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How to work remotely as a software developer (markcampbell.me)
285 points by markcampbell on May 23, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments



I have to laugh at this. Not because he's wrong, but because it's so indicative of the programmer's mind. Structured, orderly, formulaic. Laying down rules and procedures. Which is fine--nothing wrong with that, however...

Let me offer a counter-example, for what it's worth, which perhaps isn't a whole lot. I've been working at home for almost a year, after being in the office for six. It's very simple. In the morning, I start working, sitting on my couch, using my laptop. Eight hours later, I sign out. Obviously eating some time in the middle there. That's it. Nothing to it, really.


I worked from home for 4 years straight and never gave it more thought than "work when I feel like working or when the situation requires it." Look at that, my method fits in a tweet!


I'm glad that you found a tweet-sized strategy that works for you. I can say from experience that it doesn't work for everyone.


as if working from Starbucks did.


Working from home for the past 3y here.

I need some structure on my day otherwise I procrastinate too much.

That means, waking up early, working from x till y, stopping in the middle for a quick lunch – so basically, just like working on an office.

Different people, different tastes.


Do you live alone? That would never work in my household, between my wife and daughter, the livingroom is the last place I could ever get any work done. I've tried, it's impossible to focus with all the distractions.


I do.


True. And I would actually go so far as to reject some of the advice, e.g. the strict separation between home and work and the timeboxing: I often take a pause during the day to do some stupid housework. This lets me toss around a problem in my head that I'm working on and when I later return to my programming I have a fresh pair of eyeballs and have formed new ideas to solve the problem. That kind of relaxed way of working on a problem would be impossible with timeboxing.


I see... I'm an old man, so I don't have any homework. =)


Hehehe, very true. As a person with very similar habits, I have only one "rule"- when my body starts to feel bad, I go to the gym and play basketball for several hours.


I've never tried working from a coffee shop but it seems people do.

How does that work out financially? I imagine they aren't too pleased if you just buy a coffee and then occupy space for 5 hours.

But I don't really want to spend a fortune on excessive caffeine consumption and $5 bagels.


Let me suggest an alternative that seldomly gets mentioned: the public library. It's free, it's quiet, the Internet is fast and not frequently used, the chairs are sometimes comfortable, and they love it when people hang around all day (these are all assumptions of a US base). Additionally, many newer libraries have big meeting rooms with whiteboards and other materials that are free for use. Capped drinks are usually allowed, and sometimes food (don't make a mess!)

It's by far my favorite "coffee shop." Your tax dollars at work.


Second the library. It's a great place to work.


I did it for a few months while moving to a new city before I had my own place. It wasn't too bad. I'd buy a basic coffee (and sometimes a cheap bagel) and find a corner to setup in. At lunch, I'd pack up and find something to eat, then head to a different place and buy a coffee. Sometimes I'd go to the library instead. It wasn't any more expensive than going out with coworkers for lunch every day...

Most businesses did't seem to mind people hanging out, makes the place look busier I guess. I figure as long as there are other empty seats I'm not in anyone's way. That said, if I did it again I'd probably tip a lot more than I had been tipping.


This is pretty much exactly the way I do it. Best places are usually the big chains with low wage workers who do not care the slightest how many hours you are hanging around there. I have about 4-5 shops within walking distance and rotate them around. In half of them they already discount my drinks and greet me like an old friend.


I was working in coffee shops for 2 years and thats what I did.

As for getting stuff done, if you find a coffee shop where people are working / studying, its great.

I have worked remotely from SE Asia for the past 8 years; Id go to visit clients in the USA two times a year and they would give me a cubicle in Palo Alto. I really enjoyed the company of my co workers, all great folks and it was great to see them face to face after IM ing them for 6 months. But to get actual work done, Id go outside and sit in a Coffee Shop...

The article is spot on about the downsides of working remotely - the biggest issues are routine, discipline, and communication.

What it does not mention are the downsides of working in the office: - Distractions by chatting with friends - Distractions by meetings - Lack of discipline because they pay you to warm your chair for 8 hours. If i am in the office, its work time - obviously. When I work remotely the only way to prove I was actually working is getting shit done.


I've coded in coffee shops for a few years. I usually spend the first half of the day at one and then switch at lunch. It can get expensive, but I usually justify it by telling myself I'm earning money (not completely logical).


I think if you work a whole day in a coffee shop, you're kind of a jerk. I occasionally go to a coffee shop to work for an hour or so. Many times it's been the most focused hour I had that week.

The biggest thing is to remember that you're in a place of business. If you're going to take their space, buy something, tip well, and be courteous to the people around you.


THANK YOU

A netiquette for coffee shops, I wholeheartedly agree.

I work at coffee shops a lot; I keep sitting there when I can see there are plenty of empty tables - that means my sitting there is a net positive for the Cafe: I might consume more, and often do. And having customers is better than having none, it attracts other people.

If I see that many customers are coming and that I might actually block people from getting a table, I leave.

Only exceptions is Starbucks because its a huge chain and they have always had an official sit as long as you want policy which has worked out very well for them. I am not sure about the actual business trade off but I often end up at Starbucks because I know I can sit there as long as I want - this business might otherwise have gone to independents. I realize though that what works for a large chain might not work for the coffee shop on the corner.


I realize this is awful 4chan of me; but that seems rather beta of you, in that you're essentially swayed by the flow of traffic of the establishment, in a scenario where you're supposed to be getting shit done. You make it sound like you're only privileged to be there when it's convenient for the coffee shop owners, and that seems to me like a tense place to exist.

On the other hand I can relate to the concept of doing good by those whom you rely on, a symbiotic relationship and what not. That's a very pro-society thing and I suppose that's respectable.


On private property you are always privileged to be there and the owner can ask you to leave at any point for any reason.

If you act considerately and don't cause problems (like occupying space when you are not spending) then this is less likely to happen, so there is certainly a degree of self interest.


Agreed. I frequent one all the time but I also buy plenty, tip well, and chat up the baristas.

In turn, they _like_ having me around. I've sold old hardware to one, gotten novel draft feedback from another, and have plans for a weekly anime get-together with another. That, and I even get plenty of free drinks!


I've done the coffee shop thing and don't like it. The tables are small, the other people are loud and distracting, the music is often really annoying, and I end up drinking too much coffee.

I much prefer working from a quiet corner of the public library. The tables are larger (or you can get a private study carrel if you really need to focus), it's quiet, and I can browse the shelves when I need a break. As an added bonus, the wifi connection is often better (fewer people sharing)


The thing I've never understood is how people apparently manage to stay productive. There's no way I'd be able to get anything done sitting in a booth of a busy coffee shop, tapping away on a laptop and fighting with the congested wifi. Definitely prefer working from home with my three monitors, comfy chair and DSL line. I'm not a big coffee drinker though so maybe that's it...


Its just a matter of practice and maybe a little natural aptitude. I frequently work in coffee shops, restaurants and bars. Once I have headphones on and music playing that's a signal to my brain that its time to concentrate. It also helps to choose your seat so that you wont have people brushing past you.


I have yet to find a coffee shop with solid enough Internet for my needs. From talking to people I know in management at coffee shops, the reason for this is that the don't want people sitting there all day working. This may be different at different coffee shops though.


If you work remote, you ''really'' need your own hotspot. It is well worth the extra $30/month.


BYOI


I did this for two years. The key is to switch it up. I'm lucky enough that there are many different coffee shops in my area that I can go to. The general rule of thumb, if you're planning on spending multiple hours in a single place, is to buy a little something each 1 to 2 hours. I've seen many, many people buy a single tall coffee, nothing else, and then sit in the coffee shop for 4+ hours. These people are jerks.


If the coffee shop is full and they are inhibiting other paying customers, they are jerks. If they are disturbing the network, they are jerks.

But what if there's plenty of seating, and they're working off of their own internet? Are they still jerks?


There's always exceptions.


I think this depends on the culture of the city. In Seattle every coffee shop is full of people just working on their own.

If you buy a cup of coffee, no one bats an eye if you stay all morning. If you head out to get lunch and then come back without buying another cup obviously that's pretty tacky, but all AM or all afternoon is normal.


I have never worked a whole day from a coffee shop, but I do like to spend an hour or two after lunch in one of the several coffee shops in my neighborhood. I'll order a coffee and maybe a sparkling water. I find the change of scenery helps get my focus back, especially if I'm having trouble concentrating that day.


It varies hugely depending on where in the world you are, your attitude and the attitude of the staff. I'm from Australia but spend most of my life moving around in Asia.

In Australia coffee shops rarely provide wifi. We've never been moved on but there's only so much you can do without a net connection.

In most of south east Asia in particular they're generally not phased by you sitting there for hours and hours. We avoid anywhere super busy which probably helps.

My wife and I will buy something periodically because we get hungry but the cost is usually minimal. A breakfast each, two fruit shakes mid morning, 2 lunches. Total cost usually less than $15.

As we're quite smiley friendly people and my wife is a woman, duh, and people often feel more comfortable talking to a woman we've wound up forming a bit of a relationship with the staff at some places. We've had the occasional free drink or snack, had staff worried about our welfare because we didn't show up one day, had staff taking it upon themselves to provide us with an extension cord so we could recharge our stuff while sitting at a table with a nice view, hugs all round when we drop in to say that we're leaving town. We've had masses of positive experiences and I can't really think of when we've encountered anything more negative than an unreliable net connection.


If any of you guys are in Austin, check out 1405 E. 7th. ("Vintage Heart"). Fairly large space, some stand-up desks with optional bar stools, lots of outlets, and pretty solid wifi. Also a lot of the tech crowd hangs out there already, so it's practically a free co-working hub. And there's always at least a few tables open so I never feel rushed out.


As bconway said, public libraries are fantastic—and I'm speaking from Australia. Also, coworking places. There's websites like https://www.desktimeapp.com/ for finding ones.


I worked alone from a home office for 20 years in my consulting practice until, in the last year, as my company has grown, I've moved to commercial office space for the first time. I found working at home a delight, and enjoyed many years of jokes about my short commute (18 feet.) However, in the end, I found the repeated advice of friends to be correct: I'm more productive with an outside office. The extra focus more than offsets the cost of rent. Being in commercial office space has also made it easier to meet with clients. It's also more social as there are other people at the office that I can talk to (or ignore) as needed.

My commute is still short (I often do it on a Segway), and our company is still virtual (with both staff and contractors working from their own spaces -- which we don't plan to change), but don't underestimate the value of a separate, outside, workspace.


If you can commute on a Segway then we're not talking what other people are experiencing with "commute". Try spending two hours a day standing on a train.

Such a time sink.

Commuting on a Segway... doesn't qualify.


Commuting simply means travelling between your home and your workplace. The fact that many people impose a painful commute on themselves does not make a less painful commute any less a commute.


I think if you look at the origin of the word commute you will find that it did actually emerge from the trip between suburbs and the city and hence a walk to work in the morning is not in the 'traditional' sense.


Do you by any chance have details on that? I'm genuinely curious but with a brief search all I could find was a reference to Latin commuto which implies a "to change, to transform" meaning, I'm guessing applied to a change of environment or mindset from home to work.


Actually, you're reiterating what the author said about having a designated work space. You're saying it has to be outside, but I would like to hear some evidence or rationale behind the advice. Both you and the author realize that if you mix workspace with home life, you're going to have a tough time.


I'll gladly agree that working from a home office vs. an "office office" can be good or bad depending on the person. I'll also point out the chance for the Hawthorne effect to make changing from one to the other seem more (or less) productive than it really is.


It doesn't sound like you are the target audience of this article.


I went back to remote last year after not doing it for quite a while and it turned into a bit of a disaster. I won't deny that my being out of practice with it and not doing some of the things this guy and others talk about contributed massively to it not working out, but I want to add one piece of advice since I don't think this talked enough about external factors:

Be careful who you do it for. When he talks about all the communication tools you need to use in order to be successful at it, make sure they already have a bunch of those already set up, unless you're in a position to make sure they set them up and use them.

In particular, the company I was working for had no company-wide chat system at all, and clearly didn't feel they needed it since most of their employees were in-office or only temporarily remote. Various attempts at getting one going were hampered by lack of support from above. They'd get maybe 5 random people using them off the bat and it'd dwindle from there. At various times there were competing solutions active.

In the end I gave up, they gave up, and it just didn't work out and was frustrating for everyone involved.


Agreed. I have been working 100% remote for three years and it has been great. However, I was very careful to choose a company that has had several 100% remote teams for many years over a company where I would be the first. I did not want to be both the person pushing for change and the only person that would be out of luck if the change didn't take.


The only thing that I have grown to despise a bit is timeboxing. Coding is a job and a hobby to me, and sometimes setting those hard limits kills my ability to improve code by forcing me into a rigid schedule. It turns what I view as play into unpleasant work, and that's how burnout starts.

Sometimes its faster to come up with a solution without setting hard time limits, and just let your mind churn passively on a concept. I've always found a certain amount of anxiety associated with feeling like I have to complete a task in a predetermined amount of time.

You should always have (and try to meet) deadlines, but the micromanagement of 25 mins per hour (example from the article) is just stressful.


I think you've misunderstood the Pomodoro technique if you think it's 25mins per hour. It's simply 25mins blocks of time, 5mins non-work, rinse-and-repeat.

When I timebox, I use Vitamin-R which let's me extend the time slice to finish a task. Probably the hardest part is breaking tasks down into 25min chunks


I just used that as an example from the article. Honestly I think the idea of timeboxing may be useful if a person can't keep on track, but I don't have an issue with getting stuff done on time. One of the arguments from the article was that timeboxing can prevent "perfectionism", which I think should be prioritized and not restricted by a time constraint. Finish the important MVP features first, then, if you have time left, make it sexy and perfect.

The thought of using a program to timebox, then asking that program to extend your time just seems bizarre to me.

No judgments on your end here, I just do what works for me, and you do what works for you. I think that people should try to feel it out first, and if that fails, move to a structured technique.

edit: just read my typo. mean 25mins/block perviously.


I agree with you 100% on the 25 minutes per hour being too short. Personally, (as I said in the article) 1 hour works better for me. Not too short, not too long.

edit: woops, I meant 25 minutes per block!


I wrote something pretty similar almost 8 years ago[0], and for the most part I've found the advice holds up.

My current job is a lot more flexible for remote working than any other I've had before. I don't work remotely all of the time, but at least 33%. For me, I found a bit of self-discipline is essential, as is being able to "train" others. I'm living with my parents at the moment and had to get my mum to realise she couldn't just pop into the room at any moment to chat - I could be in a call with my boss/a client, or trying to focus on a task... anything really.

Another anecdotal observation I've had - once you've trained yourself to work from home, you'll often find you're at your most productive there. I know I do. Partly it's the more comfortable/relaxed setting, and partly it's guilt of being caught "goofing off". Scott Hanselman mentions the guilt aspect in his reaction to the Yahoo! ban on remote working[1].

If I ever lost the ability to work remotely I don't know what I'd do. Nowadays I can't go more than a few days at the office without feeling completely drained, demotivated and demoralised. The flip-side is working from home for an extended period can leave you wanting to go into the office to see real people again, not just a Office Communicator window.

[0]http://chrismcleod.me/2005/06/15/six-tips-for-working-from-h... [1]http://www.hanselman.com/blog/BeingARemoteWorkerSucksLongLiv...


I have been remote for 10 years. The secret not to get nuts is to interact online with colleagues as often as possible.

"From the employer’s perspective, you’re risking burning yourself out if you work 50-60 hours a week"

mmm... 50 hours is pretty common in the software industry, and being remote makes it easier not to burn out in fact because you're not losing time in commutes and in loud open spaces where you can't hear yourself coding.

In any case it's quite hard to define a number of hours per weeks. Building software is done by waves. You can spend a 70h week because of a production push that goes wrong, then a very calm week. So don't take those numbers/week too seriously imo.


50 hours is common in _startups_, not the industry as a whole.


50 hours a week is pretty common for companies that produce commercial software, startup or no. Some segments (games, for example) are more.


I really enjoyed this article, and I'd like to add that software developers working remotely could probably learn a lot from the wisdom of writers, which has been collected in hundreds of articles on the web. (search for "advice from best authors" or "daily routines of great writers", etc, and you're bound to find many such articles. Some are good, most are puffery, but so it goes with anything).

Not all of the advice applies, of course, but there's a lot of good advice on making a good workspace and keeping yourself motivated. I've certainly noticed after working alone that there's a lot of implicit encouragement merely from working near other people, and this makes working at home harder than the same work might otherwise be. That's part of the reason why many prefer to work from cafes or worker/hacker-spaces, I think. Motivation is contagious.

(The positive flip side is that working from home removes a certain set of distractions that might otherwise be bothersome, and gives you more fine-grained control over the distractions you have in general).

Lots of authors use funny setups to transition from home-mode to work-mode. Some people build extra doors in their house so they can "leave" their house and "enter" an office that is sealed off from their house, but is otherwise the same building. One author (Roald Dahl?) worked from a bunker.

That being said, its probably a bad idea to get hung up on the idea of perfect working-from-home conditions. Per E. B. White:

"A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper."

Some similar important words from Tchaikovsky, which I found especially relevant to working from home:

Do not believe those who try to persuade you that composition is only a cold exercise of the intellect. The only music capable of moving and touching us is that which flows from the depths of a composer’s soul when he is stirred by inspiration. There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.

I think motivation is under-stated in its importance when it comes to working from home. Even if our work demands little distraction, we're social creatures, and we've probably all had days where its hard to even open up the editor.

It's important to stay positive and stay at it. As Joel said, "We just have to come in every morning and somehow, launch the editor."[1]

[1] http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000339.html


A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating. You're there now doing the thing on paper. You're not killing the goose, you're just producing an egg. So I don't worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It's a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I've heard about it. I've felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I'd much rather go fishing. for example. or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, 'Well, now it's writing time and now I'll write.' There's no difference on paper between the two.

--Frank Herbert


Some of my best code was written after basically abandoning the problem for a day.

Of course, the problem wasn't really abandoned -- I was thinking about how to solve it the whole time. But I wasn't writing any code.

Forcing yourself to write isn't necessarily best.


One of the most effective things you can do is become a virtual smoker. Smokers get an urge and step out for a cigarette every hour - or every time they get stuck.

I don't smoke (never have) but I am trying to emulate that; the most effective way to solve a problem is to step out and do nothing for about 5 minutes. Take a walk. Look at the trees. Anything. Then when I come back I have either solved the problem or decided to leave it with a hacked together patch and work on something else; Ill probably still resolve the hack sometime later.

The opposite is to seek out some distraction, click around on facebook or HN or something - you solve nothing but spend lots of time....


I honestly wish I could do something like that at work. I already do it all the time at home.


I do this by going to the water cooler for a refill. I use a small cup, so I go every hour or so. I usually take the slow way there, and think about my work on the way.


Before I started working from home I would sometimes get up and pace. Fortunately we had an empty part of the building where I didn't disturb people. I felt a little self-conscious about it at first, but being eccentric is sort of fun. :-)


Absolutely. I have been working remotely for many years, with a brief stop in a couple of offices 2-3 years back. I've found that a break of a day or a few can do wonders. Don't push yourself too hard, it's not efficient. Being critical of your output without going overboard and in to the stress-zone is a hard balance to find, but gets easier over time. Another thing: when I was younger I could push myself on financial grounds; now when I lack the spark for implementation I instead push myself on integrity grounds. Not sure if anyone else has this experience? I for one still really enjoy my work.


Writing code when you know you dont have a solution is a complete waste of time. You end up with bad code you have to throw away. Or worse, you dont throw it away and end up with huge tail end costs of user errors, QA time, futile attempts to fix the rotten, and eventually rewriting the whole thing anyway.

Writing is apparently different in this regard.


Throwing away code should be a regular part of your workflow. The best programmers I know do it often.

Programming isn't just about generating more lines of code. It's about understanding the problem you're working on. Sometimes writing code is a good way to understand the problem.


Excellent points.

Elizabeth Gilbert gave a great talk at TED on these topics: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html (warning: auto-play video)

Don't be put off that she's the "Eat Pray Love" author if that's not your style (it's definitely not mine). She speaks very well to the creation process - and even touches on topics like depression and suicide among creators. It's well worth the watch.

Another great talk (that isn't quite as directly relevant) is JK Rowling's Harvard Commencement speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHGqp8lz36c (also auto-play)

My favorite part of that one is her speaking against not creating and thereby failing by default.


When I work in my home office. To be really productive. I have to close the door even tho I live alone, then LOCK it. Sometimes I will get up, walk to door and when I try to open it and realize it's locked. It signals me that I should be doing work, and I turn around and sit back down and keep working. If I leave that door open. I would just get up almost without thinking to walk around and I dunno, just get out of the office. Then it's 10hrs later and I haven't made it back in lost between the office and kitchen.


Thanks for the chuckle ;-)


Roald Dahl had a writing hut in his garden: http://www.roalddahlmuseum.org/discoverdahl/exploring/


I've had a bit of a revelation recently.

I absolutely need some kind of human voice in the background for at least a few hours per day. If I don't get it then my mind just shuts down and refuses to work on anything.

My favourite radio presenter went off the air about 8 months ago and I've not really found anything I really liked since. But since then my ability to actually get anything done has gone down drastically.

Anyway on a whim I re-listened to one of his old episodes for a few hours while working, suddenly I'm tearing through my work again.

I can't explain it but it makes all the difference in the world.


I never felt what you're describing but I do enjoy listening to RBMA Radio Fireside Chats[0] while while I'm working. You may like it.

[0]: http://www.rbmaradio.com/categories/interviews-features/form...


Thanks, I'll take a look.

I think the best way to explain it, is there's part of my mind, perhaps the really creative bit that needs to be distracted in order to actually get anything done. As in, if I've got a problem I need to solve and actually it's just a case of iterating/implementing to get it done, if that bit of my mind isn't being occupied by something I'll immediately try to "think the problem to death" which ends in procrastination and getting nothing done.

But If I have some kind of conversation going on in the background then that part of my brain is occupied and I seem quite capable of getting on with things.

I wish I could describe it better but it has really made a noticeable difference in the past few weeks.


There was somewhat recently posted a website that generated background noise which simulated an office. I can't find the link, someone else should remember.


No surprises there, but good solid advice that a lot of people need to hear. Well done.

The one thing I'd add is that working remotely means working away from machines as well as people - test machines, internal websites, etc. Even companies that are generally supportive of remote workers (like mine) often scatter essential information and resources across an annoying variety of machines that are not accessible from outside. Then they give you a VPN that's utter crap (usually because it's overloaded) or ssh to a bastion host so you have to tunnel/forward anywhere else. It's really worth the effort to make sure you use every trick in the book to get networking on your home machines and/or laptops set up in a way that actually allows you to get work done. I'm pretty darn good at that kind of stuff, but even so it took me several experiments over a period of weeks to get something I was happy with - and BTW it bears no resemblance at all to what the IT group thought would suffice. Similarly, it pays to make sure that using test machines is as friction-free as possible, and that common tasks are automated as much as possible so that you don't have to keep watching/tweaking things from afar. All good sense even if you're not remote, but even more important when you are.


As some one who does this every day. This is all good advice.

I would add that it is really really important to occasionally do something different. If you you usually work from home, go to a coffee shop, sit in a restaurant for a few hours on a laptop.

You will be amazed how much of a difference that one day outside your office will make you excited about the same work that the day before seemed like a boring slog.


Good advice. I'd like to add something that has helped me in the last year or so of working from home: have a dedicated work device (in my case a laptop + monitor) that is exclusively for work. All other browsing, personal side projects, etc that I do in the morning before I begin work or in the evening is done on my "personal" devices (second laptop or ipad). This way my workstation is in the state I left it in the next day and there aren't any distracting tabs I have to prune before I get to work.


Been working remotely for a bit more than a year now and it's definitely largely about pace for me too. I generally start relatively early to try and catch up with my colleagues (I'm on PST and they on GMT) then head to a coffee shop later in the morning. Just having the walk in itself is quite an important motivator.

As far as coffee shops go, I think the criteria for a good place to work from are as follow:

- how is the coffee, and do they have refills

- how good is the wifi: speed, quality of signal, ... also whether they use tickets. I find tickets irritating, I keep forgetting about the limit and having remote shells disconnecting and whatnot.

- how good are the seats: comfortable as well as good for your back

- how good are the tables: I tend to prefer individual tables to large, collective tables, possibly because it feels more like a desk. You also want the height of the table to be good in relation to your seat

- do they have a lot of power outlets throughout the place

- what's the atmosphere like: I've been to places that turn into pubs half-way through the afternoon, even with headphones it's really not conducive to work, particularly when lots of people walk right around you.

- how good is their food: if I find a good coffee shop with bad food, that's not a deal-breaker and I just won't eat there, but good food does help

Surprisingly, I haven't found that many places ticking all the boxes. I actually wonder why there aren't more places dedicating themselves to providing this sort of environment (at least in SF and Vancouver).


Your ideal coffee shop does not sound like a very profitable enterprise as opposed to catering to people ordering takeout and large groups who drink alcohol.

Have you considered co-working spaces?


The few places I have found which more or less matched my points seemed to be rather profitable and I know have been around for a while. I've tried co-working spaces and didn't particularly like them. I know it's really subjective but most of them felt pretty sterile (like so many open-space offices). I find I'm more productive in a (good) coffee shop, but that's of course pure personal preference.


> I find tickets irritating, I keep forgetting about the limit and having remote shells disconnecting and whatnot.

I've been using Mosh to mitigate this. The drawback is Mosh relied on specific udp port which might be blocked on some public wifi. But this is not an issue to me since I always vpn to my vps (a cheap $5 digital ocean vps) on public wifi, thus allowing me to use udp in any port as long as the wifi network allows vpn connection.

http://mosh.mit.edu/


I thought this article would give tips on how to find a job where you can work from home.


Allow me to add:

Time Zone issues: If you work in a different time zone, then adjust to it to lessen the difference. This only works if you are from 1-4 hours away. Your team will appreciate the effort.

Try splitting the work day into shifts. One of the issues I had was working non-stop (as in an office job) for 8 hours. Reason was that I felt jailed into my house. So I splitastwer my work day into two shifts. One during the daylight, and one during the night (once my family has gone to sleep). I work better, and faster.

Get a hobby. When you work in an office, you have little hobbies that you do without ever noticing. Maybe its talking with another employee, or cleaning your desk, or anything. When you are home, you feel like you are in the office 24 hours a day. So get a hobby (preferably outside the house), so you feel like your life is not all about work.


Working remotely was tough for me as I was working with an all non-remote team. One thing that I took away from that was that communication is really key in that situation. It also helps if the local team members know that as well. Everything seems to take longer unless communication is preserved.


This works when you're a remote worker, but what about when you're a freelancer with multiple clients, using time tracking software? Where do you bill the "going for a walk to clear your head", the "restroom break" or that all-too-common one, "popping on Hacker News to see if anything exciting's happened in the last 5 minutes"?

Joking aside, I've reached burnout by driving myself hard to get 8 billable hours each day (plus communication, writing proposals etc on top), and apart from lunch don't step away from the computer even when tired and procrastinating. Because if I'm sat there working on a problem I can bill the client, if I step away (even though I'll be more productive when I come back) I can't.

I know it's a matter of perspective on how I define 'honest' and 'billable', but I cannot make the mental leap needed!


Seems like you may be over thinking this. When I was in consulting, I didn't waste my time trying to track every 5-minute increment, the amount of effort and distraction that would cause would do more harm to the client (due to productivity loss from tracking) than anything else. Taking a 5-minute coffee break, or chatting with a co-worker for 15 minutes all gets lost in the noise if you are working on a project for multiple hours a day. Your level of focus (which is nearly impossible to quantify) is going to have a bigger impact on your productivity, and hence the value to the client, than almost anything else. So it makes sense that you should look to optimize for focus/productivity, rather than 'time spent sitting in front of computer'.

On a side note, there has been a lot of talk on HN about billing clients in half-day and full-day increments. You should probably look into that. At the consulting job, I basically took the total number of hours a day that I was working, and roughly divided it by the percent of time I spent on each project, which also worked for me (we were required to bill hourly). In the long run, it all tends to even out, and as long as your client is happy with the work, and the costs are in line with their expectations, they will not complain.


I suggest you alter your assumptions of how many hours you can get in a day. If your monthly budget depends on you billing 8 hours a day, 20 days a month you are setting yourself up to be disappointed.

I know that, by in large, I can bill a 30 hour week, assuming I have a full time project. Between not billing for restroom or mental health breaks, random trips to Fry's for a new hard drive, etc... those tasks can eat up your calendar.

When I have little client work on the radar I assume I'll be able to get 20 billable hours a week in- the rest of the week is eaten up with Buisness development, meeting with new clients, estimating projects etc.


It's not my monthly budget, so much as my guilt complex that people in full-time employment are paid to do 8 hours work each day. I don't quite 'get' how they can be employed in that and have a clean conscience if they then procrastinate or use it for restroom breaks - and I do know that office workers waste a lot of time.

You're right though about the hours; 30 seems sensible to aim for, especially being newly-married where working late every evening isn't a Good Idea (TM).


As patio11 and tptacek like to say, you should switch to daily billing.


That's strange, there is nothing I hate more than routine. But everything is this world seem made around routine and the expectation that tomorrow will be the same as today. Did anybody have the same aversion as me and try to tackle that?

How do you work without common everyday routine in the team etc.?


A lot of this article applies just as much to working at the office. Managing time, distractions and communicating clearly are important no matter where you are.

Does anyone have any links to articles that talk more about the tool for collaborating and developing remotely? With existing tools I find it pretty easy to get code written and coordinate remotely, but it it still seems very difficult to actively collaborate in real time remotely. I'm a little surprised at how hard it is still to do some white boarding with someone else remotely or just share my desktop with them so they can see a prototype easily. Gotomeeting and Webex are ok but cost money and are more geared to showing presentations than anything else.


It sounds like you're doing Windows development, so this may not help you much, but it helps me. :)

I have a little open source project that lets two Linux users share a console session remotely. It is much like sharing a screen or tmux session but without all the setup. If you're interested you can check it out at termbeamer.com

I'm actively improving it and hope to release a version soon that will let the "client" connect using an SSH client and not need Termbeamer installed at all.


> I have a little open source project that lets two Linux users share a console session remotely.

Me too: https://syme.herokuapp.com

SSH is really handy for this kind of thing as long as you don't need a browser.


I have found opposite regarding using email.

In 6 months, I have been using IM mainly first half, email mainly the second.

While using IM, I tended to talk more about doing than rather doing. It used to take hours to discuss things and chats which were supposed to be 15mins long happened to be an hour or more.

When switched to email, I became way more efficient. I spent more time on thinking about questions I'm asking, and questions to potential answers. This lead to 1) well thought designs 2) efficient communication 3) no distracting IM.

IM is still good for the times when you need to discuss something quickly. And I mean really quickly.

I guess it largely depends on the stakeholders/managers communication habits.

P.S. I am working solo with my boss


Is that kind of job viable when constantly moving? I want to travel in the next two years, and I was thinking about keeping only stuff that fits in a bag and just going away with my wife, but doing that without a decent amount of cash or a job you can have on the road would be hard. Is it viable to have a remote job while travelling, in the event that I might stay for several days in each city and do most of the travelling on weekends?

I believe that not having a place would help in keeping the blood pumping and staying proactive, yet it would probably be hard during crunch times if the correct workspace cannot be found. Would it be worth giving a shot?


I have a full-time, remote, software development job that I started while travelling. It is doable. You may find that it is hard to be motivated to do work when you'd rather be out seeing the place that you are visiting though. I also find that it usually takes me a week or two to get into a daily routine in a new place. So when I plan to go places I generally make it fit into a (long) weekend or I plan to stay for 2 weeks or more.

My working space is pretty much always just wherever I'm living at the time. Which means that checking ahead to make sure I'll have a decent internet connection is part of picking a place to live. I especially like when I can find a place that has at least a separate office nook.


Hopefully, you'll enjoy what you do, because otherwise it will be difficult to motivate yourself. I started travelling while also working remotely but gave up the work, because I didn't enjoy it and I didn't find the motivation to do it, considering that I also wanted to go out and walk around the places where I was.

Also, as someone mentioned, it's better if you stay longer in one place. That way, you have time to see stuff and also to work.

Good luck!


Absolutely give it a shot. I agree with only travelling on the weekends -- you don't want to scramble to find somewhere to work (that has Internet access!).

The most important aspect is being ready to work and actually doing the work when the time comes.

In fact, if you're remote, then I would be hesitant to tell them that you're travelling (unless you need to be on-call).


From my discussions with other people working remotely and my own personal experience (not quite a decade), it is the eating-exercise-social parts that are extremely difficult.

If you already are strong in these areas and continue your current behavioral patterns you should be fine.

If you live somewhere outside a densely populated area, or if your eating-exercise-social patterns revolve around work you can be in for a very difficult time. The first weeks, months, may be fun, years in you can end up with real medical problems.

Figure those three things out, and then wrap your work patterns around that. It is much more sustainable.


"it’s not things, techniques, or even programming languages that get you rich, it’s people (no one got rich on their own!)."

The best line in this post for me. If only we could all print this and stick on on our walls!!


This article makes no mention of spouse or kids, both of which can be major distractions. For adults, it's very hard to not see someone as "here" even though they are just down the hall; for kids - it's impossible. The compromise my wife and I have is that I take time during the day to help out around the house or run errands, but I make up the time at night.

Also, I pretty much have my headphones on all the time, which is not so different from when I worked in a real office.


"Having a space to work that you can ignore people is key to getting work done. Constantly being interrupted by people you live with or other people will kill your productivity."


I had this distraction when I was working from home for two years, wife and three kids. I love them dearly, but they can be a huge distraction. The best thing you can do here is to lock yourself in a room, or go out to a coffee shop, or the library.


Also, in some work place like mine. There are set of pseudo rules implied by managers who ask people to quote a valid reason when you work from home. Most of the times, There is no reason when I feel like working from home. Actually thats also i have come across few people who kind of misuse the option of working from home and employ it when they have some other stuff to do, in which case they would be spending lot less time working.


I think everyone has their own cup of tea. I have been working remotely for about a year now in different places around the world and what I find most appealing to is to find a co-working place where I can get stuff done and have that busy/creative feeling all around without the constraints for work hours.

I have met some of the smartest and most amazing people in these places. It's also nice because doesn't make you such a loner :-)


Can you recommend some companies where you can work remotely? Maybe even abroad? (I'm living in Germany.)

I'm searching for a part-time job somewhen in the future.


I'm a huge fan of coworking spaces. Depending on your budget and needs, sometimes you can even rent a desk to call your own. It's been great for me to work around other developers, bump into people and have interesting discussions, and just get out of the house.


I've worked remotely for over a year on multiple occasions. The article sounds right to me. You absolutely need your own desk and office, with a door that closes. There is no substitute.


> Work the amount of hours you agreed to with your employer

I was wondering: are there any firms that don't set strict number of hours one have to work? How many of them is like that?


This whole bed is for sleep is anecdotal nonsense. My back isn't great so switching from standing to sitting to laying is what I do throughout the day.


I work from bed, that's the worst part of working from home.


thanks for writing this - i'm about to be a 'work from home' contractor so all the advice I can get helps!


Next thing people will be telling me how to look out the window. Maybe there is a book in that?




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