is a problem, knowing when to start also is. There are days that you just want to sleep a few more minutes and all of a sudden you open your eyes and 2 hours went by. Sometimes you wake up on time but you just want to procrastinate.
To avoid these situations, it may sound obvious but a good approach is to create a schedule (if you don’t really have one already). It’s always a good idea to have a specific time to wake up, take breakfast and get ready to work. I usually wear anything else other than pajamas. Somehow my mind thinks that is the sign that I should start working. You don’t need to wear anything formal like in an office, just choose a comfortable option. Also define a time to start your lunch and to end it. Set a timer if you like to take a nap after lunch, don’t get used to being late when coming back from lunch time: it’s really hard to fix this later, trust me. Don’t work past your work time (unless it’s a really urgent problem). By following a schedule like this, you create a routine that your body gets used to and the work starts to flow better.
Prepare Your Body and Mind
This one sounds like a cliche but it’s a real thing. If you are calm and focused, your work will definitely be easier and more satisfying. I started taking Pilates classes 2 years ago after being away from any kind of activity for more years than I can remember. It was a life changer. The pain in my hands and wrists started to disappear. My back was not hurting anymore. I was breathing better (not inhaling through the mouth) and consequently sleeping better. I was able to start waking up earlier and stretching my day to do more things (not only work related). When I realized, I was more productive with a single change.
I’m not saying that you should consider starting Pilates tomorrow. I’m saying that you probably should consider starting some activity that brings you to a good physical and mental state if you don’t yet. This can be anything really: jogging, yoga, meditation, etc.
A good tip here is to always stretch from time to time (e.g. every 30 minutes). Get up from your chair and stretch your back and hands for a couple of minutes. This one is the hardest to follow (especially when you are focused on a task). At least try to get up and drink some water!
Prepare Your Work Environment
It’s always a good idea to organize the spot that you are going to use to work. If you are working from home, you probably want to stay in a quiet room with the door closed, isolated from any noise from outside. During “normal” times, a cowork space could be helpful. There are many places that provide a quiet and comfortable spot so you can work peacefully.
If you live with someone else, the first thing you should do is share your schedule of work to avoid interruptions. People will eventually get used to your routine.
Prepare Your Rig
This topic is a sensitive one. The equipment to work remotely is definitely an important subject. If used correctly (don’t even think of using your chair with the backrest near the floor), it will help with your posture and even help in some pains like the ones in the back, hands, neck, etc. It may also help you to create a more professional image. Of course, most of the time it’s impossible to have all the right equipment at once. But you can always define what are the important ones to you and buy them one by one.
I’ve came up with a list of important parts to make your remote work more pleasant:
- One that allows you to adjust height and backrest should be the priority, so you can adjust it to 90 degrees and get your feet to touch the ground
- The ones with mesh seat should be probably better for long periods of time
- Some kind of support to level your display at the same height as your eyes
- Some books on top of each other
- It also could be a cheap plastic support to hold your laptop if you use your laptop display
- Ensure you have enough space for your legs
- When seated, your elbows should rest on the chair armrests leveling with the desk. Your shoulders should be relaxed and not pointing down or up
- Mouse and keyboard
- These are featured together as people tend to have different opinions on the importance of each one
- An ergonomic mouse and keyboard can help preventing discomforts and injuries like RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury)
- It’s really important to have a clear sound during the meetings (you probably will have many during the week). Nobody wants to struggle to understand what you are saying
- Although it doesn’t seem to be a big deal, some employers consider this an important piece of the equipment as it makes the meetings feel more natural and professional
Plan Team Meetings
Although it’s great to work remotely, it’s even better to meet your team in person. It’s a great opportunity to actually talk to the people that work daily with you, get to know their hobbies and interests. You and your team can also do work and non work activities. For example: during the day, do some work related activities (e.g. pair programming, brainstorming, etc) and during the night, relax and go to a pub with them. The meetings help to create a more pleasant relationship between everyone. People start communicating better and the team morale tends to get higher.
If you work for a company with the team spread around the world, it’s a good idea to plan a trip to a nice place once or twice a year. Try to pitch the idea to your company. They should see the meetings as investments, since the whole team usually works better after returning from trips like these.
- Plan your day of work: when to start working, lunch break and when to stop working.
- Practice some activities you like to exercise your body and mind.
- Prepare your work environment to be quiet and comfy.
- Spend some money on work related tools (e.g. computer, headphone, microphone, webcam).
- Plan meetups with your team. Pitch the idea to your manager if you have one.