Working from home for the last 3 years, tips and tricks

For those who have been with me for a while know that I have been working from home since the summer of 2016 after I moved back from Seattle to the Netherlands. I am very fortunate to be able to still work on the awesome Power BI team in a remote position. Many of you have asked me how does this work? Isn’t it boring and lonely ? How can you get your work done? How can you stay focused?

Yes sometimes it isn’t easy but I manged to make it work and I thought maybe I can share some tips and tricks on how I make it work. Of course this is not for everyone but these are the things that make it work for me :). Not in any particular order.

Get a separate office

This one is a luxury I have but it might not be available for everyone. When we moved into the house I transformed half of my garage to an office. This allows me to clearly separate work and private life. I actually have to go out of the house and into my office. That also goes for my kids so no one disturbs me there and I can turn on the music very loud :). Finally as I have evening calls (the team being in Redmond with 9 hours behind it happens a lot, more on this later) I will not disturb the rest of the family with talking on these calls. Also try to make sure you get as much window as possible to get sunlight.

Finally I try to not take work into the house, if I need to respond to mail, I’ll go into the office. I feel otherwise I would be “online” forever. There is still the phone though but ok I try.

Of course you could do the same with a spare bedroom in your house and treat it as if you are “going to work” but real separation I feel is the best.

Get good office material

This one seems obvious but getting good material to work on is very important. You are spending a lot of time in this office so you better make it comfortable. The first thing I did is get a nice standing desk. I opted for the Ikea Bekant as there were not that many options in Europe 3 years ago. Today the situation is different and much more options are available. But it is still going on strong after 3 years without a problem. The chair I also got from Ikea but I swapped it recently for a Herman Miller Aeron lookalike, pretty amazing upgrade.

I also got 2 nice screens, the ” in horizontal setup and the ” in vertical setup. I think if I had to do it again I probably would just order 1 wider model, I don’t seem to use the vertical one much.

Finally in the beginning I worked on my Surface book all the time but then I thought I should get a nice desktop to work on instead for better performance. I got a Dell desktop … and I must say it was a great idea. The performance on a desktop is so much better then on a laptop.

I love to listen to music so I reused my old Pioneer amp and wharfedale speakers with a Schiit DAC and Sonos port. Whenever I am not on call I am playing music, loudly :).

Also make sure you make the place comfortable, I have plants, paintings, books and nice lamps in my office.

Get dressed 🙂

This one seems obvious but I do read on occasion of folks who just stay in the pajamas all day. For me this doesn’t work. I feel like I need to get dressed to “go to work”. It makes it clear for me I went to work, separating home and work is important to me.

Don’t get dragged into time zones

This one is tough but try not to get dragged into time zones and often decline meetings in the evening, if you start going to evening \ night meetings that it is the end of your personal life. Of course having a international team I have a few meetings every week in evenings that I do, a few set and a few ad hoc meetings that I can’t get out of. This is one you need to discuss with your manager and team, my manager is very supportive so that works out very good.

Focus on your work

This is a tough one, especially when you are sitting at home all the time. It is easy for thoughts to wander on days where you don’t feel great. The distraction of twitter\facebook\insta\email is great and allows you to browse your day away. Instead close all of that down and focus on what you need to do. I put blocks of time in my calendar to work. At those hours I close down everything, my email \ teams \ whatever and I determine up front what I want to achieve at that time, I crank on the music and go. After the block I come up for air and connect again. All your email can probably wait (probably you should not reply to email’s immediately anyway, think about them first). A great article and book that can help you focus is called “deep focus“, while I don’t follow this literally it is still a good read to get you thinking.

Try to collaborate as much as you can

Working remote can make you feel very lonely. I loved going to my colleagues offices\desks in Redmond or have a nice lunch with colleagues and talk about the game from last night or family things. I don’t have that any more and I do miss it. Recently I have been thinking to go out more and maybe work in the Microsoft Amsterdam office or a coffee shop every now and then but we will see.

Fortunately working from home becomes more and more prevalent these days and we now have tools like Teams\ Slack to talk to colleagues. When you feel lonely try to call them or ping them on teams for a chat. Try to have a team meetings at least once a week. I now have some colleagues in Europe as well (like Chris Webb) so I have started a Europe meeting as well. Talk about this with your team and manager and brainstorm some ideas. Some days will be better then others.

Get out of the house

Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you have to stay at home all the time. Get out of the house and take a walk. Do some groceries, have lunch outside or go to the gym, You probably have the flexibility to schedule your own time (the luxury!!) so don’t just sit in front of your screen the whole day. When you are in the office you probably don’t this either.

Connect to the community

I have the luxury to go to many conferences to speak, this is a great place to soak up a lot of contact, meet folks and get out. Usually many of my team members are at those events as well so double bonus for me:). Twitter is another good place to connect to folks, be active and try to answer questions there. We also have an internal Power BI community at Microsoft where I try to help. Maybe you have one in your organisation as well (or you can start one!).

Enjoy it

Working from home gives you amazing flexibility so make the most of it. Have an evening meeting? go to the gym during the day the following day. Start work early and take the kids to school. Walk into the house for a coffee break when the kids come from school. Go for a bike ride \ walk during a nice day during lunch. Go play that new Zelda game during lunch :). Meet a friend for lunch. All these things are possible as long as you get your work done :).

Hope this gave you some ideas on how I manage my day and how I get by. It sometimes is a bit of a struggle but try to see the many positive things and most importantly talk to your manager, see how he can help you. Being remote means you need to get trust of your manager more then anything.

2 Replies to “Working from home for the last 3 years, tips and tricks

  1. Nice write-up! I do a lot of the same things, except for playing loud music. My challenge is sticking to working on what my client needs instead of finding some reason to use Power BI as per of the solution…

  2. I totally agree. However, I work in my pj’s in the morning, while drinking coffee. Mid-morning, I shower and get dressed.

    I might also add, do not think “I’ll just put this load of laundry in.” or whatever your equivalent is. the work day is the work day.

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