In my short career (I officially finished school in 2012), I think I’ve spent more time working from home than in an office. I’ve been doing remote work since 2013 and I thought I’d make a little compilation (no particular order) of what you need to successfully work from home:
No one is on your back to make sure you get things done. This is partly true for me because I am not really the boss of myself, I have co-workers who rely on my work to do theirs, and people whom I have to report to. Still, nobody is physically here working next to me. While you don’t have the usual coffee breaks interruptions, you can have a whole new world of interruptions. I’ve noticed something quite interesting ever since I started working from home: I think I am a LOT more productive. I used to get to the office, check random social media and stupid or front-end-related articles for like maybe an hour before starting my day. Then there were the coffee breaks, lunches that could last one hour and a half, more breaks, etc. Ever since I work from home, from the moment I wake up until the moment I log off, I am actively working, not even browsing random internet articles anymore. No interruptions, I eat in front of the computer and sometimes don’t eat at all. This is an other extreme, it is not healthy and I must admit I lack the discipline to impose some break time on myself. Tl;dr: you need to be really methodical and tidy, have a real schedule for work and breaks.
This may not seem important or obvious, but it’s one of the most important concern for me. If I were working all by myself and only had interactions with clients, I think I’d be depressed. If you don’t have co-workers, at least get a co-working space to meet people who can relate to your everyday work-related problems and who can share jokes, wins and losses. People often ask me if it’s not too difficult to not see anyone during the day. To be honest, I don’t even feel that way. We all chat on HipChat and have calls, I don’t feel like I have no human interaction. One thing I like about my current job is that I get along well with my co-workers, they’re all fun and talented people. Sometimes my roommates walk past me and they can see my screen full of stupid gifs and HipChat commands :) We often have calls but we also have a call every week that lasts about one hour to talk about everything and nothing (not project-related). I think this is very important.
A good internet connection
Nothing is more annoying than random connection drops/losses. Nothing.
A good spot to work
Ideally, you don’t work from your bedroom. I’ve worked from a desk in my bedroom for a year and it was far from ideal. That year, I’ve spent a lot of money in coffee shops to escape the bedroom. Ever since I’ve moved to a bigger place and have a dedicated work area, it felt better. There was a separation between life and work (even if both were at home). Though it could be tempting, avoid working from the bed at all cost.
A comfortable setup
In my case, I like to keep things simple: I only have my laptop. I have an external monitor that I very rarely use and a mouse that I’ve recently stopped using (I use it only for games). As long as I have a power outlet and an internet connection, I’m fine (true story: I worked from an emergency room this year). My desk is a simple wooden desk and my chair is a simple wooden chair. I like it like that! My alternative desk is an Ikea SVARTÅSEN laptop stand that I use from a couch. I like being able to work in any condition and I really don’t feel the need of external monitors/keyboards/etc. However, I know other people like to have spaceship-like settings to work comfortably. Find the setup that works best for yourself.
Understanding & supportive family/partner/friends/roommates
Working from home is still too often not taken seriously. True story: once when crossing the border to go to the US, an officer asked what I did for a living, I told him I was a freelance developer working from home, and he replied: “It’s not a real job”. (That officer was a dick let’s admit it, he also asked me if I was entering the US to seek illegal employment in a supermarket, wtf.) At the beginning, my parents didn’t quite understand it, they had a hard time realizing that I was working even though I was at home on my computer, they would ask me if I wanted to do this or that, they would come any time to interrupt me, but thankfully, they quickly understood it was a serious, real job. If you live with roommates/a partner, working from home doesn’t mean you have to take care of all the things at home either. Example: if something needs to be done at home during the day, your roommates will often automatically volunteer you because you’re already at home. Of course, it’s easier for us, but people need to be reminded that you also have to take time off your work to accommodate that. We’re just luckier to have this kind of flexibility.
Bonus: this Portlandia video perfectly sums it.
Activities outside of home
When I worked in an office, I would spend almost all my free time on the computer doing hobby projects, browsing the web, etc. When I started working remotely, this changed a lot: I am no longer on the computer during the weekends and evenings. Oftentimes, I am not even watching a screen during the weekends. My online hobby projects took a toll but I like my life better like that. I expanded my other hobbies: drawing, going to places and taking pictures, going out to eat and it also made me healthier (I think) as I started indoor climbing and going to the gym.
Good written communication skills
I write to other people more than I talk to them. With the lack of body language, facial expressions and voice tones, it can be tricky to understand people and be understood. Ideally, there shouldn’t be room for doubt and I guess jumping on a call is always better if things seem to go towards a misunderstanding. If you’re working in a team, always be clear if you’re going to be AFK for more than 15 minutes or if you’re running errands, let them know your status and of course, be available.
I am probably missing some items, but that’s all that comes to my mind for now. Also, I don’t have children, so there’s probably a few more things you need when you have them… like a very good babysitter. If your partner or roommate is also working from home, you’ll both need a lot of personal space. Remote work is not for everyone, a lot of people told me they would never be able to do that, and a bunch of others told me they were a lot more productive at home.