I rarely feel ahead of the curve and am normally not in the early-adopter class but when it comes to working remotely I had the jump on a lot of people affected by COVID-19.

In late September 2019 a good friend from my University days, Matt, asked me to work for him as a Lead Developer at an AdTech startup he co-founded that was growing rapidly.

Apart from the interesting challenges of working in an industry I’d yet to experience, one part of the role that interested me was that the company was based in New York, USA and Matt was the sole team member working remotely here in the U.K.

I’d be working from home most of the time with the occasional meet-up with Matt in London, and very occasional travel to the USA to work with the rest of the tech team and leadership.

After a couple of years with Audigent and nearly two years working remotely for my current employer, IMG Arena, I thought it’d be worth noting a few tips and optimisations I’ve made to make the remote situation work for me.

Early days

In the first few weeks of the new role the prospect of not having to press up against someone’s armpit on the Northern Line any more was thrilling.

A sub-1-minute walk from the living room to the spare bedroom was my kind of commute!

However that came with some weird downsides.

Something in the way you commute

A commute gives you chance to switch between home mode & work mode, to get your game face on so to speak.

I think a lot of people struggled with that in the early days of COVID, the number of dressing downs and in-bed video calls I experienced (and occasionally still do) was worrying.

Keeping the knowledge well filled

A commute used to give me plenty of time to read - I was getting through a book every week or two when I was on a longer commute.

Working from home meant I needed to actually schedule reading time, otherwise I found it was starting to take me a month or so to get through relatively lightweight books.

What do you wear?

Being in an office, especially at a financial institution, normally comes with a minimum level of effort into your appearance - some places still need a shirt and tie, others less formal - whatever the norm, there is a norm that’s hard to judge when working from home.

I found myself taking a few weeks to adjust to not “having” to be smart for work, but instead choosing to be. Polo shirts and button down casual shirts are casual and comfortable enough for me to get on with my working day.

Routines matter

Getting up at a regular time, doing some exercise, eating a healthy breakfast.

All these things I (mostly) did before working remotely, but suddenly I had a bit more time in the mornings without the commute.

After trying getting up a little later, trying a longer workout, or cooking breakfast I found that the best thing for me was to use the extra time to fit in that reading I was missing due to losing the commute.

As time passed I used that time for working on Sharetheirday and moved reading to lunchtime or as a cool-down from work at the end of the day.

Scheduling a regular lunch time in my diary helps to make sure I get away from the desk and take a proper break every day. It makes a huge difference to my productivity in the afternoons as I was finding a slump in energy if I had a short lunch or ate at my desk.

Remove temptation

Some of my friends said they really struggled with having the TV on or an easily accessible games console, but I’d been fortunate to have a spare room so wasn’t working within view of them - out of sight out of mind!

However, my phone did prove to be a distraction; in an office I’d normally leave it in my jacket or bag during the day but with no one to judge me for scrolling I found it too easy to doom-scroll through various social media accounts.

Even after turning my notifications off and putting the phone on vibrate the pull of the phone was still strong so I had to go a bit more drastic.

I got rid of all my social media accounts. Yeah I know it’s a bit much for some people but after being on Twitter since the days it was a text message service I’d seen enough rubbish to realise it wasn’t a positive experience for me any more. Never mind the endless compare-and-despair triggered by Instagram or Facebook…

I realise that might be too much for some people but it was a huge win for me and life seems generally better for doing it.

Put your shoes on

One day I forgot to take my shoes off after popping to the local shop before work. Normally I’d be just in socks or slippers (depending on how warm the house was), but this time I’d sat down to work before realising.

It was one of those funny things that made me feel more like I’d “arrived” at work.

Since then I often pop my shoes on before work even if I’ve not been out. It still has a similar effect.

Try the tomato

If you’ve never heard of nor tried the Pomodoro Method, then you’re missing a potential productivity boost.

Originally based on a tomato shaped kitchen timer (pomodoro is Italian for tomato), it’s a method for breaking your work up into chunks and taking regular breaks.

I found an app for my laptop and set the time to remind me to take breaks every 25 minutes.

For some people this is too short a time frame to get into deep work, but it helped me plan my work better, and of course I could turn it off or pause it for longer meetings or times I needed an hour or so of concentration.

I rarely use this technique these days as my day is filled with meetings & ad hoc calls. I get my work done in the gaps between and I block out 30 or 60 minute chunks of my diary for my work and to keep on top of things.

Keeping it human

One of the hardest things in remote work that everyone I’ve spoken to suffers from is the lack of real human face to face time.

“Zoom fatigue” is a real thing - there are studies that show the amount time we now spend communicating on video calls is seriously affecting workplace relationships.

Personally, I have strong empathetic tendencies so find it relatively easy to connect with someone on the screen.

However, there are days when I’m just done with having call after call and just need a bit of in-person contact.

After the whole lockdown debacle and the lack of human contact for a while it’s great that I can now get out and about during the working day and after work too.

Using a co-working space helps me to have a little in-person occasional chat - I find co-working spaces are filled with people working on their own thing, they’re not there to chat all the time!

Also joining a tech meet-up, or occasional exercise class helped with a bit more regular interaction when I was single, now I’m lucky enough to see my partner every day.

Enjoying the benefits

I see working from home as a great benefit in terms of my productivity and contribution to the company I work for but can also understand the challenge it presents for many people and organisations.

There are lots of other personal admin benefits; I’ve never been so on top of my clothes washing and my kitchen and bathrooms are easy to keep clean when I’m looking for something to do just after lunch and before I get back to my desk.

Being at home for workmen and deliveries is another boon and reduces the amount of time I’d need to take off work to handle these distractions.

What happens next is a mystery

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with company attitudes toward remote work the further we get away from the days of lockdowns.

I’m already feeling the shift in conversations around WFH where many early proponents of the idea are now pushing for a return to office policy.

After four years I have started to occasionally miss in-person interaction during the working day but still enjoy the plus sides and the opportunity to focus right now.