What I learnt about working remotely

Last year I left my full time job to take up an opportunity to work with Nicole Sullivan. She was based in San Francisco, I was in Sydney and the other developer on the team was in Paris. Yup, it was an international team!

###At the start The first couple of months of working from home was awesome: worked in my pjs, worked at pretty much any hours that suited me, ran errands during the day which wouldn’t have been possible if I worked in an office… in short, I had more freedom and control over what to do with my time.

But after a while, I started to go a bit stir-crazy. I got lonely with no one to talk to face to face. When I hit a road block with work I couldn’t just turn around to ask a question. I was struggling to focus as well. My productivity also dropped so I ended up sitting at my desk for 10 hours a day trying to catch up.


Things got better over time, so I just want to share what have helped me to make the most of being a remote worker.

###Separate work and rest space People always say you should separate work and rest space. They are right. At the start I was working at a desk in my bedroom. I would literally roll out of bed and sit at my desk. I kept losing focus and procrastinated. And sometimes I would work till way past normal hours. It just wasn’t working. So I tried to move to work in a different room, with a bit of skepticism whether it would actually work. After a while my mind would just immediately switch to work mode as soon as I sat down at the desk. And when I needed a break, I would just move to another room to stay away from my work space. I guess it’s a psychological thing that you need that separate space, but seriously it works to keep your mind focused.

###Github Github is probably one of the biggest reasons why working remotely has worked. We used it within the team and with our clients to manage issues and code reviews. It became a central place for us to keep track of our discussions and decision making, rather than keeping things in emails that get lost in inboxes. And being able to do code reviews via pull requests have really allowed us to collaborate with the team remotely. <3 Github.

###Go out and see people As much as I enjoy the quietness at home, it gets lonely. It’s important to go out and see people regularly otherwise your mind can go a bit stir-crazy. Sometimes I’ll work at Workbench, a co-working space in Sydney. It’s a great little space when I need to be around people and I’ve met some great people through there. I also try to make good use of my freedom to meet with friends whom I won’t normally get to have lunch with. Another thing that has helped me to stay connected is meetups. They are great for meeting likeminded people. I highly recommend anyone to go check out some of their local meetups if you haven’t already. It’s an excellent way to be involved in the community. Don’t be shy if you don’t know anyone at the meetups. People generally go to these things to mingle so it’s perfectly ok to just walk up to strangers and introduce yourself :) (though to be honest, I still get shy when I go to these events)

###Be independent and self-disciplined When you work from home, it’s so easy to just slack off. It really does require an extra level of self-disciplinary. I also found I had to be extra independent. Often when I worked, my colleagues were asleep due to time difference. So when I ran into problems, I could either wait 8 hours for them to wake up and help me (usually not the best option) or I really try to figure things out on my own. That means a lot of googling, and trial and error. A lot of the times I had to rely on my own judgement to decide the best solution. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but you learn to make better choices the more practice you get.

###Be flexible It’s difficult to work with two time zones, let alone three! And that’s what we had to deal with on our team. However we made it work, and that’s largely because we were willing to be flexible with our availabilities. Whatever times we set for meetings, it would always be at an awkward time for one person: either very early, or very late. But we took turns so it wouldn’t always be inconvenient for one person.

Working remotely (and from home) can have its downsides, but as long as you know how to work around them, the flexibility and freedom it provides is great :)