Ideal remote working setup for a mature introvert
I've freelanced for over 10 years now, most of which I spent in my clients' offices.
That began to change, and I now work primarily from my home with occasional travel to in-person meetings.
The change was intentional and I prepared for it, both mentally and technically. I think you should, too, if you contemplate a move to remote working.
COVID-19 notwithstanding, it seems like the industry has been under transformation to more flexible working models anyway. Whether or not this health scare will accelerate the process, it pays to be prepared.
Here's what works for me.
I am going to assume a few things about you.
You are either freelancing or working within an organization that trusts you. While this article outlines how to create the environment for productivity at home, it does not address negotiating terms with your employer. You're going to have to resolve any trust issues first.
Second, I'm assuming you are an experienced professional able to work independently. If you are just starting out, doing it completely remotely may not be the right move for you. I, for one, have benefited immensely by being able to rely on the physical support network of peers and mentors when entered the industry.
Lastly, I'm assuming you are able to control the physical environment around you. That includes being able to declare a portion of your house or apartment as your office, furnishing it according to the needs of your work, creating and maintaining "office hours", making the necessary purchases, etc.
This is hard to overstate! Unless you live alone, you are going to negotiate with your spouse or any other humans sharing your living environment.
The importance of mindset
Let's start inside your own head.
Don't worry, I am not a "mindset consultant" :) I don't want to change anything, just let you ask yourself a couple of things. And, instead of telling you what to think, I'll just share my own response.
- How comfortable are you spending hours and hours alone, in general?
My response: I am naturally introverted and like it when I am alone in a room for a few hours when I have things to do. A prolonged solitude would be uncomfortable, though. I like to space my day with pleasant interactions with people I like.
- How well and for how long can you focus on the task at hand when nobody is looking?
My response: that's the only way I can focus. On the contrary, when I have a feeling that people could peer over my shoulder anytime, I feel vulnerable and disconcerted.
- How well are you able to set and enforce boundaries between your work and the rest of your life?
My response: I don't have to discipline myself, because I was born lazy and never suffered from the ambition to work 80+ hours a week. When out with friends or my spouse, I don't check my work-related e-mails or Slack. And, when working, I refuse non-work interruptions to distract me. Either way, I am trying to be mindful of what I am doing at each particular moment.
Examine your responses, if you will. Are your answers compatible with being at your home office most of the time, interacting with your peers or clients over Skype only, and moving seamlessly between the "work mode" and "free-time mode" without sacrificing either your work results or the quality of your life?
Counter-indications: you like the physical company of peers, you like bouncing ideas off each other regularly or just shooting the shit at the water cooler, you get weirded out when alone for a few hours, or you need a boss around to make you lift a finger, so to speak.
Only you know.
Negotiating your living arrangement
This section applies to you if you share your living space with another human, e.g. your spouse.
You are about to transform this space into a mixed-use territory. Some of it stays dedicated to leisure but a significant portion is now your office.
In my case, about a quarter of our living room is my office. It's where the TV would be. Thankfully, my 43" monitor can also fit that need when we want to watch Netflix.
Regardless of how much space you fill, that room becomes an office when you work. You will impose limits on what others can do there while in the working mode.
Potential impacts: your spouse cannot have a friend come over and talk over coffee in this room, your children cannot play there while you work, and when you have a conference call, any other occupants must be quiet.
Then there's your presence in itself.
If your partner works outside your home and you remain home-bound, requests to "take care of stuff" might arrive. You are always at home, after all.
No, actually you are at work, it just happens that your workplace is also your home.
Let's say your partner also works at home while you used to work outside. Now you are dealing with the constant presence of each other. Hopefully your relationship is great but this is an impactful change nonetheless!
Well, I am not a "relationship consultant" either, and so you'll have to figure this one out for yourself.
For me and my partner, taking a few hours apart from each other daily works really well. I do have a need to take a walk, go to the gym, or do something outside every day in any case.
Expect this negotiation to take some time and do it in good faith.
Staying in touch
This section applies to people working inside a team. If you are a lone-wolf freelancer and you only communicate with your clients, chances are that you have already figured this out.
Let's assume the worst possible starting position: your team was sent home without any prior remote-working setup having been put in place.
You've just declared the dining table your office and put your laptop there.
You are going to have to coordinate with your team-mates daily and keep your sanity. What works, and what doesn't?
E-mail and chat - those work great when everyone is remote, and I don't get the occasional complaints about "Slack-overflow". It takes some discipline to mute Slack's incessant notifications but it can be done.
What must be done is managing the (a)synchronicity. What are the expected response times? Chat is terrible when used synchronously. That said, if you depend a lot on collaboration from others, getting to a shared agreement on each other's responsiveness is important.
This topic extends way beyond remote working as email and chat are used inside onsite teams as well.
Video conferencing - awesome invention that never works 100%. Expensive corporate setups are the worst. Try them all and decide on which one sucks the least. I hear good things about Zoom but haven't tried it yet.
Ticketing system - I like this one the best. If your team already uses something like Jira (the worst piece of garbage on planet Earth but way better than no ticketing system at all), great - use it for everything!
Need someone to review your PR? Give them a ticket.
Got stuck with a bug-fix? Create a ticket for your senior colleague.
Want a... you get the point.
A well-written ticket has a textual description of what you need as well as all the why's and when's. You leave it with the assignee who is a mature adult just like you and will handle it with the proper importance. It's asynchronicity at its best.
Do what you can to avoid synchronous tools in favor of asynchronous.
OK, now for the fun part.
Actually, it is going to be rather brief.
You probably already have a laptop for work. What you really need to add are two things: a desk and a good chair.
Any desk will do but a good chair is an investment that will repay itself many times over, measured in units of health.
Unless you work for a unicorn company (I heard many in the US are), your work chair is most likely shitty.
Don't treat yourself as your employer treats you, and buy yourself a quality ergonomic chair. Mine lets me stay put at my desk for the whole day without any back pain; its lower back support is fabulous (link in Czech only).
Considering your desk, I strongly favor motorized standing desks. Mine has just two buttons, up and down, and that's good enough, no need for presets - I just stand up, push and hold the button, place my hand on the table and wait until it raises to the comfortable position.
I can only work standing for a maximum of 20-30 minutes but doing it a few times each day works wonders. A human body did not evolve to be in one position most of the time.
I've outlined the things that are important to me in my personal working and life situation.
What works for me may or may not be relevant to you. There are many other sources to visit.
Scott Hanselman published a thoughtful article on his remote working setup. He's got a lot more tech topics covered as well as many, many additional tips.
I heard good things about the book Remote - office not required by the makers of Basecamp.
At the end of the day, though, success in remote working does come down to two major pre-requisites: your mature mindset and the culture of your company or team that you can hopefully co-create.
These days, companies are taking a hard look at remote working. Use it to your advantage.
Managers who are used to face time will have to re-program themselves. Help them. Educate yourself and promote healthy asynchronous communication that enables remote teams to function well.
If you feel like we'd get along, you can follow me on Twitter, where I document my journey.