The previous blog post was aimed at managers and executives who need to handle working with remote teams, but this post is all about how to be productive when working from home. On thing to note is that there’s no one solution here. Some things will work for some people but may not work for others. I started working from home for Etsy.com in 2007 and did it part time for 38 Studios after that. Everyone at Tricky Fast has been working from home since the company started in 2012. I asked everyone here what their tips were for being successful while working from home. I’ll share one of mine and then theirs.
Having a set schedule can be very helpful when working from home even if the schedule isn’t a regular 9 to 5. Set your schedule around any distractions you may have such as child care, pet care, or meals. Make sure to communicate with your team on your schedule. On a related note, it can be very tempting to work outside of your schedule. It can be tough to maintain a good work life balance when working from home because not only are you always at home, but you’re always at work. This is an area where a little discipline can help. Does that email really need to be answered at midnight on a Sunday? Probably not. It can wait until your normal work hours. It’s important to keep a good balance so you don’t get burnt out.
Tricky Fast Engineer, Connor Botts, suggests “try to get outside at least once a day.” Staying locked away in a home office all day can get very monotonous after a few days. Obviously, with the pandemic, everyone needs to be careful to avoid other people outside, but going for a walk should be fine.
Ryan Cain, another engineer at Tricky Fast says, “My personal strategy is my office is a designated quiet area to which I then fill with my favorite “Get Work Done” music. This varies from person to person but Disturbed and Linkin Park work for me.” It’s important that family members know that when you’re at work in whatever space you’ve designated that they shouldn’t interrupt you if possible. Especially for engineers, uninterrupted time is extremely important.
Lead engineer, Joe Jacir, has done research on this topic to improve his own effectiveness. “I’ve been on a couple of forums about it for a while, like /r/remotework and /r/digitalnomad and I think the thing I gathered is that pretty much everyone does it differently. ” It’s definitely a personal preference what will be most effective for you. This list should hopefully give ideas, but you may have to try out different things to see what’s best.
Joe goes on to say, “What works for me though is to just make sure I am available for consultation if anyone needs me. I tend to work best in blocks of about 2.5 hours spread out through the day, I don’t really just buckle down and go for a whole “workday” at a time. A lot of people found that abhorrent though. It also means I don’t really have set start and end times.” This certainly doesn’t work for everyone. Some people may prefer to work a straight 8 hours. Others may divide it into two 4 hour sections. This is why in my previous article I mentioned that managers should be flexible with work hours.
One of our senior engineers, Jose Neives, had these great suggestions, “This is what works for me:
- Don’t work in your bedroom or bed (if at all possible). Basically separate your work and sleeping locations as much as possible
- If this is the first time working from home, change clothes as if you were going to the office, it will help switch your brain into “working mode”
- Lunch time is lunch time. Get away from the computer.
- Set tasks you want to accomplish and stick to them as much as possible
- Have plenty of snacks and coffee”
In particular, making sure that your work space is separate from other things can be pretty helpful. I personally have a home office which is a room that’s somewhat separated from the rest of the house. When I go up there, it feels like I’m at work. This also helps to make it feel like you’re at home when you aren’t in your designated work area.
Erling Saevarsson, one of our artists, chimed in with more excellent suggestions: “Headphones on, means do not disturb. Keep [your] sanity by having an ongoing chat window with friends/coworkers to share non work related things (cat videos), on top of daily check-ins. I find a productivity tool can help. I’ve tried pomodoro method in the past, but now I just use a task timer (toggl). Spend the money on a better office chair since you’ll be spending a lot of time in it.” Having a chat window open may be a distraction for engineers but helpful for other disciplines. Investing in a good chair is quite important. Initially, I would always purchase the lowest cost chairs at Staples or Office Depot. They didn’t last long, and I would get quite sore sitting in them all day. Eventually, I put up the cash for an Aeron and I’ve never regretted it.
Another Tricky Fast Engineer, Erick Eiben II, chimed in with a tech tip: “I’ve got an odd tip that works really well for me, have 2 separate user accounts if you’re working on the same desktop or laptop you use for leisure. I’ve got a Windows 10 profile for gaming, leisure, and what not, and a work profile, separate google chrome accounts, separate taskbar icons, shortcuts, etc. [It] helps keep your brain separated from work and home.” In addition to multiple accounts, there’s productivity software that can restrict what websites you visit while you’re “at work.” If you’re the type that gets distracted easily, these may be for you.
I am still offering limited free consulting to managers and executives looking to move their workforce remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please feel free to get in touch with me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are your tips for working from home? Let us know in the comments.