Work from home full time — the survival guide you didn't expect to need

Maybe you've already experienced working from home. 43% of Americans say they spend the occasional day 'WFH'. However only 5.2% of you do it full time, and as anyone in that position will tell you, it's a whole different ball game.

  1. It ain't easy — remote isn't an excuse to slack off
  2. Writing > Talking — good communication etiquette to adopt
  3. Making friends — what gets worse (and better)
  4. Tools & Workspace — design is destiny
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The perception of what you do is just as important as what you actually do — when you work from home, if your work isn't documented, it just didn't happen. You've never had more control over your environment — use that power wisely.

It ain't easy

Your coworkers might think you have a cushy job working from home. Maybe it's even seen as a perk at your company, reserved for senior employees.

Working remotely is hard. It requires constant, active effort. Communicating to everyone is almost a full-time job in itself — let alone the actual work you have to do.

Working from home is not:

If you want any of those things — you need a different job, not a remote job. If anything, working from home makes each of these issues harder.

Writing > Talking

When you work over the internet, nobody knows what you're doing. The default assumption is 'nothing' — it's part of your job now to actively prove them wrong.

Default to Transparency

The most successful remote companies have 'default to transparency' as a core value, and that's what you need to adopt if you're going to thrive as a full time remote worker.

The key is to get comfortable doing your work in public.

If you restrict your communication to 1:1 calls, you'll be a ghost in the organization. If you write consistently well, you can leapfrog your on-site colleagues. Who's more influential — The New York Times or a man on the street?

Shift to asynchronous communication

Lots of synchronous communication — calls, video chats, taps on the shoulder for a "quick question" — are a distraction and symptom of a lack of planning. Why should a lack of planning on their part should constitute an emergency on yours?

All high-performing remote teams learn to interact with others through asynchronous means — emails, task managers or Slack messages — especially as things start to span timezones. Learn to feel comfortable not having an immediate answer to everything, and plan projects accordingly.

When you get interrupted, don't shrug it off. It takes nearly 30 minutes to re-focus after a distraction. Investigate the root cause and fix the process so it happens less often in future. Can you document more so your colleague can find the answer they're looking for? Can you nudge them towards scheduling time in your calendar rather than letting them interrupt you?

And of course, the best you can do to get people to work with you asynchronously is to yourself be a model of asynchronous communication — lead by example.

As a fulltime remote worker, your lack of distraction is your superpower — don't let it get ruined with constant Slack pings.

Making friends

Being good at your job is not enough to do well at the company — to get ahead, you need to build real, meaningful relationships with your coworkers and manager.

Visit the office as frequently as you can

A visit every quarter is a minimum, or more if you live in the same state/country. In addition, try to time your trips with major all-hands, offsites or company retreats if possible.

It's on you to push for organizing trips. Once things start to settle in, everybody will get complacent and it will be too easy to defer trips.

Take the lead organizing social activities: team outings, sports games, team dinners, etc.

Bring your full self to every one-on-one interaction — be dialed in, eager to connect and a good confidant for gossip and drama. Effort spent teasing apart the personal relationships between people is worth its weight in gold.

Try to get time with influential people in the organization — your manager's manager, your manager's peers, and cross-functional partners. Them putting a face to a name and having a general positive opinion of you will help you a great deal politically.

At this end of this process, you should feel exhausted. Social relationships are hard work, and you need to cram it all in a few days.

Counterintuitively, you might find you build better bonds than your non-remote colleagues. When you're all forced to be together every day, inertia sets in and people tend to under-invest in relationships. Meanwhile you're on mission, maximizing face time, making the most of every interaction — don't miss this advantage.

Your coworkers

Try to find the interests your coworkers have in common and be the social glue for the group. For example, if your coworkers are into sports, be the one organizing the fantasy league.

Keep a pulse on the team banter in the Slack or group chat — be a part of the conversation, and bring out your best memes.

The unreasonable effectiveness of customizing slack emojis

You might think it's frivolous, but give it a shot. Adding custom emojis, using gifs, giving each other nicknames, these are all ways you can bond over technology, and will be part of the culture in any high-performing remote-friendly company.

Your manager

The people who get promoted are those who make their manager's job easier. It's not enough to just be aware of your own work, your need to also be aware of your manager's work — what are their main initiatives? what's blocking them? how can you help?

The biggest mistake you can make with your one-on-one interactions with your manager is focusing on status updates — leave that to emails. Focus your time on understanding the bigger picture: What's holding back the team? How can you help?

Read the guide on performance reviews for more tips on running effective one-on-ones.

Managing yourself

Working fulltime from home is lonely. Many adults don't make many friends outside their work environments — you have an extra burden to build quality IRL relationships to keep yourself sane.

It's also important to set expectations with family or housemates. Be clear when you're working and set yourself a routine — take your full lunch break and don't eat at your desk or working space. If you need to work past your work hours, tell your spouse as soon as you realize so they can work around you.

Should I put personal time in my calendar?

Yes, absolutely. Don't put much detail (in Google Calendar, you can mark yourself as busy without revealing the title/description), just block out times when you're going to be away from your desk, so that others can pick more appropriate times to get in contact.

Tools & workspace

Everybody will tell you this, and they're right — separate work and pleasure. Do not work from bed or the couch. Buy yourself a desk and find somewhere that's as quiet as possible to put it.

Office setup

A whopping 84% of remote workers work from home, and only 4% work from coffee shops or cafes — your home office setup is very important. The ability to control your surroundings is one of the big benefits of working from home.

Here's how to use that power:

Don't be shy in asking your employer for budget to make your home work space more comfortable. Office space can cost in the order of $1,000 per desk per month in New York or San Francisco — a one time reimbursement of a few hundred dollars is a no brainer.

What if you don't have a suitable space for a home office?

Co-working spaces are the default alternative, but assuming you don't have budget, most people head for cafes or coffee shops. But try to think outside the box: public libraries often have great, underused facilities, and during the day your local bar might be quieter and more comfortable than a cafe.

Our recommendations

Office recommendations

If you're after a shopping list, here's ours:

  1. Plug-in headset — from Amazon
  2. Camera with built-in privacy shutter — from Amazon
  3. Facebook Portal mini (for quick team and family check ins) — from Facebook
  4. An intense water bottle is the ultimate remote work flex — from bkr
  5. A plant to keep you company — from The Sill
  6. Desk organizer — from World Market
  7. Office desk — from Amazon
  8. Padded office chair — from Amazon
  9. Map of the Roman Empire (so they know you're ambitious) — from Amazon

Tools

The average business spends$3,297 per employeeon software-as-a-service (SaaS) licenses. If you work from home, these tools are your only connection to the company — the tools you choose matter.

What if your company is forcing you to use a tool you can't stand? They say you shouldn't tear down a fence until you know why it was built, and the same thing applies to your companies' software.

Someone went to the pain and effort to research this tool and get it adopted — track that person down and find out why. Either you'll learn why they were right, or you'll be talking to the right person to make a change.

What if they somehow won't listen to reason? Hack the system. Write code or use a tool like Zapier to connect your favorite tool to any existing system. For example — set a trigger to push any new Jira tasks to your Trello board, or write a rule to flag high priority emails to you in Slack.

What tools do Remote teams use?

There are a handful of important categories — and a whole lot of overlap.

Is your offer competitive?

Find out how much you’re worth and how to ask for more — the right way.

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