How To Not Suck at Working From Home

WFH is here to stay for a lot of us. Whether we wanted it or not. At best, the freedom to work from home can offer you more time with your family and friends, the ability to travel and increase your productivity. At worst it can leave you feeling alone, depressed and overworked.

Of course many tech companies paint WFH as a benefit: office space ain’t cheap and neither is wifi 😉. All those free fizzy waters and ping pong tables add up amigo.Work from home they say! Yeah, but what if you don’t really know how?

As a software engineer, I’ve worked from home and in office for the last few years, usually splitting my time nearly in half between both. My first experience with WFH was the opposite of good. I was on a distributed team with co-workers on the east coast and Colombia while I was in California. Making a 90 minute trek to the office to speak to my co-workers on video calls didn’t make a lot of sense. Thus began my descent into WFH mediocrity.

Well, I just did my work. Things weren’t really much different for me whether I was at home or in the office. I was heads down into my code and getting things done. I took lunch around the same time each day and had time to take my son to school which I liked. But I didn’t feel connected, engaged or as if I was making an impact at work.

Work is performance art when you’re in the office; You show up early. People notice. Sally is here everyday at 8am. That is admirable. Or look at Tim, always helping a co-worker to find a solution. He’s showing real leadership skills. Then there’s Chad who’s been burning the midnight oil and leaving the office at 8pm the last couple nights to get that big presentation ready. Now that shows grit!

At home, no one really knows when you are working or helping solve issues or driving projects forward. Sure, they may see your work being completed in a timely manner. They know you seem to be online when they need you, but without strong verbal communication, it can be easy to treat WFH like WFO. Don’t do that.

So you should communicate. In fact, over-communicate. It can feel odd at first, especially if you don’t have a very verbal team. Let people know what you are working on and anything interesting you may have learned or links to articles related to business issues. This is the kind of performative action that paints you as a leader and also helps spark engagement with the rest of the team.

If you have a question, instead of DM’ing the smartest cookie in the jar, post your question in a public channel. I can almost guarantee if you have a question, at least 1 other person wants to ask it as well but is too nervous.

Giving short and informative status updates either in a DM to your manager or to a relevant channel brings your work out of the shadows. People can give feedback and this way there are no surprises if deadlines need to be re-calibrated or your approach is incorrect.

Communication isn’t just about status updates and tasks. Be a decent human… or at least fake it. Share something personal once in a while. If you’ve never met your co-workers IRL this is especially important. Give praise! We all need to feel recognized. If someone helps you privately, praise them publicly! This gives visibility to others, yourself and your team. Celebrate accomplishments in the public sphere.

Now this may be controversial since I know many people are suffering from zoom fatigue lately. I will say that we convey so much information through our expressions that it can be helpful to show your face on camera during meetings. Maybe more so if you don’t contribute often. In a distributed remote team, it is nice seeing others’ faces since you may not meet them in person… ever!

I also don’t recommend being on camera ALL the time either. It’s draining and let’s be honest, we’re all usually just looking at ourselves anyways. Or maybe it’s just me and I’m a vain bastard.

You’ve seen the memes. The person in bed taking a meeting. The dude wearing underwear and a dress shirt. No. No, no no.

I have a strong personal opinion about maintaining the same work rituals you would perform if you were heading into a physical place to work with other flesh bags… I mean co-workers. Yeah, that’s what I meant.

If you’ve switched from WFO to WFH, it may be tempting to work in your pajamas or lay in bed for the first half of the morning. Freedom, you shout from your cheeto encrusted mouth!

Wipe those cheetos off your mug and get dressed. The line between work life and personal life can get so blurry as not to exist for many people who have made their kitchen table into their office. Having a routine to begin and end work can restore some boundaries and also get you mentally prepared for work. Getting dressed in the morning helps me mentally transition into a working mindset and get ready to start my day. I suspect the same is true for most people. This is a ritual most of us have been doing since grade school.

While some people have difficulty getting motivated to work at home, others don’t know when to shut down. At the end of these two spectrums is the same root issue: not having proper work/life boundaries. Maybe you love working at midnight. Cool, do that. But if you want to emulate the traditional 9–5 schedule you had in the office, I strongly suggest waking up at the same time to start each day and having something that transitions you OUT of work mode. Maybe at 5pm you take a walk or do something with your family if you have one. For me, I have a non-negotiable workout that I will do at 5pm each day. Only a critical issue could deter me from this routine.

Or you’re supposed to at least. Maybe you don’t. I personally like a split between being in an office and WFH. It breaks up my routine and ends my day at a predictable time. WFH is not as natural as WFO for many of us but with deliberate action and a thoughtful approach you can at least suck a lot less at it.

full-stackish developer, late bloomer coder and power google user

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