How to succeed when working remotely: Lessons learned from a Chinese buffet

In lieu of this week’s interview about remote work, we thought we’d share an article one of our Senior Agile Process Leaders, John Ragozzine, wrote on his blog about his own successful remote work.

Working from home can be an amazingly fulfilling career experience. Likewise, a trip to your local Chinese food buffet can be a culinary delight. But both can also be abjectly horrible. Here are my recommendations for remote work success without the debilitating pains of post-dumpling bloat.

Dress the Part

I am a great defender of Chinese food buffets. I know the food is not some five-star affair, but damn it, I like it. What I don’t like, though, is the feeling I get when I look around at my consuming compatriots and see sweatpants being worn in public. This is the fashion version of “giving up” in so many ways, and when someone who decides that also decides on the same lunch place as me, my mind can’t help but draw parallels.

As such, one of the best things you can do when working remotely is to remember that it is still work. This is not a day off in lounge pants or a reason to stay in your PJs all day.

It’s game time, and your brain needs cues to that effect. Do that by maintaining a set schedule, keeping up with hygiene, and wearing appropriate work clothing.

Get Comfortable With Confusion

As I said above, I love buffets. But I also recognize that they are not high cuisine. And while I will not defend them as such, I do bristle at the opinion that they are places to be looked down upon. Due to the non-conventionality of the establishment—you serve yourself food, the food is in troughs, sneeze guards are prevalent, (again) sweatpanted patrons—it doesn’t jibe with some people that these places offer really enjoyable food.

Likewise, the general populace has some preconceived notions about what work is: namely that, to many, if you don’t commute, it’s not a job. Further, get used to people saying to you that working from home must be so nice because you can do laundry, clean the house, blah blah blah – all while on the company’s dime. How convenient! Usually, I am so overbooked and swamped that I forget to refill my water glass, let alone make time to catch up on my ironing.

So prepare yourself for this common sentiment from friends, family, and strangers alike. You know it’s work, and that should be good enough.

Physical Refiguring

Along with mental preparedness, there’s a physical shift to working from home as well. Back to my buffet analogy, I’m not going to lie and claim that the food options there are overly healthy. If all you select is fried, brown meat for every meal, don’t be surprised when your heart gives up the ghost.

And so it is with transitioning from an office job to a remote job. Gone are the little exercise breaks from your professional day-to-day. No more trips to the water cooler, climbing stairs for a meeting, or even walking from the parking lot to your desk. Your commute has just become infinitely shorter and far less challenging, so figure out ways to add movement to your day.

I have two dogs who need walking, which is great for exercise but also for their companionship. I also build in other walking times into my day (a wearable tracker like a Fitbit is a great reminder for this). Go to the gym. Do yoga in your living room at the start or end of your day. Get active and make it part of your routine. (This also helps that whole pants-fitting issue I brought up earlier).

Establish Boundaries

As I pointed out, a fair bit of buffet food is bad for you. But it’s also so plentiful that it can be hard to know when to say when. So, it’s vital to set a plan in your mind before you head up to the rows upon rows of buffet delight. All this readily accessible food can quickly lead to too many plates, and it can sneak up on you well ahead of when your stomach radios to your brain with “Please stop—I am full of dying.”

Similarly, establish set boundaries around your work day. Start and end at set times (knowing that these might flex given the situation). Have a dedicated workspace that is for work and not a multi-use area. This helps both your work focus and your home life. It can be taxing to settle into Netflix in the same room in which you just spent 8 hours doing your job.

Viva Variety

I love the freedom of a Chinese buffet. I can have a little bit of everything I like in the portions I choose. I make an attempt to take advantage of this when I dine in such a fashion and it always makes me happy.

This control and flexibility is one of the benefits of working from home as well. Depending on your role, the flexibility of location can be a daily occurrence. Since I have client calls, I am in my home office nigh exclusively. However, on days when I have blocked off some time for writing or a UX audit, I can relocate to a coffee shop or a wifi-enabled outdoor space for a few hours.

There are even those that can successfully work remotely while traveling the country or even the world.

There are times when nothing helps a stymied work task more than disrupting your mental hamster wheel with a change of venue. Given the circumstances, working remotely can make this a daily reality—beneficial to you, your clients, and your employer alike.

Posses Make it Positive

I’m lucky that my remote working experience has always involved a team of incredibly smart and affable people. While having dogs helps with some of the isolation of home work, the connection I have with other remote workers is what truly makes my day, every day. In fact, remote work can be more effective and efficient than traditional workplaces.

The faceless emails of the standard office has been replaced with the engagement of all-day chat services like Slack, video calling with Zoom, as well as other tools. I see and interact with my geo-distributed colleagues constantly—much more often and productively than within previous jobs with a brick-and-mortar workplace.

For those of you further out on the freelance limb, find a co-working space or collaborate online, pushing forward open-source projects. Set up interaction opportunities within your every day to not only share what you accomplish but also have soundingboards for your ideas and motivations. Be part of a community and find your own remote work success — we’ll be lucky to have you.