How I Work From Home

My current job is a remote job. Which is to say I’m living in the future. Which is to say I’m living in my basement.

I’ve done it before, and have been doing it at my current job for about a year and a half. I thought maybe some people would be interested in how I do it. In theory it’s amazing, in practice it’s 80% awesome. (I’m not sure how that stacks up against everything being 91% crud but I imagine someone will do the math, maybe 72.8% crudawesome?) I figured I’d start with the tools I like for working remotely.

Google Hangouts

I spend a good portion of my day on Hangouts, which in turn keeps me sane. We do our standups on Hangouts and use it for any meetings we are in. Why Hangouts over Skype? We are a Google shop and it’s nice to know I can reach pretty much anyone via Hangout.

Seeing people and being seen is a huge part of being off-site. You need to make yourself present even if you’re 2 timezones away. By making your face visible and seeing other people you are doing that. It’s also important when having any conversation where tone is important. Text loses so much delivery information that it’s difficult to have any conversation requiring empathy over email/chat. (spoiler alert: tone matters).

Knowing when to start up a Hangout is a huge career skill for a remote worker to have. It’s second only to knowing the keyboard shortcut to mute/unmute Hangouts (⌘-D/Ctrl-D, but Hangouts has to have focus or you’ll just wind up bookmarking the current page).

Headsets (for everyone!)

I have gone through a few headsets before landing on my current one, a Razer Kraken. I can’t advocate for them beyond they’ve worked well for me and are comfortable to wear all day, which you will do some days when you work remote. I know that a lot of streamers go for separate microphones but I’m not convinced that enough audio fidelity would make it through the internet to make it worth the cost.

Also important is making sure your coworkers have good microphones. Built-in microphones can’t compete with the ambient noise of an office. Folks on-site all have headsets for our one-on-one meetings or pairing sessions. Which brings me to the next tool:

ScreenHero

I haven’t found a better way to pair program with people remotely. ScreenHero has better resolution than Google Hangouts as well as letting both users click/type. With Hangouts I always have to increase the font size of my editor to make it readable, but that isn’t necessary with ScreenHero.

Slack bought ScreenHero recently, which is good and bad. Good in that right now it’s free (it can be tough to justify the cost when 75% of devs are on-site). Bad in that it’s now impossible to sign up for an account. You need to be invited by an existing user (such as myself). I’m hoping to see some cool things come out of the acquisition. Speaking of Slack…

Slack

We started off with semi-permanent, named Google Hangout chats (which is different from a Hangout video call, and different from the chat inside a Hangout video call). The notifications in Hangouts are awful, the native clients are awful, Hangouts is awful for persistent chat. There’s no way to discover rooms, they don’t scale, and it’s hard to tell where the video calls begin and end.

We tried HipChat but it just didn’t gain traction. There’s a ton of little things that Slack nails, like having Slackbot pop in and randomly announce “That’s what she said.” Or the /giphy command (and limiting it by rating for Serious Business). Or email notifications of things you missed. Or allowing us to move from text to video with a simple /hangout command.

I ❤️ Slack. The more you can get on-site folks to use it, the more ambient information you’re exposed to. Overhearing a conversation in you project channel is a great way to learn, something that you miss out on as a remote. However the best use I’ve got so far is creating a #gameofthrones channel. It creates a social space that can be missing when you are remote.

A Door That Closes

This is a high-tech tool that is hugely important if, like me, you have your family at home. My wife has been great about respecting when I’m at work and treating it as if I was actually away at an office. My 20-month-old daughter, she doesn’t get the concept. She sees daddy and doesn’t understand that he’s hard at work on some code (or in #gameofthrones, but that’s networking and totally legitimate work right?). So an office of some sort is hugely important. It creates a sense of “going to work” and “coming home from work”. Even if I head back to the “office” at night to play video games.

Pants

This is similar to the door, in that I wear pants. The old joke about remote work is that you can do it in your pajamas, but I’ve resisted so far. Pants are symbolic that I have a morning routine that gets me to work on time, and then I leave on time. But when I’m at work, I’m at work. No TV, no video games, nothing I wouldn’t be doing in an office. I still do small errands like getting a package from the front door or making phone calls, but those are part of office-life too.

My worry about losing the discipline is that work life starts bleeding into real life. I start waiting to get dressed, and then get started later, and then suddenly I’m working until 8:00pm on a regular basis. That’s not the life I want to live, I would rather be present at work and then leave it behind at the end of the day. Putting on pants is the first step to getting into my work mindset.

There are probably other things that I’m not thinking about, and definitely others I haven’t learned of. I’ll be posting more about my experiences working remotely but also want to hear from other remotes and people who work with remotes.

2 thoughts on “How I Work From Home

  1. My biggest takeaway from working remotely was the importance of being mindful of time zones. I know that wall clocks set to the remote time work well, and some people have fancy watches that show you two times at once.

    Scheduling against remote times is really hard. For me I found that 11 a.m. EST and 2 p.m. EST were the golden hours for conversations with PST people since you avoided for the most part conflicts with other bits of life.

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