I was doing remote work before the pandemic made it look cool 😎 For over seven years now, I’ve worked from home and I loved it.  However, it’s not for everyone, I know.  If you’re new to this, and would like to know how I made it work, keep reading.

First off, nobody would deny that there are benefits as well as challenges to going work from home.  If pre pandemic, you were not doing so much work at home at some point (maybe on day that you had to catch up on something you forgot to finish at the office, or maybe working over the weekend for some freelance project), all of these might be alien to you.

The Benefits

Zero time needed for travel

If you’ve always arrived for work just a minute or two later than your supposed time-in, but traveled about an hour or so just to get to the office, you’d definitely love working from home!  The beauty of it becomes more luxurious if you hate your daily commute route, or if you're always missing breakfast (not by choice) and can't grab coffee before your commute.

Work in your most comfortable clothes

The last time I ever wore a uniform was in high school. Read: 1990s.  I’m not a big fan of looking like every other person in the room wearing one shade of shirt or dress just to make sure we all work for the same company.  It’s a mood killer and definitely sounds boring for me to be wearing the same clothing everyday even when I don’t feel like it.  Double whammy for me if it’s in the shade I have strong feelings against.  (Hint: orange)

All your favorite tools are at home

I’m particular to the things I use when I work.   Tools should work for you to make your day job more productive.  Imagine sitting in an uncomfortable chair that you’d have to think about it more than 50% of the time.  That’s a train-of-thought killer!  And how about that piece of headset whose earpiece feels like it’s digging out a bigger hole in your ear canal? Nope.  I'd usually go the extra mile to bring my own headset when I still used to work at an office setup, and I'd miss my split keyboard everyday.

My split keyboard with iMac and my lazy cat

You can control the lighting and temperature of the room

I prefer the cooler season because I hate the heat; but working in a semi-freezing room temp is equally unproductive for me.  I would fidget a lot and think about getting warm tea or buying noodles just to wake me up and get me warm; and sadly, changing the AC temp might not be accessible for each one of us because of different preferences.  I remember starting to work in the pantry on days when the cold was unbearable! I was afraid I might end up wearing an eskimo coat inside the office just to make me comfortable enough to work! 😆

Another sensitivity concern of mine, are my eyes.  I have eyes that can’t handle bright lights.  I don’t turn on my lights until it’s about 7PM in the evening.  All my screens are on eternal night mode with only about 5-7% of brightness on.  When I’m in a room with extremely bright lights, I get the feeling that my energy is draining fast.

Photo From Riddick Wiki Fandom

You can get your bills done online

Before going remote, this is one of the things I had to get set up.  I made sure, a lot, if not everything that I need to buy/settle can be done online.  I went through different measures to make sure I have the accounts that I needed for whatever purpose they fulfill.  Some can be paid better via Gcash, while some can be better paid via PayMaya, vs PayPal, etc.

During the early days of the shutdown for the pandemic control, none of the remaining bills that I had can be paid online.  It was extremely stressful.  Fast forward to today, I’m glad they’ve made provisions already and everything can happen within the comfort of my home office setup.

Make your favorite meals at home

Now, this is tricky.  I know that for most of you out there, getting stuck at home meant gaining more weight.  I have gone through this myself, as a matter of fact.  In the first year of my working remotely, I gained a whopping 20lbs simply because I have access to food that I love and I can eat anytime.  This can quickly go out of hand.  No more walking to train stations, no running after buses, no standing in long queues for your commute means cutting the amount of energy spent.  And, everyone knows the recipe for weight gain is = more calories in, and less energy spent.

The old me at 136lbs 😄, Photo by RedPanther

Fast forward to today, I maintain a daily routine and have been doing intermittent fasting for about two years now.  When I started, I lost about 12lbs, then in the next  year, I lost 7lbs more.  I work out every morning for at least 30 minutes, unless I feel sick; and I eat vegetarian meals for only twice a day.

You can work in isolation as needed

We all have that time when we are crunched down for time and we are required to deliver something.  What do we do? We put on that headset and pump some inspiring music to get it done.  Read: Leave me alone, I’m busy.

This is easier done at home—as long as you have a door to where you work!

Now, it’s not always a walk in the park when you do work remotely.  I’ve been through tough times and it’s difficult to rip yourself out of the routine to try and do things differently.

The challenges

Waking up close to your work hours

Because you work at home, you feel like you may have some more extra energy after work hours.  Pre-pandemic times, you may just walk out of the door and go meet some friends or do something fun.  That’ll surely burn off the extra energy and get some good night’s rest after.  But pandemic days are here; too much Netflix will bite you the next morning.  I’m guilty of binge watching sometimes and I wake up too close to my working hours.

What I’d do is just go straight to my computer, skip the whole morning routine and just pick up the chores one by one during mini breaks.  It sometimes also helps reset the brain if you’re doing something where you’re kinda stuck in.

Loss of personal hours

Don’t be guilty if you just go offline past 5pm.  It is technically after work.  In a normal office setup, you’d be in the office at about 5 minutes after 5pm still waving your colleagues goodbye, washing your mug and cleaning your space.  But, let’s admit it, you were offline in your head by 5pm sharp and on the dot.

Sometimes, there’s this perception that when you don’t see a person working, he/she might not really be doing anything.  However, there are metrics for that, and I think, asking someone to work longer hours without reason or extra pay is cruelty.  Show your work as proof!

Environmental factors

Given any other circumstance, I’d always prefer remote work over office setup.  Except maybe during political campaign days and the peak days of summer.  

In Manila, the peak days of summer is between April and May.  The humidity would make you go crazy, and the whole day of using the AC is a big bite of electric bill by end of the month.  And campaign days, will make you pull out your hair just the same.  All the roads would be filled with noisy jingles randomly throughout the day!  My solution? Is to hit the coffee shops for a break from their noises.  However, it's something that's not possible (yet, at least here, atm).

Sometimes internet/phone connection is a problem

I was lucky I had a plan upgrade sometime late 2019.  I was enrolled in a Teacher Training Online and my internet current plan wasn’t so good anymore.  There were several occasions where I was without internet for a month and a half, and no one from the bureaucratic monopoly of my internet supplier would help me.

I actually ended up renting a seat at a co-working space near me.  Packing all my essentials, it almost felt like I was running away from home.  I had to bring my lunch, my split keyboard, my planners, my machine, my mini stand, my mouse, etc.  I could have just used a gym bag for everything I needed! LOL 👩🏻‍💻

Intermittent noises

If you have meetings at certain times, you should be ready to know when the noises usually happen and schedule around it.  For me, loud truck horns happen between 9AM-10AM, hence I don’t schedule calls during that time.  There are isolated cases of couriers duck taping their packages to their motorcycles. You’d hear them loudly ripping the tape like they're pulling a weapon out to fend for their lives.  😄Seriously, you’d think that ripping duck tapes is their workout everyday!

There’s also the pigeons who coo very loudly and make these mating noises out my window.  Sometimes, it just makes me laugh 😅

These birds are society's role models. Fine social distancing skills!

More expensive in terms of electrical and phone/internet bills

If and when you suddenly choose to go work from home, don’t forget your bills.  Sure, there’s an automatic saving in terms of the transportation costs and the fast food items that you always buy for meals and snacks, but your electric bills and phone bills will also grow.  Factor that in when you ask for extra.

It’s easy to get distracted

Nobody’s looking over your shoulders, true.  But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your daily goals in check.  Facebook-ing for your mini break is fine, but don’t go overboard.  There’s a difference to “distracting” yourself for a quick break and just plain and simple “not doing any work”.  People will know if you’ve been slacking.  It will show in your performance and the work you’re able to turn in.  

Unexpected disturbances

This is probably my biggest, most hated part of working at home.  Ringing home phones, that frequent doorbell when you’re not expecting anyone, the deliveries who ask you to come down and meet them at the lobby like, is it not their responsibility to deliver it to you?!

It’s quite a quiet day though during pandemic days because nobody gets to visit.  At the moment, all deliveries are just left at the lobby, so I can efficiently pick them all up after all the work is done.  

Advice, anyone?

You’ve heard the raves and the rants.  If you’re still here, here are my advice for you if you want to thrive as a remote worker.

1. Compute your electrical consumption.  Turn on the AC/heater for the whole day, if you know and have access to your meter, go and check the reading for a comparison.  Figure out a workable estimate of your monthly consumption.  This should be your max.  On days when it’ll be unnecessary to use them, you’ll save some cost already.

2. Compute your phone bills.  You should also add these up for your expenditures.  You’ll probably need to make some calls anyway, so it’ll always be part of your operating expenses.  Don’t forget your mobile plan.  This is always a backup that you’ll need in case your landline has problems, or calls won’t come through.  Mobile internet is also my backup when my internet is down.

3. Compute your taxes.  What’s the usual amount that you’ll have to pay on a quarterly basis.  Factor that in for your salary requirement.  Include your social security, health insurance, etc.  These are also considered part of operating expenses.

4. Upgrade your internet package.  This is a no brainer.  You used to depend on the company’s internet and freely complain when it’s slow.  You can’t do that anymore.  Get a package that suits your needs.  Remember, factor in the number of people and gadgets in your household, especially during pandemic days when most of the household members are just home.  That’s got to be a large bandwidth you’ll need to work comfortably.

5. Designate one part of your house for office setup.  Ideally, this is a room, but if you don’t have a room for this, you can just designate a section for working.  This is not only important for people to start respecting your space, it also puts your mind into “work-mode” when you’re in that area of the house.  Make sure you have the comfortable table height and chair to work on; otherwise, get one.  You’ll need to invest on this because this will affect your physical posture when working and avoid RSI.

6. Have the right tools.  This is yet another no-brainer.  If you don’t own a headset you’re comfortable with, for listening music, taking calls, get one.  You’ll feel bogged down by cheap headsets and taking calls from your laptop would sound so unprofessional (especially if working from outside a room setup).  Other than that, get an AC/heater if you need one.  The right mouse, extra monitor, keyboard helps too.  And aside from gadgets, I have a planner beside me that I can easily reach when I need to write or reference from, so some paper and pen to scribble ideas quickly is also helpful.

7. Have a routine.  What’s your ideal day like? Write it down.  Then make plans and changes for that to happen.  Nothing beats having your mind clear before starting your work.  And when routine is amiss, it can also set you off of your goals.  

Knowing when you’re supposed to get up and thaw your ingredients for your next meal and when to start cooking/eating is really a game changer.  The more you have your schedule down, the more you’re likely to succeed bagging your goals for the day.  Read: it also means you get off earlier from work.

In the long run, you'd appreciate setting the time for health and exercise also a priority as you continue to enhance your productivity everyday.

8. Know and set your triggers. There’s so much you can accomplish and remember to do in a day, if you set triggers.  It’s like chaining habits.  For example, when you wake up, immediately drink water.  As soon as you sit on your working chair, set the priorities of the day, followed by checking emails, and so on.  If you have one action trigger another, then you’ll find yourself chaining habits.  You’re more likely to be consistent rather than just waiting for motivation to kick in.

Another useful example, is when you’re getting stuck in a piece of item you’re working on, you might want to stand up and leave the desk, or for me, I take the laptop and try to work from a different spot. Usually, the change of energy where I work can help me come up with new ideas and probably solve the problem.  And, I don’t recommend you do this, but sometimes, I find that working lying down helps too! 😝

So, who can make remote work work for them?

Everyone! If you’re willing to put in the work and the discipline, this could turn out to be your most productive days of your career.  I know that it’s a challenge for those with kids at home, especially toddler ages, but if you make changes, it is possible for you to be able to work at home quite well.

Got other ideas? Let me know.