That’s my office. Sometimes I clean it up. Right now it’s at one of its messier stages. I have a list of things I’d like to do to make it a little nicer. I’d like to hang some things on the walls. I’d like to put some soundproofing on the door from where I took the photo. I’d like to put some sound reduction material on the ceiling or walls so I can do podcasts and Periscope videos without that echo-y sound.
Although I live in Hong Kong I live on the ground floor of a 3-story “village house” rather than on the 40th floor of a skyscraper like everyone else. Outside my window on this sunny day is an aquaculture experiment. Long, white, PVC pipes run 30 feet with all sorts of edible plants growing out of them. Inside the tubes is a constant stream of water that cycles through fish tanks. The fish eat fish food, and their waste fertilizes the plants. I’m not sure if my neighbor plans on making money off it, or wants to eat it all.
Sometimes a dog will walk by window. Sometimes a neighbor walks by. They try not to look at me. I’ve gotten good at not flinching or glancing up. I’ve seen a rat or two out the window. A few lizards. When we first moved here in 2013 we saw a cobra out our back window, but nothing so dramatic as that has happened since.
In the summer my office is hot and I run that air conditioner (called an “air-con” here in Hong Kong) full blast, full time. We also run a dehumidifier 24/7, all year long, to reduce that sticky feeling and keep mold from growing. In the winter it gets down to just above freezing temps, and there is no insulation or central heating so I run a space heater in my office and try to turn it into a sauna, but I can never quite get my core temperature up.
Someone upstairs is blasting techno. I can feel it through the concrete building. Normally I get goosebumps when the base line thumps, but not while I’m working. I’m trying to drown it out with some Coldplay, but I might need to get more aggressive. Metallica? Dead Kennedys? Slayer? Motorhead (Lemmy RIP)? Yeah, that hits the spot…ok, maybe that’s a bit much.
I have a standing desk. I don’t know if it’s really better for me, but it saves the space of having a chair, which is something you learn to value in Hong Kong. And I feel better about myself if I stand all day rather than sitting, and I think I read somewhere that a high sense of self-esteem is good for your abs.
The only thing on my wall is a ferry schedule. I get to ride a boat to work. That is, when I work in the city. Most of the time I work from home, right here. I have small children, and I like getting to see them grow up. I also save time and money, two things which I’d rather invest in MWI rather than office space.
I started working remotely in 2007. That’s when I shut down the MWI office in Draper, UT and became a hermit, or is it a hobbit? Whichever one it is that lives underground and is never seen by humans, that’s what I was for a few years.
Working remotely meant adjustments. My wife wasn’t used to me being at home. I wasn’t used to being at home. Then kids came along, and that took working at home to another level. My wife and I came up with a few rules after various experiments.
Then I brought on a business partner. Then I moved to Hong Kong. Then we started hiring people. Now we’re heading toward 15, spread across three continents, and by the end of 2016 I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit 30 full timers, plus a bunch of contractors. More lessons learned, more rules for successfully managing a remote team. But this isn’t about managing a remote team (read that here). This is about what you can do to make sure working remotely works for you.
1. Work ends at a certain time. For me it’s 5 pm. For you it might be something completely different, but set a time that work ends, and family or personal life begins. Sometimes I’m still working to finish an email at 5:05, or 5:15, but I know the clock’s ticking and I need to wrap things up. Sometimes I work later at night, although I try not to unless there’s an emergency. I can wake up as early as I want to if I need to work on something.
2. Work time at home is still work time. Set times when you work and when you don’t. My wife and I have an understanding that from the time I wake up until 5 pm it’s work time, except for breakfast and lunch. If she needs to run an errand and wants to leave the kids with me while I work, that may be fine, but she can’t assume it’s fine unless she coordinates with me. Set clear boundaries and expectations with regards to your schedule if you want peace at home.
3. Don’t work weekends. Saturdays and Sundays are off limits for work. Again, there’s room for emergencies, but if it happens every single weekend it’s not an emergency, it’s a pattern.
4. Warn about phone calls. Living in a small space like we do in Hong Kong and having small kids, I often hear laughing, yelling, screaming, crying, fighting, hitting, kicking, banging, and other sounds of frustration through my office door. All that is audible if I make a phone call, so when I have an important call my wife takes the kids into another room and reads a book or watches a video with them. As you might expect, my wife likes to have some warning about these calls. We homeschool so the kids are home all day, my wife has plans, and if I suddenly open the door and say “I’ve got an important call, can you hole up in the bedroom for an hour?” then I’m not exactly making it convenient for me to be around.
5. Shower. I hope I don’t need to explain why, but I will say that when you’re a busy entrepreneur working from home, with no plans to go out during the day, it can become one of those things you debate. Other debates you shouldn’t have with yourself include; getting dressed, using the restroom regularly, drinking water, eating meals, shifting positions before some part of your body goes to sleep.
6. Close the office door. One of the biggest difficulties of working at home or an office is managing interruptions. Many modern offices with their open office plans are practically built to encourage interruptions. Many homes aren’t much better. You need an office with a door, and there needs to be a lock on that door. When the door is closed, it means knock first (quietly). When it’s locked, it means don’t come in, and don’t knock. I use the lock not only when I’m on a call, but when I’m in the middle of something that requires intense concentration. Many studies have shown how costly it is to switch from one task to another, some showing a productivity loss of up to 40%. The only way to prevent them when you have children is to have a lock on the door and an understanding that when it’s locked, you don’t bother mommy or daddy.
7. Connect. You need regular interaction with the other humans on your team that goes beyond what can be said in an email. We use email but also Slack, Basecamp, Google Hangouts, Skype, GotoMeeting, texting, WhatsApp, FaceTime, WeChat, and Twitter. Every week we have a team meeting with video where we see each others’ faces. If we don’t do this it’s easier for team members to get short on patience with each other, work suffers, clients suffers, the business suffers. People treat people better when they see their faces on a regular basis.
8. Leave the house. At least once a day, go outside for at least 15 minutes. You need the sun to create vitamin D, and if you can find the time to climb a tree so much the better for your cognitive skills.
9. Deliver. At MWI we’ve built a remote team because we want the best people, regardless of where they live. We also have ambitions of being a truly global company. I love hiring contractors, testing them out, and then hiring them full time if they work out. I know that a person who has freelanced has already mastered working from home and knows how to deliver. I’ve done three interviews in the past 24 hours. I told each candidate “We don’t care when you work, where you work, or how you work–we only care that the work gets done.” If you’re working from home, you probably work in a result oriented environment where your employer or client only cares about results. If you want to keep working at home, you better deliver, or for punishment you’ll be sent back to the office.
Those are some of the rules I live by as I work from home. What are yours?Liked it? Share it!
This is great stuff Josh. As you know, most of my folks work remotely and have worked our regimes which work for them, just as you have for yourself. I plan to use this post as a guide for our new remote workers to illustrate what a well worked through system can look like.
Rule: when part of your team is on the other side of the world, pick EITHER morning or evening to talk, not both. Otherwise you end up never putting work sown and you risk burnout.