We live in interesting times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more companies are being forced to adopt a remote working setup (or working from home) for its employees. I have been working remotely full-time since 2012. This article discusses some of the lessons and tricks I learned throughout the years.
I understand that working from home does not apply to all industries. It is mostly applicable to jobs that involve working in front of a computer. My career is in software development which fits this set up comfortably. However it can also apply to other industries such as business process operations, accounting, and company administration.
When my family became aware that I was working from home instead of an office, the most common reaction is confusion and jealousy. Confusion because they are not even aware that it is possible. Jealousy since they assumed that since I am working from home, I am just goofing and playing around. “Real work” from their minds is something that is done outside the home.
Perhaps this is also the same reaction that many company managers have on the topic of working remotely. They needed to see employees at work physically in order to know that they are working. This should not be the case for everyone though. In the area of software development, more and more companies are open to working from home. Even if they do not allow employees to work from home all the time, they have “remote work” days per week where employees are not required to go to the office. In addition to less overhead expenses such as office maintenance, it also allows companies to hire outside their region and expand the available talent pool.
Not for everyone
This does not mean that remote working is a panacea. There are also many disadvantages inherent to working from home.
Some industries are not fully compatible with a remote working setup. If your job requires you to operate machinery (like in manufacturing), monitor critical systems (like nuclear reactors), or to be physically present (like nurses and surgeons), then working from home will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to set up.
One of my managers once said “It is unfair to treat people equally“. What he meant is that different people thrive on different working environments. There are people like me (who is more of an introvert) who work well in a remote environment. I am a self-managing individual and can produce results with minimal supervision. However, there are many others who perform best when there are people around them or when a manager is checking on them regularly. There is nothing wrong with this and we need to accept that not everyone is suited to work remotely.
If however, you are in an industry where remote working is accepted and you are also self-managed, then working from home can be a great lifestyle boon. There are some things that you need to consider though.
Know when to stop working
Sounds like a joke, right? Imagine finally not having to go to the office to work. Previously you are eagerly waiting for the office clock to hit 6pm so you can go back home, but now, you are already sitting at home! I can clock out anytime I want!
The problem with this is when you get in the “zone”. While in the “zone” time seems to fly faster as you work your way through the tasks of the day. Before you know it, your afternoon snack time becomes late evening. If you are in an office, you will know that it is time to go home. Your co-workers will say that they are going out, you will hear noise all around, or even some lights will be turned off. But at home, there are no limits to the time except the ones you set by yourself. Sometimes it is possible to “get in the zone” and then realize you missed lunch or dinner time.
Set a fixed schedule
If you are already required to be online for predefined hours in a day, then it will help to avoid overwork. This can be problematic however if you are given free reign on when you can work during the day .
One way of solving this is to set a fixed work schedule, just like when you are working in an office. If you usually worked before from 10am to 6pm, then you can also set that time as your work hours at home. You will need to set an alarm at 6pm though in order to have a definite end time for your work hours.
Some people may have difficulty getting into “work mode” when at home even if the time is set beforehand. Another solution is to dress up a bit before going into work. Wearing your nighttime clothes may be a subconscious reminder that you are not at work. Setting up an alarm for your work hours and dressing up can help you to set up your work day.
Set a fixed place
In addition to having set work hours, it is also important to set a work area. This may not be practical for everyone though, especially if you are living in a small place or living with many people in your house.
This doesn’t mean that we have to dedicate an entire room for ourselves as our home office (although that would be ideal). A little corner in the house would do. A small desk or table where you can put your laptop and papers is sufficient enough for a dedicated workspace. The reason why this is important is because it allows you to unplug and physically detach yourself from work at the end of the day.
Working from your bed sounds nice at first. You can lie down any time you want and you can immediately get to work when you wake up. However, experience shows that this is not a good idea. First of all, you are not sitting properly while on the bed, which could result in strains and back pains in the long run. Second, putting your laptop in your bed or your pillow has a tendency to disrupt ventilation and cause your machine to run hotter than usual. The most important point however, is that working on your bed can disrupt your sleep pattern. Since your mind and body associate your bed for working, sleep may become a problem as your mind thinks that you are still “at work”.
Invest in your equipment
When I started working from home, I used our dining table. It made sense at the time since there is already a space to put my laptop and also there’s an available chair. At first, everything seems to be fine, but after a few weeks, I started experiencing lower back problems.
Dining chairs are not meant to be sat on for hours at a time. When you are in the “zone” while working, you will not notice the discomfort at all until you stand up. The hard chair surface provides minimal back support and you will have a tendency to slouch or not sit properly at all. The dining table may work for a while, but if the table height is not optimal for proper computer posture, eventually it can develop into back, shoulder, and arm problems. This is especially dangerous for software developers as they tend to be in front of the computer in extended periods of time.
It is important to invest in your home equipment as well. Whether it is a computer desk, a computer chair, or a specialized keyboard, it depends on the space you can allocate in your home as well as your budget. At the minimum, I would emphasize the need for a comfortable, ergonomic chair. Based on experience, having chronic back and shoulder problems can significantly disrupt your work.
More lessons learned
This is not an exhaustive list of the things I learned while working from home. Because physical interaction with your workmates is no longer possible, communication becomes much more important. You also need to consider the security of your work equipment and documents even at home. An upcoming article will discuss these in detail.
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash