An Opinionated Guide to Working from Home

I've been working from home full-time for the past 10 months. I'm currently a software engineer, and the company I work for had a number of other software engineers that were working remote full-time before I joined. I'd like to share a few things that I think are important about working from home now that more and more people are starting to work from home for the first time.

This post is not going to be like other posts about working from home. I'm not going to tell you to follow normal working hours, continue following your normal routine, or even to wear pants. That kind of advice is played out, and frankly, not really helpful. Working from home is a paradigm shift that requires a radical new way of thinking. The aim of this post is to show you how different working from home is and how many new opportunities that presents.

It's okay to work in bed

I wouldn't advise you to attend meetings from bed if there's any chance that you need to speak or have your camera on. Besides that, working in bed is great! A good deal of my working time is spent reading code and documentation. This is an activity that requires little dexterity and maximal focus. For these kinds of tasks I find I can focus a lot better when I'm super comfortable: lying down. I open my laptop all the way, rest the front edge on my chest, hold one side of my laptop with one hand to steady it, and use my other hand to scroll around.

I find the lying down relaxes me. It lowers my blood pressure, slows my heart rate, and reduces my cortisol levels. This lets me focus better, and, paradoxically, get more done. Since I'm not rushing through anything, I pay better attention to details and make fewer mistakes. Having my head on the same level as my heart helps to get more blood and oxygen to my brain too. Of course, I have to get up and get a drink or go to the bathroom occasionally to make sure I don't fall asleep.

Work out during the day

Being healthy is important. If I have an hour of free time, I have enough time to run a couple miles, eat lunch, and shower. I really like exercising during my lunch break because it gives me back an hour of my day at the end of the day: I no longer have to work out during the precious few hours I have after finishing work and before going to bed.

Working out during the day is way more doable when working from home because my closet, shower, and desk are all next to each other. Working from home lets me rearrange my schedule in ways that were impossible when I had to work in an office or electronics lab. Even when I worked at a company that provided an on-campus gym with showers, working out during the day was hard! I'd have to remember to pack my gym clothes every day. And I never really figured out what to do with the wet towel after showering, so I never even tried working out during the day when I had to work onsite.

I figure now that I'm working from home, I have about an extra two hours a day. My commute is gone, I can work out during the work day instead of having a leisurely and (in my opinion) useless lunch, and I don't have to pack/prepare my lunch in advance. The time-savings I get from working from home is amazing.

Do household chores during meetings

Obviously, I'm not talking about vacuuming when you're presenting. We all have meetings that we have to attend but require little to no participation on our part: company all-hands meetings, trainings led by Human Resources, etc. In these meetings, it's enough to join the meeting and say hello at the beginning. Once everything gets rolling, I shut off my webcam, mute my microphone, and get busy: unloading the dishwasher, preparing lunch, and folding laundry are just a few of the things I do to keep myself occupied.

I think a lot of people try to get their normal work done during these types of meetings because that's what most people do during these types of meetings when they were in the office. That's a big mistake. Now that I'm working from home, I have so many more options for what to get done during these meetings. As a software engineer, I find that my work takes extreme focus and listening to a meeting while trying to work gives me a headache. The multi-tasking takes a toll on my brain: I work more slowly, make more mistakes, and don't really hear most of what's being said in the meeting.

When I do chores during a meeting it feels like it's the weekend and I'm cleaning up my apartment while listening to a podcast. Obviously, it's a business meeting and not a podcast, but those things are pretty similar: both are mostly audio and require no input on my part. I don't need to think while I'm unloading the dishwasher, so I can give 100% of my focus to the meeting and get more out of it. At the same time, I'm able to keep my hands busy and get something accomplished. Again, this is a huge time-savings that I get from working from home.

Realize your freedom

I think a good summary of the sections above is that working from home gives you a lot more options for how to use your time. If you're creative, you can get more done personally and professionally while working from home. You just have to be careful not to fall asleep while working horizontally.

Photo by Roberto Nickson