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Tips for Working Remotely – From Someone Who Learned the Hard Way

Guest blogger: Byron Delpinal, developer at Sparkbox and Bounce coworking member

Bounce Innovation Hub

Sitting down at my desk, still groggy as I sip on my first cold brew of the day with my scrambled eggs in hand, was usually where you’d find me during the week around 8 a.m. I’d work most of the day, uninterrupted, ignoring the lunch hour, and then finally, frantically making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with banana around 3 p.m. when my son, Aiden, gets off the bus from school. At 5 p.m., my wife would leave her office and pick up our daughter, Evelyn, from daycare. They’d walk in the door to the kitchen hallway around 5:45 p.m. That would be my cue to shut my laptop and our cue to start family dinner. This was my routine after I started working remotely for Sparkbox in May 2018. We have many remote employees around the US in positions ranging from software developer to graphic designer to project manager.

I was loving the work that I was doing, and the folks I got to do it with, but there wasn’t much else. I wasn’t feeling the “freedom” I’ve heard so much about when it comes to remote work—and I sure wasn’t feeling less stressed. Like many remote workers, I’d taken the benefits of remote work and replaced them with more work. My normal commute where I’d listen to my favorite podcasts had gone away and been replaced with doing more work. My lunch break where I’d go out with my co-workers for a bite to eat? You guessed it, replaced with work. I was exhausted come 5:45 p.m. and ready to shut down just as my family was walking through the door, ready to talk about their day. This was no good.

After doing some self-reflection and some research about how others were solving this problem, I decided to start making changes to how my days were structured.

Establish a Morning Routine

My least productive days are those where I hop out of bed, grab my laptop, and start working. Whether it’s working while still lying in bed or working while sitting at my desk, I don’t get nearly as much done when my head’s not in the game. The folks in my office don’t get to their desks until around 9:30 a.m., so why did I feel the need to have my laptop open at 8 a.m.? Instead, I follow a daily routine: shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and take my daughter to daycare. When I do those things, I’m most effective because I know when I walk back into my house, or wherever I am working for the day, my mind is ready.

Take Breaks to Move Around

When you’re working from home, it’s far too easy to let hours go by without moving from your desk. In a shared office space, you physically relocate for meetings, meet coworkers for coffee, and sometimes take the long way back to your desk from the bathroom. These activities do a couple of things for you:

  1. They get you moving. Getting your blood flowing and stretching your legs is incredibly good for productivity. You can think more clearly after you’ve gone for a walk.
  2. They give your mind a rest. When you’re too close to a problem, you often miss the easy solutions. Trying to churn through a problem all day long is usually the least effective method of solving it, especially if you work in a creative industry. Take a step back and come back to your problem with fresh eyes—you’d be surprised what you missed before.

The results are clear: sitting for long periods of time is very bad for your health. Try your best to move around at least once every hour or 90 minutes! A great way to reinforce breaks is to stay hydrated. I recommend keeping a reusable water bottle with you that you’ll need to get up to refill. Relocating for lunch is also a great way to stay active during the day. Eat lunch in the kitchen and leave the laptop in the office. Do you like to cook? Cook a nice lunch! Don’t like cooking? Go for a walk or read a book instead.

Love Your Workspace

Home office

As a remote worker, you now have total control over your office. This is your chance to make it exactly what you want it to be, and make sure you’re comfortable when you’re in it. Ergonomics are so important, especially in the place that you spend eight-ish hours of your day—I suggest starting with this workspace planner to ensure you’re in the best position to do your work. When that’s taken care of, then you can look towards the cosmetics and decor.

Open coworking at Bounce

This also applies to when you’re traveling somewhere else for a change of scenery. Your laptop can be lifted to the proper height using tools like the Roost laptop stand. It’s also easy to pack up your external keyboard, trackpad or wrist-rest to complete the ensemble so you can work from a different location pain-free all day!

Leave Your Workspace

I’m an extrovert. This has actually made working remotely a bit more challenging for me because I thrive on human interaction. To combat this, I do a few things:

  1. Actively reach out to friends in the area to schedule happy hours, coffee time and lunches.
  2. Attend group or industry activities in your area. It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in meeting other parents, runners, chess enthusiasts, accountants, or software developers, there’s usually a group for you on Meetup.com. It’s always good to have a community around you to experience things with.
  3. Join a co-working space like The Generator at Bounce! Being around people and leaving the house to work has been really valuable to me. On average, I spend two or three days a week at a coworking space. I continue to meet new people and have the water cooler conversations I thought I hated when I worked in a traditional office. Turns out, I like small talk. Who knew…`

Over-Communicate to Your Team

Let’s face it, humans thrive on face-to-face interactions. When you’re a remote worker, you need to make your presence on your team abundantly clear. This means constant text updates, status updates and excellent written communication regarding the tasks that you are responsible for.

I would recommend you insist on video calls when possible and appropriate— don’t forget to leave your camera on during the call. All non-verbal communication is lost when your only representation in the meeting is a telephone in the middle of the table, and science shows that this represents a majority of your intent.

Don’t Let Yourself Be Limited

There are very few things that on-site employees can do that you, as a remote worker, cannot. You can be present at office birthday celebrations through an open office area and video technologies like Zoom. You can get to know your coworkers better through conversation-centric applications such as Donut, no water cooler required!

At Sparkbox, I was even able to be a mentor to Melissa Thompson when she was hired in our Dayton office. Even though I wasn’t physically located there, we were able to have an amazing connection and work well together. Melissa wrote about that experience in a blog post if you’re interested in learning more about it.

If you’re new to remote work, it can be a difficult adjustment at first. It takes a lot of discipline. If you’ve been doing this for some time now, you’ve likely already had to adapt to this change. Unfortunately, there’s a common stigma about working remotely: your team members might assume you’re lounging around doing nothing at home while they’re working hard in the office. Granted, it’s important that you’re not doing this—a benefit of the doubt that I’ll be giving anyone reading this article. This stigma makes talking about the other side of this coin difficult because things like burn-out and social withdrawal are real. To avoid them, remember that work and life should stay in balance. Go for a walk, and let your teammates know when you’ve returned. What you’ll find is that when this is done correctly, your team will be just as confident in your value and your availability than those of your teammates that are in the office with them.

If you’d like to work with me at Bounce, register today for one of their free coworking days, or better yet, a coworking membership! If you’d like to work with me professionally at Sparkbox, check out what we can do for you or our jobs page!