I've racked up 2 years of remote work experience as a software engineer. No commute, office, or ID badge. When my career began with all these artifacts, I romanticized working from home. Wake up, putter around, and code in the comfort of pyjamas. But my employers didn't offer remote work at all, or offered a once-a-week morsel based on seniority. I remember there was a snow storm once, and I lived the dream for a day. Later the world turned upside down; remote work became a norm. Is the grass greener? It depends. This post covers my experience, and some self-advice around remote work.
Take care of yourself
In the in-office days, I used to workout either before or after my work day. I'd also socialize with my coworkers over lunch or coffee when I had the chance. During breaks, I'd make my way over to someone's desk and see if they'd be up for a quick walk somewhere. Remote work removes all that out of the equation.
In the early days at home, my usual routines took the back seat in exchange for longer hours at work. I let time for exercise, breaks, food and social connection fall by the wayside. And this caught up to me in the form of lower energy, brain fog, and a dip in productivity.
Sustaining long hours of knowledge work, requires a stable foundation of "health infrastructure". It's obvious workouts, strategic breaks, eating schedules etc. improve quality of life. But with remote work it's especially important; be responsible with all the time saved:
- Break a sweat every day - Early morning strength training/cardio is a massive mood and energy boost for me. I find the boost sustains for the entire day if exercise before work, and also helps me focus/sleep better.
- Build separation - Working only at my workstation, or having a "work uniform" help me switch in and out of work mode.
- Go outside - A quick walk outside is a great way to get some mental rest. No standing desk, or blue light blocking glasses are as good as a few minutes of movement in nature.
Make time for connection
It's easy to take the social aspects of work for granted. As someone who gains energy from meeting people, picking remote work was a tough call. Running into a familiar face, or having a quick casual conversation has a long lasting positive impact on my day.
In the "single player mode" of remote work, those in-person moments need some substitute. Quick calls to pair on tasks with coworkers, while also catching up with each other works well for me. I've heard of semi-regular check-ins, hobby focused group chats etc. work well for others
Some days can be very heads-down, so I also have a few regular plans that get me out of the house. It can be as simple as dinner with friends, or as intense some group sport meets. This is important for a healthy social life in general, but even more so in a remote setting.
Co-working spots, or local coffee shops are also a great place to bake in some social bits into your day. This also adds some variety if you feel inclined to switch things up from your regular routine.
This post focuses on health, but it's not the only dimension to consider when it comes to remote work. It might be worthwhile to explore other trade-offs like mentorship, family time, etc.