A guide to working remotely by locals who do it daily

After 11 years of living locally while operating remotely in a virtual world, the 83 Degrees team and many of our friends, especially those working in tech and online media, are experienced at making it successful. Here are our top tips for first-time remote workers to consider while we all keep our distance and await the outcome of #COVID19.

Michael La Plante works remotely as a Principal Engineer / Front-End Development Manager at Proforma for Tampa.
Michael La Plante

I am a principal engineer / Front-End Development Manager at Proforma. In my job, my duties consist of developing software applications and managing a team of 20+ individuals. I have been working in the position for 1.5 years, and working remotely for a total of 7+ years.

Three important tips when diving into remote work:
  1. Keep your routine, get up at the same time, shower, get dressed, act like you are still going into an office. A routine is key.
  2. Set yourself up with a dedicated space during this time, whether that be a spare bedroom or a kitchen table. Try to not go near that space outside of working hours. You will tend to blur the lines and want to work odd hours, but do your best to guard against it since you are home all the time.
  3. Over Communicate. Not being in an office eliminates the "water cooler'' talk so you get down to your work. Make sure you are making active contributions to your business, and overly communicating with your team when you are stepping away for lunch or to take care of other family members. The more you leave your teammates in the dark, the more they question what you may be doing.
Bonus Tip: 

Make sure you have a good microphone and an extra light on your face when doing video calls. Good quality sound and visuals make a world of difference when communicating through a teleconference medium.

Tracy Byron Ingram is the Owner / Operator of Intention Technology based in Dade City.

Tracy Byron Ingram

As the Owner / Operator of Intention Technology based in Dade City, I have a standing desk and I also have another desk that I sometimes use. I also work from the couch sometimes and even visit the local coffee shop. Whatever you do, have a workspace that you go to that’s not your bed. Set up an area that is for work only. Create boundaries (this is hard) so that your family knows you are really working.

Then schedule time to walk away from your work. One of the problems in working from home is you never leave so you never stop. Just walking into the other room or closing the door if you are lucky enough to have a home office can do wonders for your sanity. Also, don’t forget about taking breaks during your work time. Breaks are good, especially for resting your eyes and getting your blood circulating. But don’t let them get out of control. I like the Pomodoro technique for taking breaks, meaning work 25 minutes then take five minutes off. It can work well for avoiding long periods of procrastination and for meeting deadlines. Try it.

Here are some additional suggestions to make it easier to work from home:
  1. Invest in a good microphone. Conference calls can get old fast and not work very well if you're having your phone up to your ear all day. So use equipment and programs that enable you to converse online or talk by phone without a handheld device.
  2. Video conferencing is a must. Some like Zoom; I prefer UberConference. I find it works well for the screen shares and it's a phone call for everybody else. So you don't have to get dressed up for a video call. If you do need to get camera-ready in a hurry, keep a blazer or sweater close by; either can turn a T-shirt or wrinkled blouse into an outfit quick.
  3. Google docs FTW (for the win!): I put a lot of things in Google Docs and it makes it easy to share, collaborate, and work in real-time with someone on the other side of the world or a co-worker in your office who's also working from home.
  4. Multiple-monitors aren’t a must for most jobs, but, wow, it's so much easier to copy and paste if you have two or more monitors. You even can hook up an extra monitor to your laptop and then it's like you have two monitors. If you need a cheap one, check out what's available at your local thrift store -- after current quarantines are over.
  5. Be accountable. One of the biggest problems with working from home for most people is that it can be too easy to get distracted by food, TV, laundry, household chores, kids, and even taking naps. If you find yourself easily distracted, it may help to schedule regular check-in times daily or sometimes twice a day. Check-ins really help the motivation, the productivity, and keeping things moving in the right direction. Agile in Tampa has this down with their daily stand-up stories.
  6. Use Loom, a plug-in that for Google Chrome that takes short recordings and sends links to people. One of the things I find in trying to explain things to people is that sometimes it helps to create a short video of yourself talking or of what's on your screen, which can be replayed multiple times.
  7. Try Nimbus Note. It's one of my favorite chrome plugins for screenshots and notes.
  8. Check out Rambox. You can put FB messenger, hangouts, Whatsapp, Keep, Slack, etc. all in one box with tabs.
  9. Chrome profiles: Keep your business stuff separate from your personal stuff or the kids' stuff.
We are also working on an online marketplace where anyone who finds themselves working remotely can find additional tips or share your knowledge. Here is a link Get Remote Ready.

Writer Amy Hammond works from home with her kids nearby.

Amy Hammond 

My children were not born with a ‘mute’ button, so I plan my household pockets of silence with the stealth of a Navy SEAL. As a writer, I can’t operate amid background noise or sibling arguments without making miztakes (see what happened there?). 

That’s why each kid gets a list first thing in the morning: Do these things (silently) and a reward will be bestowed upon you. Hint: It’s usually chocolate.

My tips for achieving work conditions while my son (age 11) and daughter (age 9) are present include:
  1. Setting the timer for 60 minutes. Do as many items as possible on your daily list during that amount of time (and don’t ask me any questions, kid).
  2. Keep me company. As a writer, I love reading my kids’ creative musings. They can sit at the table with me and ‘work’ right alongside. Work time and THEN screen time is a good policy.
  3. Once our lists are finished, I welcome the kids to play video games or watch Frozen 2 for the 20th time. They’ve earned it, after all -- and that buys me a few more segments of hard-won silence.
     
As a remote worker, Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez loves the independence of setting his own schedule.

Josh McMorrow-Hernandez

I’ve been a professional author, journalist, and editor for about 10 years. I’ve been working remotely for most of this time and appreciate the flexibility of remote work because I can craft a schedule and work-life balance that works best for me and my loved ones.

Indeed, I’ve always preferred the independence of working remotely, which most likely stems from my days as a homeschooler in the 1980s and ‘90s, something I parlayed into taking mostly online and telecourses at Hillsborough Community College and the University of South Florida in the 2000s.
 
I spent about four years in a cubicle at an internet marketing firm, and while the job was great and I loved my colleagues, I loathed the hour-long commute each weekday and the rigidity of office hours. Given that the work I do can be successfully completed on a computer, and a computer can be taken almost anywhere, I have absolutely no plans of returning to an “office” job where I need to commute on a daily basis to a specific work location.

I put in many, many more than 40 hours a week doing what I do. Why? Because I love my job and because the flexibility of my remote -- or “on-the-go” -- workplace and work hours mean I’m far more productive and can do a better job at my assignments as a writer and editor. It’s a win-win situation for both my clients (or bosses) and me.
 
Here are the advantages I find in working remotely:
  1. Less time commuting offers more time to invest in working -- and one less car on the road, too!
  2. For companies, the advantage to remote working means one less physical workspace to purchase and maintain; if a substantial number of company employees work remotely, this can save significant money on office space, utilities, and other overhead costs.
  3. For those like myself who value independence and flexibility, remote working can improve job satisfaction and overall happiness -- benefiting everyone involved, including businesses.
Lest you think otherwise, I’m not an introverted homebody sitting around in my pajamas all day. Just the opposite. Two things I enjoyed about working in an office were the relationships with my colleagues and getting out of the house every day. As a remote worker, I combat loneliness and the staleness of being at home all day every day, in these ways:
  • I work at a coffee shop at least twice a week; this gets me into a different work environment and provides me opportunities to socialize with others, including the baristas and fellow diners.
  • Changing up where I work in my home from day to day keeps the work-from-home experience a little fresher. One day I might spend in my home office. The next? Maybe the living room or parlor. I also try and work outdoors at least once a week -- when it’s not too hot and humid, that is.
  •  I plan brunch, lunch, or supper with a different friend once every week or so. This helps ensure I still have an active social life.
  •  I get out of the house every day to exercise. Whether you’re a remote worker or commute daily for your 9-to-5 office job, going for a daily walk or enjoying other outdoor recreational activities is sensational for the body, mind, and soul.
Justin Davis helps companies design more usable and useful digital products.

Justin Davis

I've been working from home for 10 years, since leaving my full-time job in 2010 and working as an independent user experience designer, helping companies design more usable and useful digital products.

Three tips for working from home:
  1. Create a space -- Even if your commute is just 30 seconds across the house, it still needs to feel like you're "going to work" or you're likely to get distracted. Create a space in your house that's only for work, and keep work-related things confined to that area. This will help create the same kind of separation that a traditional office creates, and keep your work life from intruding on your home like. Ideally, your space should have a locking door, so you can keep kids and pets from breaking your focus.
  2. Take a break -- Without coworkers around to pull you away for lunch, it's easy to slip into a work-all-day-with-no-breaks mode. Make sure to leave your workspace for lunch and occasional breaks to prevent burnout.
  3. Have a chat -- When you start working from home, have a chat with anyone else that lives with you about what that means. Just because you're at home doesn't mean you're not working. Have upfront conversations with your spouse or roommates about expectations during the workday. While you can take advantage of the flexibility, this isn't a time to double up on chores on top of the workload. Have everyone agree to pretend that you're out of the house for the day, to avoid conflicts that might arise from you being present, but not engaged in housework.
     

Read more articles by Diane Egner.

Diane Egner is an award-winning journalist with more than three decades of experience writing about the Tampa Bay region. She is a member of Leadership Florida and the Athena Society, and serves on the board of The Institute for Research in Art (Graphicstudio, the Contemporary Art Museum, and USF’s Public Art Program) Community Advisory Council. A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism, she won the top statewide award for editorial writing from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors while at The Tampa Tribune and received special recognition by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists for creative work as Content Director at WUSF Public Broadcasting. Past accomplishments and community service include leadership positions with Awesome Tampa Bay, Arts Council of Hillsborough County, Alpha House of Tampa Bay, Florida Kinship Center, AIA Tampa Bay, Powerstories, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. She lives in South Tampa, is the mother of two adult daughters and grandmother to two amazing grandchildren, and travels whenever possible with laptop in tow.
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