16 votes

Home/remote workers, any advice or tips?

I've recently accepted a new developer role for a small tech company where everyone works remotely. I've had experience of working from home as a freelancer in the past and slightly more recently working for a distributed company, although there I was working in a small shared office with one other colleague.

I wondered if anyone has any tips or advice on how best to remain productive as well as avoid distractions and try to keep a work/life balance?

I do intend to eventually find a co-working space but immediately I plan to work from home for at least the first few months.

Thanks!

23 comments

  1. [3]
    MimicSquid Link
    It can be great to work from home, but it can be distracting. For me, context is king: As much as possible, set up a work context and a not-work context. When you're ready to work, have a certain...

    It can be great to work from home, but it can be distracting. For me, context is king: As much as possible, set up a work context and a not-work context. When you're ready to work, have a certain place that you sit, ritual that starts it off (getting coffee, closing down other software, whatever) to get you in the work mindset, music station that you listen to, whatever. Being in your home space while you work will make you want to do home-type things and think home-type thoughts, and creating a different context as much as possible will help.

    In line with this, if you live with other people, they need to understand that just because you are physically there does not mean that you're available. You need them to leave you alone while you work except when you're taking a break, and when you take a break you need to get up from your work setup and not relax where you were working.

    21 votes
    1. [2]
      Amarok Link Parent
      Precisely. Cultivate that work mindset. If it's at all possible, set yourself up with a room that's built out as an office, and treat it just like a work office. Have a coffee pot and snacks in...

      Precisely. Cultivate that work mindset. If it's at all possible, set yourself up with a room that's built out as an office, and treat it just like a work office. Have a coffee pot and snacks in there, don't go out to the kitchen. Set up your firewall at home so that particular computer in your office has distraction sites filtered out like you'd expect in a corporate workplace.

      Honestly one of the drawbacks of working at home like that is you've got no co-workers to socialize with. If your past co-workers have been asshats that may be a boon to you, but if you've had good jobs before with good people, it can get a little lonely by comparison not having co-workers around to bounce ideas off of or sneak off to lunch and the latest blockbuster movie with. It's not the same as working in an office.

      The biggest upside for me is no rush hour commutes. I will never miss that.

      6 votes
      1. samwasdroppingeaves Link Parent
        A big challenge I had to overcome when I started working from home was dealing with expectations of my supervisors. One of them was clear in that they’d never be able to work from home because...

        A big challenge I had to overcome when I started working from home was dealing with expectations of my supervisors. One of them was clear in that they’d never be able to work from home because they’d be too distracted to get anything done and my first challenge was showing that would not be an issue.

        It took a lot to prove it but I’m just as productive working from home (if not more so, sometimes) than my colleagues in the office.

        All that in mind, my advice in response to the original question would be something similar about don’t get distracted. I treat my home office like an office and when I’m in there, I’m at work, not at home.

        5 votes
  2. [6]
    demifiend Link
    Don't have cats. They will get in your way and mess with your flow, and you'll feel like a jerk for resenting them because they're just cats and they want to show you they care in their own little...

    Don't have cats. They will get in your way and mess with your flow, and you'll feel like a jerk for resenting them because they're just cats and they want to show you they care in their own little cat ways.

    9 votes
    1. [2]
      samwasdroppingeaves Link Parent
      Seconded. I have two cats and, for the male tabby, his favorite activity during the day now is sitting outside the office door meowing what sounds like “HEWOOOO!?” pretty consistently. I’d let him...

      Seconded. I have two cats and, for the male tabby, his favorite activity during the day now is sitting outside the office door meowing what sounds like “HEWOOOO!?” pretty consistently.

      I’d let him in but then that’s a whole new level of distraction going on.

      1 vote
      1. demifiend Link Parent
        I keep a basket on my desk for my Maine Coon mix. He'll just wedge himself in there, curl up, and go to sleep once he's had his hug, and will occasionally reach out and touch my arm when he wants...

        Seconded. I have two cats and, for the male tabby, his favorite activity during the day now is sitting outside the office door meowing what sounds like “HEWOOOO!?” pretty consistently.

        I keep a basket on my desk for my Maine Coon mix. He'll just wedge himself in there, curl up, and go to sleep once he's had his hug, and will occasionally reach out and touch my arm when he wants petting.

        1 vote
    2. [3]
      vili Link Parent
      I would argue the opposite. I work from home and have always felt that our cats have been a positive force for me. Sure, sometimes they are crazy and sometimes there's stuff to clean at the most...

      I would argue the opposite. I work from home and have always felt that our cats have been a positive force for me. Sure, sometimes they are crazy and sometimes there's stuff to clean at the most inconvenient moments, but for the great majority of time having a purring engine or two in the same room, with occasional lap visits (by the cats, not me) really boosts my mood. And if I'm stuck with something, lying down on a nearby bed and instantly being greeted by a happy cat really helps to take a step back from the problem and return to it a moment later from a new angle. I also have a piano in my office for that same purpose.

      Cats are perfect (dodged a pun there) office mates and I wouldn't have it any other way.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        demifiend Link Parent
        I love my cats and I'd never give them up, but there's really nothing like being on a call and having your cat decide that he wants to talk, too.

        I love my cats and I'd never give them up, but there's really nothing like being on a call and having your cat decide that he wants to talk, too.

        1. vili Link Parent
          I can see how that could be a problem!

          I can see how that could be a problem!

  3. stromm Link
    Set ground rules for yourself and your family. example, dress for work. Just like you would if you were going to the office. Take breaks just like you would at work. Limit your day to the hours...

    Set ground rules for yourself and your family.
    example, dress for work. Just like you would if you were going to the office.
    Take breaks just like you would at work.
    Limit your day to the hours you would be at work (e.g. 8-5).
    Segment off your work space from EVERYTHING else at home. Physically and emotionally.
    Make sure your sig-other, kids, etc. know "when I'm at my work desk, I'm at work. Leave me alone". No asking for help doing things, no chit-chatting, etc.
    Do not turn on any movie/TV show that will draw your attention. Just mindless news or "can't find bigfoot" (as my wife calls them) type shows.
    Do not answer the home phone or door. ACT like you're not at home.

    I'm sure I'll think of more later :)

    7 votes
  4. [4]
    asoftbird Link
    Distilled from the other comments: act as if you're at work, just without actually being there. Take breaks, maybe go for a 20 minute walk during your break. Make sure you're in a comfortable...

    Distilled from the other comments: act as if you're at work, just without actually being there.
    Take breaks, maybe go for a 20 minute walk during your break. Make sure you're in a comfortable working position: don't forget fresh air(open a window) and making sure your chair and desk are set to the correct height for ergonomic comfort. If you're like me and prone to forgetting to eat/drink, set alarms for those. In offices you're often reminded to do so because colleagues take breaks which you'll notice from the corners of your eyes, working alone time tends to escape perception and you'll end up not eating/drinking for 6 hours straight.

    Edit: I 'suffer' from ADD and sort-of figured out how to deal with that while working/studying, if that's of relevance and you have any questions let me know.

    4 votes
    1. [3]
      samwasdroppingeaves Link Parent
      In response to the ergonomics (which I totally hadn’t taken into consideration when I first started working from home) does your job require a lot of looking at computer screens? And, if so, would...

      In response to the ergonomics (which I totally hadn’t taken into consideration when I first started working from home) does your job require a lot of looking at computer screens? And, if so, would you recommend something like blue-light filtering glasses? I’ve been considering something like that as I stare at multiple screens for upwards of 8 hours a day, but didn’t know if they were truly effective or a placebo.

      2 votes
      1. [2]
        asoftbird Link Parent
        Currently I'm unemployed, instead studying and interning. It does definitely involve screens; at home I have dual screens, at university usually one. I use night mode a lot(during daytime as...

        Currently I'm unemployed, instead studying and interning. It does definitely involve screens; at home I have dual screens, at university usually one. I use night mode a lot(during daytime as well), only when I'm working on visual things I'll turn that off. Dark themes on everything, too. A friend of mine uses the blue filtering glasses but I don't really need those because of this.

        You should also take your desk height and chair settings into account; this will prevent back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain and more of the same. Make sure there's enough space in front of your keyboard to rest your arms, you really don't want to type with most of your wrists past the edge of the desk. If you sit upright, your thighs should be level with the floor or slightly angled forward, with your elbows and lower arms just touching the desk. If you notice your shoulders are raised or lowered you should adjust the height of your desk.

        Screens should be placed so you can look forward instead of angled downwards; if it's directly on the desk you'll probably end up hunched/leaning on your elbow to look at the screens.
        This one's probably obvious: if you use dual screens, put whatever you're looking at the most on your main monitor in front of you: looking to the side all the time may end up hurting neck muscles.

        Temperature also counts as ergonomics: if you have a sedentary job and don't move a lot, 20ºC as room temperature isn't enough. Since you're not moving a lot, your joints will not be warm enough to allow for smooth movement. I notice this especially in my hands when typing a lot. So put on a warm sweater, make sure your legs don't get cold and keep the hands warm too(somehow).

        In any case a good posture is pretty important so stay upright and don't slowly slide forward/downwards.

        1 vote
        1. samwasdroppingeaves (edited ) Link Parent
          Holy smokes! The temperature thing makes a lot of sense and I'd never taken the time to think about it. We keep it at 70' F in the house and I always wind up freezing in the office room while I'm...

          Holy smokes! The temperature thing makes a lot of sense and I'd never taken the time to think about it. We keep it at 70' F in the house and I always wind up freezing in the office room while I'm working.

          And thanks for taking the time to write such a thorough response. The neck pain is definitely something I'm looking to prevent and the alignment of my chair/desk is probably something I'll need to look at.

          Out of curiosity, have you ever considered a standing desk (potentially even one of those walking treadmill) setups? I've been considering both as well as I'm trying to find the best situation to work in possible.

          2 votes
  5. [2]
    pumasocks Link
    I've been working from home for 2 years now. I didn't see in your post whether you were providing your equipment or the company was. Either way, I would recommend separating your work/life...

    I've been working from home for 2 years now. I didn't see in your post whether you were providing your equipment or the company was. Either way, I would recommend separating your work/life environment as much as possible.

    For example, either dual boot or run a second computer. Personally I'm not a developer and spend most of my time on conference calls, so noise reduction is important for my work.

    As others have mentioned, ensure you are comfortable, and be more cognizant of your social life; when you're done with work, get out of the house if you can.

    Finally, set realistic goals for yourself and gain alignment from your boss.

    4 votes
    1. welly Link Parent
      The company is providing me with a laptop and screen which is great. I actually live on a boat so with the limited space I have, I'm unable to have a completely separate working space but as I...

      The company is providing me with a laptop and screen which is great. I actually live on a boat so with the limited space I have, I'm unable to have a completely separate working space but as I say, the plan is definitely to get a co-working space and only work from home when I need to. I'll certainly be working from home for the initial month or two but I think the novelty of a new job and wanting to impress (as well as keep the job for longer than the 3 month probation!) will keep me focused!

  6. vili Link
    Most of the comments here are about separating work and home routines, and that's indeed the key. However, the emphasis in the comments has been to make sure that you can work without...

    Most of the comments here are about separating work and home routines, and that's indeed the key. However, the emphasis in the comments has been to make sure that you can work without distractions. Don't forget that it goes the other way around as well.

    I have worked from home for over a decade now and I have never really had any problem of home life interfering with work. I find that very easy to manage. However, the opposite has occasionally been an issue, and sometimes a big one.

    Going forward, if you find it difficult to switch your mind off from work, it may be a sign that you need to be stricter with yourself about when you are "at work" and when not. Personally, I don't have phone notifications on for work stuff outside of working hours, and neither do I answer work calls then. Definitely no checking work emails. I am also quite strict about my working hours and often have to force myself to stop working when they are over.

    This can sometimes be challenging and inconvenient, but I know that if I'm not strict with myself, I can end up burning myself out.

    When I'm in the middle of a bigger project and it gets really intense and I have trouble switching off after work (sometimes I'm not even consciously aware of it but can notice it from my sleep patterns and the kind of dreams that I have), I switch to a routine of going out for a walk right after work. Mentally, I leave the work place, walk for about an hour (usually in a nearby forest), force myself to think about other things, and when I return, my house is no longer a work place but my home. It's a bit like commuting, you just end up physically in the same place you left, although mentally not so. It helps me a lot when I need that extra push to detach. Fortunately, that's only occasionally.

    Anyway, I suppose the most important thing that everyone has said is: be aware of your own work and your working habits, and realise that you will likely need to do quite a bit of self-management and meta-work, particularly at the beginning, to see what works for you and what doesn't. Aim to develop productive and healthy habits from the beginning, as it tends to be more difficult to fix them later.

    2 votes
  7. Adys Link
    I've worked from home for my entire career (13 years so far, from freelancer to entrepreneur). You'll get different, sometimes conflicting answers from different people because people manage...

    I've worked from home for my entire career (13 years so far, from freelancer to entrepreneur). You'll get different, sometimes conflicting answers from different people because people manage remote work and themselves differently, so it's not always the same tips&tricks that work for everyone (with some being actively harmful).

    So here's my list, with its caveats…

    Work-life balance

    Especially if you enjoy your work a lot (eg. as an entrepreneur), you can find yourself in a situation where you don't have an off-switch. You just work whenever, and sometimes that means you always are in "work mode".

    This can work, but you have to be very careful to manage your own mental and physical health. Giving yourself time off the computer, phones etc is important.

    As I've aged and hopefully matured, I've put more and more focus on separating my work from the rest of my life. For example, all my entertainment gets its own dedicated machines, none of it goes on the "work" desktop. I have a gaming PC (and use my Switch a bunch), all my series etc are exclusively watched on the TV (chromecast, netflix etc), and so on.

    This has made me more productive because I'm less distracted while working. It has also made me enjoy gaming more because I'm fully in gaming mode when I do jump on.

    I've also started religiously using separate GSuite accounts for personal and work use. All the company-related stuff goes on the company email. It's good practice, makes it easier to aggregate my work, doesn't pollute my personal space, etc.

    Having tried "both", I highly recommend making that split, but you should definitely try to find out what works best for you.

    Manage your time

    Here's a simple one: Get shit done ASAP. Don't wait, don't put things off, don't wait until you're close to the deadline. Just do it, then spend the remainder of the time gloating about how you're done early. This advice especially applies if you're freelancing, contracting, etc (though I don't recommend you start telling your clients how fast you work, unless you have a really good reason to believe they won't abuse that knowledge…).

    The GTD method famously recommends: "If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it right now". It's good advice. Beyond that, you just have to get into a routine which works for you to get things done as soon as possible. Deadlines are pretty hardcore when you work from home; offices shield you from a lot of "personal" things which can happen during work hours.

    Track your knowledge

    This advice applies to everyone, but when working at home you may more easily lose track of work-related context, in a way you wouldn't in an office. This is where the work/personal separation comes in, but also keeping notes about your progress (eg. a journal, or a

    I've recently switched from Dynalist to Notion. Here is a referral link with some free credits. You don't actually need the paid version if you don't put a lot of stuff on it, the free one gets the job done very well.

    Spend time with your colleagues

    This advice applies when you work with a remote team you have a good and fairly casual relationship with. Do spend time with your colleagues, especially if they are long term colleagues. Video chat when you can, and most of all meet them regularly. I found that in small teams (<6 people), meeting up 3-4 times a year is ideal. It boosts productivity immensely, rejuvinates motivation, etc. We usually did it around a relevant conference somewhere not too far from everyone; this gives good work context (and prevents actually being on the laptop all the time), and staying a few more days before or after the conference gives the occasion to spend some more time together, have fun, have some paid-for lunch/dinners, maybe go to something everyone enjoys as well (eg. when I was CTO at HearthSim, a gaming company, we did escape rooms together; was always really fun).

    2 votes
  8. InherentlyGloomy Link
    It seems like everyone else has hammered in the "keep work separate" point, so I'll give a few others I've learned: Video meetings are really good for feeling connected to your coworkers. I only...

    It seems like everyone else has hammered in the "keep work separate" point, so I'll give a few others I've learned:

    • Video meetings are really good for feeling connected to your coworkers. I only did phone meetings for a long time and I felt like an outcast because of it.

    • Ask lots of questions! Especially while you're new, you need to regularly ask about how things are done at this company. Bonus points, it shows your manager(s) that you're working hard and taking your job seriously.

    • Others might disagree, but I've found it's nice to get some household chores done on my lunch break. Doing the dishes or throwing in a load of laundry helps open up your evenings.

    • If you drink coffee or tea, keep your drink station in the same room as your office desk. Having to get up and go to the kitchen will disrupt that work/life separation everyone else talks about.

    • Open a window or go outside regularly if you can! Sunlight and fresh air does wonders for your mental health. I'm lucky that I have a dog that forces me outside for 10-15 mins every few hours :)

    2 votes
  9. welly Link
    Thanks all for your advice! All good tips there, and I think that is the thing - making a clear separation of work from home/life. I shall let you know how I get on! Hopefully (and I'm sure it...

    Thanks all for your advice! All good tips there, and I think that is the thing - making a clear separation of work from home/life. I shall let you know how I get on! Hopefully (and I'm sure it will be) it'll be a positive experience.

    1 vote
  10. pewpewpewpew Link
    I agree with what has already been said, but I would like to add something that you did not specifically ask for. Make sure whatever computer that you are doing your work from has a reliable power...

    I agree with what has already been said, but I would like to add something that you did not specifically ask for. Make sure whatever computer that you are doing your work from has a reliable power supply, meaning have a battery backup. Also, consider having physical backups of your work, assuming it is not stored remotely.

    I work from home and I cannot count the number of times I have lost power while I was working.

    1 vote
  11. [2]
    gyrozeppeli Link
    Coworking spaces and cafes are amazing for productivity. Sometimes I stay home and work, but I typically am more productive when I go out. Right now AmEx has a business card that gives you a free...

    Coworking spaces and cafes are amazing for productivity. Sometimes I stay home and work, but I typically am more productive when I go out.

    Right now AmEx has a business card that gives you a free year's worth of access to WeWork locations. I just got it and am in complete love with working at wework.

    1 vote
    1. welly Link Parent
      It's a shame that offer is only available (seemingly) in the US! I'm UK based. I'll have to do a bit more searching just in case.. Thanks for the heads up though!

      It's a shame that offer is only available (seemingly) in the US! I'm UK based. I'll have to do a bit more searching just in case.. Thanks for the heads up though!