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Cover image for The Best Remote Work is Delightfully Unglamorous
Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

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Working from Home The Best Remote Work is Delightfully Unglamorous

This came across my Twitter feed today:

Brianne is right to celebrate how awesome this situation is. If you have to be working, you might as well be doing so in a fabulous environment. From everything I personally know about her, she is living her best life here, and that's great.

But to me, this is not the ideal to shoot for in remote work. I'm currently working from my home office. My boring home office.

What is awesome about my setup is that everything is plugged in, and all my A/V works well and I have the same setup every day. The awesome part is that I don't commute and can really be as productive as I want to be. Remote work "from anywhere" is just hard to get right.

I have been able to dramatically optimize for the 95% of the time I get to be sitting at the same desk with the same peripherals all hooked up.

More on this "optimize for the 95%" here:

The 5% of the time I find myself away from this setup and still fully in work mode is a rather unideal scenario. It can be pleasant, but I try hard to make it a planned-for exception these days.

There are a lot of great posts about specific advice of getting set up remote:

A lot of them tend to touch on equipment and setup. Other advice typically revolves around communication and teamwork. Either way, it doesn't come easy and the consistent, optimized home setup seems key to me.

We have digital nomads in the community, and it's fascinating to see how they organize themselves:

If you want to go this route, your 95% optimization is going to be a whole different approach. I'd advise against going half-way to this lifestyle if you want to get good work done.

Here is a good post on the important task of creating a great developer experience for yourself:

Words matter. We are a distributed team, as opposed to having remote workers. It's an identity for the whole team, even those who work from the office we keep in Brooklyn.

It's a great way to work, and it's pleasantly mundane. Happy coding.

Top comments (22)

fabiorosado profile image
Fabio Rosado

This is an amazing post Ben and I need to spend a bit more reading all those posts that you have linked.

When I see remote workers and travelers showing how awesome their setup is I always wonder how real is it.

I know that some travelers just show how amazing their life is but in fact spend a lot of time inside hotels working. I’m going to guess this is the same with remote work devs, also a good thing to point out - working outside in the balcony is amazing for the view but the glare of the sun would kill my eyes haha

lefebvre profile image
Paul Lefebvre • Edited

I also work from my boring home office 95% of the time. But it's an office with a door and has everything set up just the way I like it. It's comfortable.

Sometimes I'll grab the laptop and work in another part of the house (or outside in the summer). Today my view is not very summer-like:

Here's my post on remote working tips:

What I've Learned After Working Remotely for 10+ Years

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Haha yes, that is not ideal today.

I'll soon be moving to a place that's walking distance to nature and also walking distance to the center of town. I'm really excited about the chance for quick escapes into a different environment. (Depending on the weather, of course)

I'll also be commute distance to our office.

As a company that is full-fledged distributed first, it's still useful to maintain an office for different reasons. But I can't see us ever expanding to a bigger office, even if we grow. We'll offer more budget and options for work-from-home and co-working.

briannekimmel profile image
Brianne Kimmel

Thanks for the shout out, Ben!

I agree my "working from paradise" post isn't a sustainable option...
I'm more productive in my boring home office! :)

At home, I try to standardize as much as possible.

Some things that work for me:

  • Setting priorities for the day using importance/urgency mapping

  • Standardize as much as possible with pre-planned lunch and scheduled breaks.

  • Remove distractions by turning off Slack notifications, phone on silent, etc.

  • Find a productivity buddy! I recently started using Flora App for this :)

molly profile image
Molly Struve (she/her)

I work remote for 3 months in the winter so I can show horses in FL. During that time I live with my parents and I teased them recently about putting me in the garage. Honestly, though, I have my sit/stand desk, monitor, great wifi, and no distractions. It's not glamorous but it works for me perfectly!

maestromac profile image
Mac Siri

Lol a desk right next to the boiler. At least your hand will always be warm.

qm3ster profile image
Mihail Malo

We are a distributed team, not "have remote workers".

Yaas πŸ™Œ

khophi profile image

Remote work "from anywhere" is just hard to get right.

This is 100% true. It is not uncommon for some to get the impression because remote, then being at different latitude and longitude each blessed day would make one productive.

In fact, it can be very unproductive. Having more like a home office with a consistent setup for work is really comforting.

Once in a while work from the coffee shop, or at the beach is fine. However sticking to a fixed workplace (home office, in this case) routine would hugely improve one's productivity

ufc_stream_live profile image

Work from home is super cool but could be tricky if you don’t use the essential tools like VPN for establishing connections with work network from anywhere. I use PureVPN for remote work which works fine for me. They are giving discount of 88% on holiday season.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Yeah, I think your lifestyle really nails it. Set yourself up for consistency with computers and the right environment for happiness in other things.

For others, this is Theodore's last post, discussing this further:

helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson

When I see remote workers in beautiful, usually beachy environments, I don't know how they do it. I struggle to keep focussed working from home in my apartment. Where there is bed, the fridge, TV, youtube, anything else to distract me. I have so much respect for those who can fully focus and switch into 'work mode' when not in the office. I definitely haven't found out how to do it yet.

rhymes profile image

One thing I've heard/read from remote workers sharing your struggle is to carve out a home office separated from the bedroom. It's not always doable because you might not have such a room in the first place. Another possibility is a shared office with other people. You rent a place with one or two people near your house and you close yourself in there. Lastly, there's the coworking option but I'm not a huge fan (even if in Barcelona last summer I really found a nice one), I only go there when the internet is down at my house :D

echoes2099 profile image

Nah! Have you not heard of a "workcation"? A "workaction" is where you put your usual hours but then after hours, you're in the beach, a new country, etc. Being remote allows you to sporadically take workcations more often. It personally works for me because I can get 100% of my work done in a macbook. All I need is good internet access. A typical workcation for me (because we have a toddler) is a three-day weekend getaway to a nearby city. Less frequently, we'll fly out of the country for two weeks at a time. It is AMAZING!

It works for us because a) my work fits on my macbook, b) it's sporadic---the longer the stay, the less frequent the trip

gsto profile image
Glenn Stovall

Couldn't agree more! I've described my full-time remote job as "The good kind of boring." And I wouldn't have it any other way!

kaelscion profile image
kaelscion • Edited

When I first started working from home, I thought that having things just so would be helpful to me. It was, in fact, just the opposite. I was so used to the chaos of working in an understaffed and "hair on fire" situation, that peacefully listening to the Dave Brubeck Pandora station with my server, laptop, and all my amenities at my fingertips totally killed my motivation. I was so comfortable that I couldn't bring myself to want to work. It wasn't until I walked down the street to a local coffee shop to get an iced coffee that I realized I missed the chaos.

While that certainly won't work for everybody, I find that, even in my home, I have to change where I am sitting once every 30 minutes or so. I use the Pomodoro method, meaning that I do about 30 minutes of "deep work" (instrumental music, no distractions, and only the Python docs open in my browser) before taking a break. I find that this allows me for great productivity as long as I change where I am physically sitting for each Pomodoro. I usually do 5/day and actually get a ton more done than I ever did in an 8-hour day at the office, but I must change it up each time or I find myself drifting to slashdot or hacker news. I usually start in my office, migrate to my portable "standing desk" at the kitchen counter, then work on the couch, then a wildcard location, and end at the Rwanda Bean near my house.

My upbringing (in Boston, MA, USA) has taught me the value of total and complete chaos. I find that if things are too peaceful, I simply can't focus. Plus, changing it up throughout the day helps hugely with my tendency to get bored. Especially when I'm on the last 10% of a project where the fun stuff is behind me and now I'm just fixing bugs and adding exception handling.

mrsimsek profile image

I guess however you work, you can always find something to complain about. But to be complaining for things at home, man, that's the dream.

Going to work as I am writing this, just to sit in front of a computer.

Hate public transportation.

ferricoxide profile image
Thomas H Jones II

As usual, I'm decidedly slacking on being optimized. On my work from home days, I work from my couch. My dogs piled up against me. Spotify or Google music streaming to my lower-power, Home-enabled speakers. I tap away on my 3+ year old HP laptop. Crunching away on service deployment-automation.

And, weeks like the most recent ones, where I've been having to actually go into the office to attend to a high-urgency project, I'm reminded why I prefer working from home - even lacking optimizations. It's noisy at the office. The woman diagonal behind-and-right of me seems to only have one volume (LOUD) and screechy (wife called me at work one day, I held my phone way from my head, and upon returning it to my ear, my wife was saying, "that's who you've been complaining about? OMG: I'm so sorry for you"). The woman across the cube-wall to my left apparently only bathes on Friday nights and I can tell whenever she sits down at her cube or walks away by the intrusiveness of the "natural musk" oozing over the wall. Our standardized desktops seem to be different every time I come in: one day I have Firefox, one day I don't (similarly with Chrome and other applications I need) ...and even when present, all of my settings vanish with regularity - inclusive of bookmarks (bonus, GPOs prevent use of profiles/syncing so can't get shit back or use stuff like LastPass). Oh... And the connectivity: there's a few thousand people on our campus and the campus supposedly has a couple 10Gibps connections to the Internet, but by 09:00, it feels like I'm sharing 9600BAUD MODEM. Given that the environment I'm coding for/in is AWS, that slow-down means that making progress is nearly impossible. But, that's ok, when I'm in the office, fires inevitably come up (today, I came in to find a message from the maintainers of our primary yum repository, sent at 16:47 the day previous, notifying that they were changing the access-URLs for the repositories at 15:50 today ...immediately binning my plans for the day as I rushed out new yum repo-def RPMs for the hundreds of systems that were due to be impacted by the change).

It all makes me long to be back home where I can work without interruption β€” or even meaningful distraction β€” and over a nice, reliable, 50Mbps FiOS connection. Yeah, mundane, but at least (most days) I can get the shit done I actually had planned for the day.

slamotte profile image
Steve Lamotte • Edited

Great article! Makes me think a lot about my personal setup.

I live about 20 minutes outside Winnipeg and working from home is a game changer. I have invested heavily in my home workspace over the years, which now features a Varidesk on my commercial desk/shelving, two Kinesis Advantage keyboards (one on the desk, one for travel including client sites), a fabulous Humanscale Freedom chair, a top end Dell XPS 15 with 32GB RAM and dock, two large monitors, rack mount servers, storage, and commercial UPS, all of which I think I think are great investments because really, we're talking about nothing less than MY CAREER after all.

This is an exceptionally productive environment. While I have a large screened in deck that overlooks our backyard pool, I rarely work from there because my office setup is just too comfortable and productive.

But despite all this, what I find even more important about remote work is the ability to work when you're productive as opposed to adhering to rigid hours. Clearly not every assignment is amenable to this, but I've found that there's nothing more wasteful than being forced to work certain hours just because that's when everyone else works.

What works far better for me is to work when I'm motivated and focused. Some days this means I work from 7am to well past midnight, other days I don't work at all. The best days are when I get up when I'm good and rested, spend some time exercising, or running errands, or spending time with friends/family, and then finally I settle down to work when I know there's nothing else to interrupt me. This might mean that I don't start working until late afternoon or early evening, but when I do this, I quickly settle into a groove and am tremendously productive. But there are just as many days where I wake up and can't wait to get coding again. I love those days!

From a client's value perspective, I feel much better working when I'm motivated than when it's a struggle. When I was doing contract work at client sites, I always felt guilty when office distractions affected my work. Headphones can help, but inevitably people want to talk and it just feels wrong. This just isn't an issue when working remotely.

Same thing happens when we pack up and spend a month in Phoenix. It's easy to become distracted with the beautiful mountains, climate, etc, so why not take advantage of periods when you don't feel productive, and instead spend time outdoors and code when the sun goes down. Again, your project needs to be compatible with this arrangement but I just find it to be a great work-life balance.

An important caveat to all this is deadlines. Without question, there are times when I don't feel especially motivated to work, but simply have to because of a project's schedule. I suppose it's just a different type of motivation! Regardless, practically in many cases must trump personal preferences.

I've been reading more and more lately about others who tend to follow similar patterns.