WORKING REMOTE: THE FINAL FRONTIER
During my time as a developer, I have always been obligated to work from an office… stale, Initech-ish cubicles with generic colors, carpet, chairs, dividers and more. Whether I’ve worked for a tiny development department with 2 developers (myself included) or as part of a larger 40+ group, I have never felt like I was at home. Working for WAM, and now going on slightly over 6 months, I can truly say that I have come home – both literally and figuratively.
For me personally, working from home is much more than a convenience. Sure, I don’t have to spend 70-80 minutes each day on a frustrating commute, but there is much more to being productive and successful than time spent – and even more than time well spent. And while I am deeply grateful to have a place at WAM, I also feel a little bit of resentment… Where have you been all my development life? And now, how could I ever go back to being under the cubicle regime? I have been thoroughly spoiled.
That being said, I would like to offer my comments and insights (and pictures) on my work space, and what makes it a unique, happy and über-productive place for me.
THERE IS NO DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, REALLY
Matter of fact, it’s all dark. Just the way I like my workspace. If there is one thing that has remained a constant in my developer days, it’s my need for dark areas, void of light and brightness. Previously, this would mean unscrewing fluorescent bulbs above my cubicle. Now from home, I can enjoy software development the way it was intended, in the dark and in comfort. This little slice of heaven is in our spare bedroom, on the south-west corner of our split-entry house, in the Salt Lake City suburbs.
A perfect complement to the dark is the tile flooring. It is perpetually chilly, a very nice feature for every season except winter. If there was only a way to summon the complimentary clouds and rain every single day… The tile floor also removes any opportunities for static shocks to attack me or my equipment. The chair and desk are your run-of-the-mill local furniture store models, no name brands or special features at all. The chair sits low, and you can lock the tilt or let it swing free. The desk has a pencil drawer (spoiler alert: contains no actual pencils) and 2 side drawers that hold my MSDN magazines and other miscellany.
One of the first features that everyone notices are the monitors. The more the merrier, say I. Having 3 monitors is a good start, as it allows most all of the critical pieces of my workday to be on the screen and visible to my eyes at the same time. One has web browsers for task tracking, emails and testing. Another has at least one instance of Visual Studio open. The last monitor, since it is the smallest one, built-in to the laptop, has any video chats, IMs and other live communications up and ready. Some may feel that’s a bit of an overkill, but there is literally nothing worse than having to Alt+Tab to find your application because you have no available monitor real estate. An important piece of non-digital real estate is the whiteboard. Rather than hanging mine, I keep it at arm’s length, ready to receive any brainstorm, idea or caricature that pops into my head.
Another key factor in productivity is to completely remove all viruses from your computer, especially the one that masquerades as an operating system. Many refer to it as OSX. That’s a free pro-tip from me to you. You’re welcome.
I do focus on digital real estate, convenience and productivity, not so much on the color schemes and feng shui-ness of my non-digital area. It’s crowded, in my face and a little cluttered, but I like small homely spaces. Therefore, there are a few items I keep close at hand for my own sanity, to remind me to smile or that there is indeed happiness after I’m done coding for the day. After all, part of the reason I don’t think I could go back to the cubicle arrangement is the lack of personalization opportunities. For me, it’s important to have an environment that is tailored to my unique flavor of nerdy. Here are a few examples…
For me personally, having music or other non-essential noises provides more distractions than relaxation. I have tried listening to soothing music, but I only end up marveling at someone else’s musical talents (because I have none) rather than letting them soothe me. One idea I may end up trying is to play nature sounds, specifically rain storms. Then again, that may put me to sleep. One got-to-have for remote workers is the ability to pick-up and leave to a coffee shop or other internet ready location at a moment’s notice. For that, next to my desk I keep my trusty messenger bag at hand. For this, I definitely prefer the Manhattan Portage Europa. It is super sturdy, has several pockets inside and out and comfortably fits a medium size laptop and a few random cables and peripheral devices.
PERSONALITY GOES A LONG WAY
So, I got to thinking… does anyone really care how I organize my workspace? Why even bother writing this? But then I realized the beauty in the exercise… the winner is not the reader, it’s me. Just taking the time to stop and analyze my workspace was rewarding: Why do I like this setup? What about it makes me more productive? What can I do to make my time at work more enjoyable?
The long and short of it is that for us remote workers, our workspaces can be a reflection of their owner: unique and full of personality, quirks and humanity. My space is no doubt much different than most others, but that’s okay. At the end of the day, it’s a lot like working for WAM as a company… so much more than just a place to spend 33% of my day and earn a paycheck. It’s comfortable, friendly, familiar and conducive to doing my job well. It’s simply a great place to be.