Christopher Hiller changelog.com/posts

PRO TIPS for devs working at home

Having spent the better part of the last decade as a work-from-home developer, I have discovered or adopted a few LIFE HACKS which I am going to share with you now. In no way am I claiming that these WEIRD TRICKS will work for everyone; however, they work for me.

I want to also be clear: unless I’m traveling, I work almost exclusively out of my home office, and this LISTICLE is written from such a perspective. Here goes…

1. You need a home office

Look, we both know you can code while sitting in front of the TV just fine. But if you’re looking to reach new, towering heights of productivity, you’re going to want a home office. Because:

Health

Despite being called a “laptop”, your lap makes for profoundly un-ergonomic computing. Your lap, the couch, the bed, the floor—you can work in these places for short sprints. But it’s hard on your eyes, your wrists, your back, your neck, your spleen, and you could catch a cold that way.

Psychology

There’s some sort of psychological THING that makes it so you’re more likely to focus on work when you are in a working space. No, I’m not a psychologist. But I know that when I sit behind the wheel of a car, I am going to be focused on driving.

Control

You wield total control over your environment. Your office will have a door which you can—and often do—keep shut. You will avoid interruption by your terrible family, inconsiderate roommates, or bumbling henchmen. If you want the lights on, turn them on. If you want a window open, open it.

2. Professionals need professional tools

Contractors don’t build houses with cut-rate power tools. You shouldn’t skimp on your equipment either.

Meetings

Unfortunately, you will be videoconferencing. You need some headphones, a decent microphone, and—often neglected—an OS that “just works” with these and your videoconferencing app of choice. A “decent microphone” is subjective, but expect to pay around $50 USD minimum. You will also want a boom (the extendable “arm” thing) so you can position the microphone correctly; don’t just set it on the desk a couple feet from your face! The headphones can be crap, but using them will mean that any echoing or feedback on your conference calls won’t be your fault.

Finally, if possible, use a gigabit ethernet wired connection to reduce latency on calls.

Ergonomics

Get an adjustable sit-stand desk or converter. Get an external keyboard and trackpad/mouse with wrist rests. Use an external monitor & laptop stand. Ergonomics!!

3. In the morning, BEGIN; when you get to the end, STOP

The biggest complaint I hear from those unaccustomed to working from home is the struggle to separate work from home. A home office absolutely helps, but it’s only part of a solution.

BEGIN-ing

You should have some sort of schedule. While you may have extra flexibility with when you work, pick some “core hours.” Work with your teammates/manager to find what works best, and announce when you will be available.

STOP-ing

At the end of your workday, physically shut your laptop. Unplug it and put it away and don’t open it until tomorrow. If you want to work on personal projects or use a computer for games or movies or whatever, use a personal computer, not the one your employer gave you.

Separation

Yes! You should have your own computer. Not only can it help with managing work/life balance, it works the other way, by keeping your work machine free of personal data and distractions. Also, “your own computer” becomes crucial if you happen to be “between jobs.”

4. Some other good habits

Because I’m starting to sound like a self-help guru here, let me add: do what you can. These are not rules, and you should not feel bad if they don’t stick or if they don’t work for you.

  • Get dressed, but comfort should be top priority. Ideally, this is something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to leave the house in, but feel free to reassess what you consider to be shameful.
  • Often, those unaccustomed to working from home will feel there are too many distractions. Personally, I don’t feel I have a problem with this, but if I had to pick the biggest distraction, it’d be the bed. The bed is in your house. And it’s comfy. If you fall prey to its siren call, it should be with intent (e.g., a short, planned “power nap”, complete with alarm). To discourage casual use, make the bed before beginning work for the day.
  • Get up and move around often, even for just a few minutes. Walk out and get the mail, take the dog to pee, water some plants, etc.
  • Don’t eat in your office. Eat in the kitchen. In other words, don’t work through lunch. When you sit back down to revisit whatever it was you were hacking on, this can give you a fresh perspective.
  • You (probably) aren’t wearing an ankle monitor. So if you feel your social needs aren’t being met, for crying out loud, leave the house! Go work in a coffee shop or shared workspace or something. Schedule meetups with other remote teammates. If there’s an actual office nearby, give it a visit.

5. There was an attempt

If you currently work in an office and have the option to work from home, I’d strongly suggest easing in to it. Start with a day or two a week, try some of the above suggestions, and go from there.

Despite having given it time and effort, you might still feel unproductive or just downright lonely. This is not unheard of! Working from home—or even just working “remotely”—is not for everyone. Reaching this conclusion doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it means you’ve learned about yourself and what you need from a job.


I hope these ideas are helpful! Could you at least put some pants on, though?

You don’t have to get dressed up, but you should get dressed…


Discussion

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Jerod Santo

Jerod Santo

Omaha, Nebraska

Jerod co-hosts The Changelog, crashes JS Party, and takes out the trash (his old code) once in awhile.

2019-06-07T14:25:46Z ago

Great suggestions Chris, I can tell you’ve been working at home for A LONG TIME!

Do you have any specific recommendations on what to get (or what to avoid) for sit/stand desk, keyboard, microphone, etc? What are you using these days?

2019-06-07T16:44:40Z ago

I have an electric sit/stand desk from Fully out of Portland. It’s reasonably priced for the quality. I actually have two—one for the computer, and the other as a general-purpose workspace.

I use a mechanical keyboard from mechanicalkeyboards.com—a full-size MK Fission with Cherry MX Clear switches. I’m more into typing than collecting, customizing or building mech boards, but I would recommend them to anybody with a desk job.

I use a very beaten-up Magic Trackpad (first version) for work, and a Redragon Impact “MMO” mouse for games.

I had been using a Blue Snowball microphone which runs about $40-$50 USD on Amazon with an adjustable boom and pop filter. This is sufficient for most people, but recently upgraded to a Shure SM7B with preamp and PreSonus AudioBox iTwo for podcasting (thanks Changelog!). These aren’t cheap, and it’s more than you need if you don’t podcast or do any recording.

I use Bose QuietComfort II headphones most of the time, which are the best headphones I’ve ever owned. The killer feature for me is the dual bluetooth radios, so I can be connected to my phone and computer at once. Also, the build-in mic clarity is great, so I make most of my phone calls with them. They are not cheap, and Bose steals your data, so take that into consideration.

For recording I now have (thanks a changelog!) some Sony MDR-7506 monitors. Probably good to have a wired headset to eliminate latency/connectivity issues!

A Redditor mentioned the office chair.. I overlooked this because I never think about it, but I have an Aeron that I saved from an office closing many years ago. I can’t really envision a more comfortable chair; it’s like it’s not even there. Very expensive, but it’s built to last.

2019-06-11T21:44:34Z ago

These are all great tips, thanks for sharing! Ive also been remote for nearly 5 years, and I totes agree with a mechanical keyboard, a good chair, and stand/sit desk specifically.

Also the Bose QCs are amazing for a home office, especially if you have children at home! Im in the process of building out a system with a passive control audio system with headphones preamp so I can use speakers or headphones for both iMac for work and PC for gaming. Just ordered Philips X2’s, cant wait to try them!

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