A Year of working remote

In 2019 I took a remote engineering role, motivated by a young family and a long commute.

Stepping away from a Software Management role, where I'd divided my time between technical leadership and people management, to a fully remote engineering role, was always going to require a change in mindset. Through this journey I've learned a few strategies which may be useful for others on the same path.

Separate your work space

I took a month off between jobs to build a home shed-office (pronounced 'shoffice'). This was the single best investment I made in the transition, it won't be feasible for everyone, but whatever your environment, consider this a sacred space that needs to be treated with respect:

  • Keeping the space tidy, and clutter free.
  • Educate others in the household to respect this space, this is where you will conduct yourself in a professional manner.
  • Have an 'off switch', it can be closing a door, or packing away of equipment, but make sure you know what that ritual is, and repeat it.

Invest in audio visual

Regardless of how your company is distributed, stand-ups, company all hands, and 1-2-1's will likely feature the medium of video calls. How you appear and sound becomes an extension of your professional demeanour:

  • Consider face on cameras, with support for HD.
  • Simple lighting rigs will brighten dim spaces and improve streamed picture quality.
  • Headphones with built in microphones will offer superior audio fidelity.

Balance over burnout

If you are fortunate enough to find a pursuit in life that you are passionate about, and create a set of favourable conditions to work in, it's very easy to get the balance wrong. I've spent most of my professional career fighting to get a balance that was right for me and those I love.  

  • The brain processes information sequentially, which is why context switching is so expensive. Plan in half day increments.
  • The context switch must factor in breaks.
  • Exercise is paramount to a healthy physical and mental relationship with work. Set yourself up for success, prepare your workout/gear in advance, then you only need execute on it, a context change lends itself to this.

Micro-interactions

Continuing the topic of mental health, even the most introvert among us need to socialise. The opportunities for this are reduced when we are not co-located, so seeking and creating these opportunities is important.

  • Asking for help is one of the easiest ways to do this. Pair programming using collaboration tools bridges the gap.
  • Daily standup in a remote environment will take longer, as it's not just about impediments and work in flight, it's an opportunity for people to share and connect.
  • Creating features of your work week, such as workshops and lightening talks will also create conditions for people to share and discuss areas of expertise.  

Further reading

Philip Beel

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