Notes and Tips on Working From Home

Recently, I switched from a traditional, “go to an office” job, to working from my home. It took some time to setup my home work space and get used to working remotely, but I finally have a system working for me. In this post, I thought I would share some things that I found useful.

Window Seat Please

If at all possible, locate your home work space near a window. The natural light does wonders for you mood and being able to glance up and look at trees and real life is a refreshing break from staring at code all day.

A Door is Great

Having a door to your workspace is a real advantage. It enables you to close off noise and other activity that might be going on in the house. It is also incredibly useful if you have small children. For my kids, if the door is closed, then it is a sign that Mommy is working – do not disturb.

Invest in a good chair.

Backs are very important. I started working from home with just my kitchen chair – big mistake. After a day or two, my back was crying out for something better. I did some research on good chairs to get and I ended up with a Steelcase Leap Chair. They are not cheap. But, I was able to get a refurb one that was considerably less than new, and my back loves it.

Don’t Sit All the Time

Even with my great chair, it is not the best to sit constantly. I had tried a straight standing desk a while back and I found that standing all the time was not the best for me. I prefer to mix it up. I got a adjustable Geek Desk. I generally stand up in the morning and sit in the afternoons.

Freedom from a Headset with a Good Mic

I have used a headset before when doing remote calls. They work fine, but after a while, I found it annoying to have on my head all day. I switched to a Blue Snowball Mic at home and am really happy with it. My voice comes in clear and I am headset free.

Dual Monitors for the Win

I use two Thunderbolt displays. One monitor I use for communications, it has my email, chat, and video on it. The other monitor I use for the codez. It works out pretty well to switch back and forth.

Good Software for Communication

Good communication is a must for working remotely. Someone cannot just wander over to your desk and ask you a question. Here is a list of communication tools I use at work:

  • Slack – for team communication.
  • Google Docs
  • Zoom – for video and screen sharing. It is way better than Google hangouts in terms of video quality.
  • Apple’s Screen sharing – for pair code development. This let’s people use whatever editor they are comfortable with, yet you can see the code and still share control.

Pair Programming is Awesome

At work, we do pair programming most of the time. I really like to work this way. One of the things that I was concerned about in switching to remote work was being lonely. Pair programming really helps in this. I am usually working with someone during the day, with one monitor going with video and voice, while the other monitor has the code we are working on. For me, it has all the advantages of idea sharing and group problem solving. I realize that working this way is not for everyone, but I am digging it.

Routine is Everything

When working for home, I have found it is crucial to have a good routine. Since we do a lot of pair programming at work, we all generally keep the same hours. Being a distributed team over North America, this means I start work at around 10am EST. I have found that having a routine a sticking to it helps structure my day. I get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, just like I was going to work. Then, I usually hack for a bit on personal stuff in the morning until it is time for work. Then at lunch, I go for a run or work out. Finally, and most importantly, in the evening, I leave the computer behind and devote time to family.

Don’t Forget to Visit with Other Humans

The downside of working from home is that it is very easy to not leave home. At one point, I realized that I had not left the house for a week. Not good. I try go to a social event where I will meet with other developers and friends every week. There is a nice developer coffee group that meets on Fridays. I also help run our Cincinnati Functional Programmer’s Group here in town. In general, I find that if I am driving somewhere and see people walking on the street and start thinking, “Look Humans!”, it is time to get out and socialize a bit more. Working remotely, makes going to conferences and being with other developers in person even more fun.

Summary (with a Dog Pic)

I have found working remotely to be quite enjoyable so far. It does take an extra effort to keep your life structured and communication flowing properly, but it is worth it.

My next challenge, since it is getting colder, is to get my dog to sleep on my feet while I work. No luck so far.

If anyone has any tips, let me know.

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