Having always worked at an office for all of my professional career, I was concerned about the impact it would have on my productivity, focus and quality of life when I made the switch to working from home full time. In the past, I had only worked from home under special circumstances such as having a doctor appointment and not wanting to drive to the office for only half of day. During these times I found I had a hard time focusing on getting the job done and being productive.
A year later, I’m finding that working from home is something I should have been doing for a long time. I can’t deny that there are times I wish I could co-work with my colleagues or be able to spend time with other people while I work, but it’s not because I feel alone or don’t get to talk to my colleagues. I think it’s just my human nature to socialize with others.
So how am I doing now that I work from home full time? How’s my productivity, focus, and quality of life a year later? And, what are the factors that have made working from home an easier transition than I expected?
Creating a routine
Before I started working from home full time, I did some research on recommendations for an easier and more effective transition. I attended talks (in person and online), read blog posts and talked to other people who had been doing this for a while. The first recommendation everyone made is to create a routine and stick to it. A routine allows you to have a clear view of what to expect throughout the day. This was one of the biggest problems for me in the past when I worked from home for those few hours. I had no routine or plan which lead me to wonder around and not be able to focus on what I needed to do.
My routine is to start working at the same time everyday, only take a 30min lunch break and stick to my daily tasks. This may seem simple enough but it is also tempting to sleep in or take longer lunch breaks. However, doing this would not only break my routine but it would also cause me to work longer days to make up the lost time. Following a routine eventually becomes a habit you do naturally.
This is another area where I lacked protocol and standards. At Mediacurrent we all use the same communication tools and we pretty much use the same protocol for communicating with others. We use Slack and have separate channels where we can discuss any topics; from client-specific channels to topic-specific. I often tell people who ask me if I get lonely while working from home that I never feel like I am working alone. Our communication through Slack is consistent throughout the day. There is always something to talk about, and it’s not always about work. We have fun in our General channel as the discussions can vary from sports, food and even sharing pictures of our better days (smile).
If you are having an issue or have a problem you can’t resolve on your own, you can quickly ping a fellow developer and start a hangout to discuss the issue. Or you can post your question on the appropriate Slack channel and chances are you will get more than one response. The point is, you can always reach someone when you need help.
A good communication system is not just the tool, but the effort you put forth to be in contact with your coworkers, makes all the difference on how engaged you feel with your team.
Mediacurrent is less about technology and more about people. Every Tuesday morning we have our weekly staff meeting where we get to listen to the latest company updates, hear about the upcoming projects, or hear/watch our fellow teammates do a knowledge share about the hottest topics in the Drupal world. But the meetings don’t end there, we have trivia contests, the last one was about music and it was a lot of fun. Everyone participates and it’s a time to forget about work and just have a good time. We often have co-working days where the colleagues who live in the same state/city get together and enjoy each other’s company. Others can participate remotely. Once a year we have our company retreat where everyone in the company gets together and play games, have team building activities, sing karaoke and even contribute back to the Drupal project.
Some people have issues with time tracking. It adds pressure to your day and if management has not done a good job about explaining the real reason for tracking time, one may feel as if management wants to monitor everything you do as a way of controlling you.
However, a good tracking system, with a solid goal of measuring progress and time allocations can make all the difference. At a personal level, it helps you stay on track of where you are throughout the day. Not properly tracking your time can lead to you spending more hours at work than you would like. Consistently keeping track of your time by completion of tasks will make it easier to know when your day of work will end.
Part of my routine is to track my time as I work on each task. I use an app that I set every time I start a new task. When I am done with the task I stop the timer and then reset it again for the next task. As I complete each task, I document the details of the task and log the amount of time it took me to complete it. In fact, I as write this post, my timer is running (tic toc, tic toc).
Some people choose to keep track of their time throughout the day and at the end of the day log all their time entries. That’s fine, everyone is different and what works for me may not work for you. However, the key is to always be aware where your time is being spent. It’s not fun when you get to the end of the day and you can’t remember what you worked on.
Dedicated Work Space
One big reason I had a hard time working from home previously was the fact that I did not have a dedicated work space to work from. I would sit on the couch or stand in the kitchen and work off the countertop. Sometimes I would have the TV on. It was too comfortable and distracting to think about work. Now that I work from home full time, I have a dedicate work space in one of our rooms and I stay away from distractions such as TV. I am able to listen to music and in fact that helps me stay motivated while working.
I have a standing desk which is a big help for my back. My kids know the drill, when daddy is working you can come in and say hello or ask a question but that’s it. Same goes for my wife although sometimes I make exceptions for her (smile).
Working with a great team of professionals makes all the difference. Our culture is such that everyone is encouraged to excel and become the best they can be. We have a mentoring program which allows new employees to team up with someone to have an easier transitioning when joining our team.
We are goal-oriented. Not just company goals but personal goals. I have seen several of my team members get the recognition they deserve for their extra efforts or achievements, which encourages everyone to excel.
A great culture starts with you. How you carry yourself and how you treat others. This is something I have experienced first-hand when I first joined the company. I struggled at the beginning but every time I needed help there was someone to help me and make me feel at ease. I don’t ever recall anyone judging me or making me feel inferior. Those are lessons I will not forget and plan on passing them on.
In closing, I realize working from home may not be for everyone. It can be intimidating being home all day and not have interactions with other humans. I also realize that not every company provides the right support system. Talking to someone who has been doing this for a while is a great way to determine whether you can do it or not. If possible, do some research on the company you are interested in working for and determine if they offer the right environment as outlined above. Every company is different but having an idea about what type of remote system they have in place is a good start.
The Best (and Worst) Question in a Drupal Sales Presentation | Mediacurrent Blog Post
Establishing a Remote Workflow | Mediacurrent Blog Post
Dev Hacks: My Other Office | Mediacurrent Blog Post