One year of working remote

Yet another post on summing up the first year of working remote. But I hope it can inspire someone out there, or give someone some clue to what it’s like and where the great parts are and possible hidden pitfalls. I’m not saying it’s for everyone since I know plenty of people who like the idea of having a clear distinction between work and home. But for me it works and I probably never want to go back.

It’s been over a year now since I quit my old job and started working remote full time. I started this journey with an old colleague of mine, consulting and building web sites or systems for clients where I was producing/consulting and he managed all clients (but also producing). Him living in Gothenburg, where almost all clients where located also, and me living in Stockholm meant the work was done on a full remote basis since it’s about a three and a half hour train ride between the two cities.

I’ve since then transitioned to working on my own, mainly due to moving in with my girlfriend which gave me a better financial situation that allowed me to work less to pay the bills. I still produce and consult, but on a smaller scale while dedicating the rest of my time on writing and prototyping some ideas for products I have.

Give it some time

The shift from a regular nine to five job to working remote full time is a fundamental change, getting used to it is nothing that will happen overnight. It took me quite some time, probably three months or so, to adjust and finding my own path in how to function properly in my new way of working. This is one of the reasons I’m writing this, to perhaps help someone think about the things I’ve experienced and learned over this year.

Not having the routine of going to an office, working a few hour, having lunch, working a few more hours and then going home leaves you with an empty page for your day. Creating new habits and routines have been important for me and it’s one of the things that took me a while to get into and one of the reasons you should give it some time. For me the most important part is my morning routine which I’ll touch on later. Having a somewhat set routine for my mornings allows for my days to get a certain flow and give them a fair amount of structure I’ve gotten used to. This routine has gradually changed and is changing from time to time because I always experiment with different things in it and see if the outcome is better or worse. I believe one key aspect in creating habits and routines is not to make too big changes often but instead make small incremental changes and trying them out for a while. I might elaborate more on my morning routine in a later blog post.

Communication is key

I believe it to be the most important factor if working remote will succeed or fail. Constant communication is necessary whether it be talking on the phone, writing e-mails, writing documentation or updating issues in a bug tracker or project management tool. I’m not saying that you need to be in a Google Hangouts session all the time, but write everything down. I would say almost all issues that arose from collaboration with someone working remote is due to lack of communication or inability to communicate properly in written form.

Get a good project management tool, there are an abundance of them out there such as Trello, Asana, JIRA and Basecamp just to name a few. This is probably what you want as a central hub of information that is linking to all other services you use. Other good tools you can use is Google Docs for when you need to write in a more feature rich editor and Dropbox for sharing files. One thing that helps out a lot is also a good place for sharing password and other sensitive material, the one I’ve used and is very pleased with is 1Password (it allows for a common storage on Dropbox also). Just make sure that all collaborators are on board on all the different services and actually use them.

This should go without saying but I’m saying it anyways: use version control for code. Code is also communication.

Work space / place

This will differ for everyone but it’s important to find a work space in an environment that suits you. I started off by working from home and renting a desk at a web agency’s office since I thought this kind of mix would suit me. My plan was to do most of work from home and go to the web agency for working but also to get out of my apartment and meet some people. After a while I realized I didn’t really use my desk at the web agency, I always came up with some excuse to stay at home to work and the desk became more of an obligation I felt compelled to use from time to time since I was paying for it and I had told them that I would work there from time to time. Perhaps it was that the desk was too far from home and it felt too much of a commute? So I rented a desk at a web agency closer to my home. And then another one even closer and cheaper. Last week I gave it up because I came to terms that it wasn’t for me and I enjoy working from home.

Wherever you choose to work from is not really important as long as it fits you. But what is important is to create a good environment where you can relax and focus. What I did is that I improved my home office by buying an ergonomic chair and a large monitor, working on a laptop exclusively will make your body hate you. Put some effort in to creating your optimal environment where you feel calm, relaxed and comfortable. I usually move around in my apartment when I’m working since changing my immediate environment can be good for shifting the focus of what you’re doing. When I code I always sit at my desk where I have a good monitor, an external keyboard and an external mouse. But when I write on my blog or book I tend to take my laptop and sit at the dining table, it shifts my focus to “write mode” instantly by the association that I’ve created between writing and the dining table.

Productivity & focus

You will most likely face a stream of distractions, especially when working from home. This can be the new episode of Game of Thrones, friends that want to hang out and grab a beer, any YouTube video or social media. What it all comes down to is how you deal with these distractions and not end up procrastinating too much. The solution for me have been to find tools and techniques for staying productive. I do not think productivity is something that can be forced. That is one of the reasons I don’t like the idea of eight hours in an office, because you can not force yourself or someone else to be productive. It’s also a reason why I don’t like techniques such as Pomodoro or application that “shuts off” distractions such as social media and YouTube. For me it’s a combination of techniques, tools and prioritization that enables my productivity and lets it occur naturally.

Currently I use a mix of Trello boards and IFTT for automating creation of tasks I do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis or when certain things occur on other services. I also have a habit of capturing tasks and ideas, reviewing it all for determining what is important and when. However if you want the full details on this you should read the book Zen To Done, it’s an adaption of GTD it have really changed the way in which I work and stay productive.

Every day I start off by planning my day by identifying the most important tasks I want to complete that day which is most often two or three tasks. I take in consideration my weekly goals and more long term goals, those I also review every week, month and year. Then I try to complete the largest task as soon as possible so I can focus my full attention on it and after that start working on the smaller tasks. My main goal each day is to get my important tasks finished as soon as I can and often I try to make that happen before lunch time. If I manage this it opens up the rest of the day for me in such a way that it allows me to be creative and free, much like the well known Google 20% time rule (even though it can be debated to a long extent that it’s not really Google’s own “invention”).

Work and personal time

This can be a tricky one in finding a distinct line between them, but I for one does not care very much for it. Allowing me to mix work and personal time is one of the added benefits of working remote for me. Whenever I encounter a difficult problem or get stuck I very much enjoy procrastinating for a while, running a personal errand, exercise or go for a walk. This freedom is what makes me feel so great about working from home and it keeps me extremely motivated too such an extent that I think I could never go back to a nine to five job at an office.

The separation between work and personal time has come naturally for me during this year. I would almost say I have an even bigger separation between them now than I did before since I now never work during the evenings on hobby projects or something work related. Now I find time during the day to do this instead, I think we all can agree on having an 8 hour work day in an office does not equal to 8 hours of productive work, there are probably a lot of research on this you can find out there. This is my biggest reason for not wanting to spend my life in an office.

One thing I’ve noticed is that a good and balanced personal life is my main ingredient in getting things done and being productive when I work. Of the two or three most important tasks to get done each day one of them usually end up not being related to work but something I want to get done in my personal life. The benefits of not having something “hanging over” you from your personal life when you work is tremendously relaxing and enables me to focus on the work I’m doing.

Summing up

I believe I’ve touched on all the points that made me do the switch over to remote work, and I can honestly say that I’ve never had a regret in doing it. Life for me is about being happy and doing this where I can focus both on my personal life and my work has allowed me to be happier. The freedom it gives you is immensely satisfying.

  • Nice post. How do you cope without colleagues? Do you find it lonely at all?

    • It can get lonely sometimes, even though I’m an introvert and like spending time alone a lot. Sometimes I go out for a coffee and sit at a café for maybe 1-2 hours working. But the added benefit of working from home is that doing things with your partner or friends in the evening is less tiresome since you don’t do it after a full work day in an office. So it have allowed me to get out more in the evenings for social occasions. However I think most people would benefit a lot from having a co-location work space like I tried at first (renting a desk at web agencies), it just wasn’t for me.

      • michalstanko

        I couldn’t agree more. I was working remotely for 5 years, I loved being able to go for a run during the day almost every day, just like you, when I hit some obstacle and I needed to take a break from it for a little while. I felt so much more energized, productive and overall I enjoyed the days and then evenings with my wife and kid much more. After I started working onsite again 2 months ago (my first time in an open-space office, ouch), I do almost no running, and in the evening I just feel exhausted, and overall much less happy than before. Anyway… does anyone need a remote JS developer? 😛

        Good luck with your remote-work adventures 🙂 I loved it!

    • interacting with people is rather tiresome and sucky, wouldn’t you agree?

      • It depends on the person. I’m quite social, so I don’t mind. Also, it can be helpful to discuss a problem with someone else, to get fresh perspective.

      • Breno Salgado

        If you’re over 30 and holds this view there’s probably something wrong with you, tbh

        I’m 27 btw, I could’ve agreed with you some years ago but I live by myself and I have worked remotely for some time, I already have plenty of solitude to enjoy, as an introvert, but all in all it’s definitely unhealthy in excess, I meet with my friends/the-opposite-sex at least 3 times a week, aka ‘enjoying life'(not that there are not ‘enjoying life’ by yourself, hope you get the idea)..

        • Why 30? not 40?

          • Breno Salgado

            because it’s a point where you’ve already developed your professional skills to a certain point and you get to develop your likes and dislikes and you wanna do your likes, extreme loneliness is unhealthy and that’s a scientific fact! I’m not trying to bash you btw, just trying to make my point

          • I understand what you mean. We have to deal with people to get food on the table. But does that make it any less tiresome? The only difference when you get old is that you learn to accept life as it is. When one is young they have the energy and opportunity to rebel the “normalcy” we all declare is important.

          • Breno Salgado

            eh I don’t consider myself normal at all 😛 I’m all for rebelling actually(it’s what got me into remote working and away from “waterfall/software factory” in the first place)

            going to gym is also tiresome but like at least 70% of the time it leaves you feeling good afterwards, so is trying to learn a new topic you never knew before… I think everyone would agree that people like at least some level of dynamism in life, at least to keep things interesting, so having your day not being only you and a computer is not that bad to me, but of course it’s also possible to have this if you’re working remotely, maybe just need to be a bit active about it

          • wow! I get you! I might make a point of trying to go outside more.

  • JJ

    Great read mate, I agree that its not for eveyone. You just need to be motivated and have a little common sense.

  • Thanks for sharing!

  • phprocks

    I’m thinking about going full remote. How difficult was it to get your first orders?

    • My situation was somewhat unique I think since I embarked on this adventure with a person who had already established himself as a freelancer/consultant. So we worked with his customers and he brought in new ones as well, so I can’t really have an opinion on that.

  • Breno Salgado

    I’m glad I quit working remotely. But there’s a multitude of reasons for it. I’m brasilian and I used to do work for people elsewhere, the culture and time differences are a bit of drag and, I’d say, at least for people like me in the 3rd world there’s an air of toxicity in the work market, it’s very common to get a sense that your competition and employers are scraping at the bottom of the barrel, also, interacting is nice(maybe cause I’m latin american? heh dunno). I’d do it again tho if working for brasilian companies or for a company that valued people not just to pay lip service(which I think is understandable, when doing remote work there’s a much bigger sense of “it’s just business”) 😉

    • I share your sentiments. I’m In Nairobi, Kenya (where everybody “runs marathons”) and it is disgusting to see how employers would degrade your work just cause you are from a non-1st world country. It is a shame there’s such discrimination in this modern generation. But then again, who am I to say that!

      • Breno Salgado

        It sucks, but I also think it’s doable, you just gotta be a little smart about it, be on top of your game and position yourself not to be viewed as cheap labor and be very attentive to potential toxic people(e.g.: when it’s holyday in your country will you be free? does he care about sane work hours?).

        I’d also say to consider european employers for two factors: 1- their culture is more mellow and respectful of people(in my experience), 2- some actually have a “talent shortage” and actually need people to work. My best experience was working for a New Zealand company(not europe technically but nvm), really easy people to deal with.

        • It is totally doable. Positioning oneself strategically is key in benefiting from remote work deals. Thanks for your tips on employment. Having quit working for a money-crazed company in a bid to pursue passion, I would use more of these tips. Thanks!

    • rafanunes

      Another brazilian here, but with a completely different experience on this. 3 years now working remotely for a NY startup and it has been way more fun and enjoyable than any other company I worked before in Brazil.
      After 10 years I finally found a company that encourage me to think on my work/life balance, that respects my personal life and time and have a way more open and transparent environment.
      Maybe because it has people from all over the world though. But the big companies I worked before in Brazil had a more toxic environment.

      • Really glad you could find a good company that understand the importance of a good work/life balance!

    • That’s just really sad, another example of the toxic elitism. I’ve worked in teams before that have outsourced development to India, Bangladesh and Pakistan and learned a lot from those experiences. Unsurprisingly there is a big difference in culture both how people live and how people code and it’s a matter of just learning how to work together.

      Diversity for me is always positive and something to be strived for in any context.

  • Thanks for writing this up, I’ve always wanted to try working remotely and it’s helpful to read your experiences.

  • Jason

    How do you manage when signing a contract? With a client? How do you make it valid? Also, how do you manage payments? Is Payoneer secure?

  • Nice post. I have been working remotely for last 3 years. Remote working is a kind of new concept here in India. Most of my friends work in corporate IT working on same stuff as it is. Thats’ one plus point on working independently you can do experiment, work on side projects, learn new tech, travel, go out more.
    That said You also cant get everything. If there is freedom then it gets dull also sometimes. So its best to learn how to utilise your time in more meaningful way as you are on your own.
    Good luck.

  • Salvatore Lionetti

    What kind of chair?

  • thanks for sharing !!!