My first year as a full time remote developer

February 24, 2018

On February the first, 2018, I had officially been a remote worker for a year.

First some background, I’ve worked as a full time developer since 2008, from the start until February 2017, about 9 years, I’ve worked for different companies, in different cities, and in different office environments.

Working remotely has always been something I’ve been curious about doing, but just never had the chance to do it – and now that I think about it – is nothing I’ve asked for previously either.

In my case, I went back to my previous employeer, Bazooka, who is located in Stockholm. They, just like me, were unfamiliar with full time remote workers, let alone somebody who is also located in another country and another time zone.

The transition

My last day at an office was a Tuesday, the following day, a Wednesday, was my first day as a remote worker. The first couple of days were basically like any other new job, even though I was familiar with Bazooka’s process, I had been away for two years, so things had changed. I also hadn’t yet been assigned a large project, so I was mostly just fixing small bugs in different projects, and getting up to speed with the company.

I actually don’t recall it being weird at all, at this time we were still living in a rather small apartment, so I had to work from our kitchen. Although we moved to a larger apartment only three weeks later.


Me at a presentation in the Stockholm office. Image courtesy Bazooka.se

Routines, routines, routines

I had, even before starting to work remotely, decided that I was going to adhere to a strict routine. I would start working at 8 AM, and I would stop working at 4 PM. Breaking up the workday in to smaller chunks scattered through out the morning, day and evening, is something I knew wouldn’t work. And it was something I wouldn’t even want to try. I felt that since I was already going to be working from home, I needed to set strict boundaries between work-life and private-life.

Now, twelve months later, I still have this same routine, and I’m just as strict about it as in the beginning. I mean sure, sometimes life gets in the way, and sometimes there’s a need for me to put in a couple of extra hours. But as a rule of thumb, I try not to work during the evenings.

Side note: I’ve spoken with a friend who also works as a full time remote developer. And we both share one very specific routine. I wear jeans from the morning and throughout the workday, and once I “clock out” for the day, I switch to sweatpants. I wonder if this as a thing all remote workers do?

Home office

As I mentioned earlier, I started of working in our kitchen. But when we moved to a larger apartment I also moved from the kitchen to my own home office. In the first couple of months I had this vision of me being a true digital nomad and working from coffee shops at least a couple of times a week – that didn’t happen.

I’ve tried working from coffee shops, and on the go, and whilst it doesn’t really change my productivity in any negative way, I just feel more comfortable in my own home office. It’s also a lot easier having telco meetings in a quiet apartment.

Also it adds to the aforementioned work-life balance, having the office is somewhat of a barrier between work and home.

Communication & availability

So this is basically a no-brainer, for remote working to eh, well, work, you need to have some way of communicating with your peers no matter if they are at the office, or if they are also remote workers. At Bazooka we run primarily with Slack, and since slack has added both video calls and screen sharing, it’s basically the best tool out there.

I strive to be as easy to contact as possible, and I try to answer as quickly as possible whenever somebody pings me, even after the 4 PM end-of-day line. I’m also always open for video calls, I deal with bad hair days by always having my baseball cap at my desk.

You need to understand that you, the remote worker, you’re not the norm, you’re the exception. People will have to go the extra mile to get you in on a meeting (getting the telco equipment etc.), so whatever you can do to streamline it and make it easier, I bet is well welcomed by your peers. When you’ve accepted a meeting, you need to be available for it, or you need to cancel it well in advance. There’s no “forgot a meeting”, or “running a late lunch”, or you might just end up being the non-cooperative, lots-of-hassle coworker which nobody wants to work with.

The social aspect

One of the only, but the biggest, downside of being a remote worker is that you miss out on a lot of the things happening at the office, the random jokes, the random social encounters, the basic office gossip. This is also a blessing in disguise, I’ve noticed that I’ve never been as productive as I am working remotely, and I guess it boils down to not having these micro-interruptions, for better or worse.

There’s a couple of ways to mitigate becoming the hermit living outside of society. For starters, try to make it a routine to visit the main office every couple of months – we’ve set it up so I try to visit the Bazooka office at least once a quarter – but if I lived closer by, I would probably try to be in more often. As for the everyday routine, you can try to leave your home office once a week (or however often you want) for a coffee shop, or a shared office, or whatever.

During this year I’ve been out multiple times for half-days out on the go. I’ve also tried working with a friend who also works completely remote, it works, but you have to actively fight the will to start a discussion, or otherwise you’ll end up not working as effectively.

But be warned, some places, understandably, might not like people paying for one coffee and then sitting around for hours on end.

My typical day

I get up at 07:00, the first hour is spent doing normal family routine, getting dressed, driving my daughter to kindergarten, that kind of stuff.

My workday starts at 08:00, I’m one hour ahead of Bazooka (plus as in most office places, people tend to start at 9, which gives me another hour), so I try to take advantage of this as much as possible. The first thing I do is start with the tasks that need a lot of concentration or just push through as much stuff that I can do which I don’t need feedback or input from other people.

I try to grab lunch at 11 am, but this also seems to be around the time when most people want to have their morning meetings, so my lunch usually gets pushed forward an hour or two. Midday is usually packed with meetings, from around 10:30 -> 13:30.

The afternoon is also usually pretty quiet or calm, this is, again because of the timezone, people in the Stockholm office are out on lunch, and most office people tend to take an hours time for lunch. Which means that people usually get back online at around 14:30. And this is when we go in to the second round of meetings, though they are a lot more rare than the midday meeting spree.

I clock out at 16:00, especially now when my daughter is at kindergarten. The days when Paulina is able to pick up Freja, I might try to get in an extra couple of hours work.

Conclusion

I’ve loved working this way. I feel so much less stressed out, and I’m able to get in to “the zone” a lot easier compared to when I was working in an office environment.

Admittedly I don’t think working full time is something for everyone, or even for the majority. But for me, and for the type of work I do, it’s been a perfect fit. And it’s actually increased my work-life balance quite a lot.

If you’re able to, i.e. you’re in a workplace where you can choose to work from anywhere, I’d highly recommend trying out remote work, try it for a week and see how it feels. I believe it’s important that you do it for a longer consecutive time than say, just a day, because I don’t think you’ll be able to get down the routine, and then you wont get the productivity increase that you can achieve working from home.

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