My Remote Life: Lessons and Tips

Feb 14, 2014

Reading Time: 6 to 8 minutes

For nearly two years I have been working remotely for Treehouse and I'd like to share some lessons learned along with a few tips of how I adjusted. Be warned that some of these tips are a little biased around some of the benefits and current structure of Treehouse. Also know that these are my personal views and not that of Treehouse in particular. Shifting to a remote-based working style has been a little bit of a struggle, but I've learned to embrace and enjoy its affordance of freedom.

Before joining Treehouse, I used to work in the Chicago office for Hashrocket. I'd spend up to 2 hours daily commuting via the CTA, taking two trains to and from work every day. While I enjoyed working there and learned quite a great deal; joining Treehouse was a jarring experience when shifting to remote based work. I wasn't seeing my co-workers or visiting an office every day and initially I missed it a lot. Routines, like personal habits, can be difficult to break, but not all of them had to be broken for me. That is where my first tip comes in to play.

Tip: Dress like you're going to the office

I can't recall where this tip came from, but I had read somewhere that the psychological effect of putting on your typical work uniform helps give you a mental breaking point. It helps simulate that "I'm going to work" routine to get you into the working mindset. Some have suggested going to a nearby coffee shop to simulate walking to work. This helped me tremendously, especially if you end up doing video calls with co-workers as I would have felt embarrassed to show up in a bathrobe and messed up hair.

Tip: Take regular breaks

I already had this habit from my previous job and can't stress this enough for working at home. Working in my home office I'm so comfortable that I sometimes go hours without getting up to go eat or grab a drink of water. There are a few techniques I've tried to force myself into breaks, but none have seemed to stick. My rule of thumb has always been that if I begin feeling frustrated or stuck, I get up and walk or grab some fresh air. Walking in general also helps with your cognitive ability, as I learned from Brain Rules. Speaking of getting out of the office:

Tip: Get out of the home office at least once a week

Roughly 3 weeks into working for Treehouse I began to feel a little depressed about working remotely. I missed the commute and having a physical office with co-workers to chat with and debate ideas. I felt very disconnected despite being in a chatroom with co-workers every day. I decided that I needed to try co-working to see if it would help relieve that depression. I'm pretty fortunate to live and work in Chicago where many local offices have open-door policies for co-working. Since implementing this rule and following it, I've gained many new and better friendships along with noticably more happiness at work. It has been the single best thing to improve my overall remote working experience. Places I never would have visited such as restaurants and coffee shops are easier to plan for and investigate when you can control the schedule working remotely.

Tip: Grab a good pair of headphones

Now that I have been able to better control my distractions by working remotely. Visiting offices can be both rewarding and detrimental to me. Working in a noisy coffee shop is easier when you have a pair of headphones to drown the grinders and steam hissing. Many offices have adopted the "do not disturb" rule when someone has headphones going. You can get yourself into The Zone a whole lot easier. I personally have a pair of UE 500's from Logitech and carry them everywhere I go.

Tip: Control distractions

Offices tend to be a double edged sword for me. On one hand they are a wonderful way to socialize and fill that void of loneliness of working from home. On the other, for those very same reasons, it can be easy to get into debates or chatting rather than paying attention to the task at hand. When working from home or at an office, keep your communication options to a minimum set to avoid side-tracking on things. Every time I violate this rule I wonder why I feel unproductive that day and this is generally why. I'll give attention to task B, C, D instead of A and while thats still productivity, it doesn't always help the primary task.

Everything will feel like it needs attention now and usually that is not always the case. Feel empowered to disconnect communication services like email, IM, IRC, etc.

Tip: Communicate more effectively

This is one of the biggest changes I felt when switching to remote because I still struggle with it to this day. When you begin working remotely you realize how much unwritten communication happens in an office. Body language, verbal cues, explanations in general, are much harder to articulate with text if you're unexperienced.

I'm still working on this part personally, even after almost 2 years at Treehouse and feel I'm slowly getting better at this with feedback. There is no doubt I am working hard, but not everyone understands my descriptions or knows what is going on in my world. Picking back up on my blog is one of many things I have employed to get better at this skill since its crucial to remote work.