3 Things You Must Have to Work Remotely (And 3 You Definitely Should)

I've been working from home at least part-time now since before Node.js existed, and haven't spent more than a handful of days in an office since Hillary Clinton was grilled at the Benghazi hearings. I'm as close to a permanent, remote worker as anyone.

So, for this post, I'd like to talk about the things that I have here at home that have made my remote work a success. I've got 3 specific things you really must have to make it happen for you, too; and 3 specific suggestions that you ought to have if this is going to be permanent.

Must Haves

An Office

Lots of people who work from home work exactly the same way they would in an office--poorly. One of the quickest ways to identify these people is that they do not have an office.

My OfficeNow, my office happens to be a full on separate room in my apartment. But when I say you must, as a remote worker, have an office, what I mean is that you have to have a dedicated space that does not serve another purpose. If you can claim the dining-room table (who eats in formal dining-rooms anyway?) then that'll do. As long as you can setup, and you can let your setup stay setup, you'll be fine.

It's hard to work with the laptop in your lap. You need a place that acts as a desk, full-time, and permanently.

A Door

I know I just said that you could use the dining-room table, and most dining-rooms don't have doors. If you work from an entirely empty home, then you don't actually need a door. But if you're going to share the space with anyone else during the period of time you intend to work, then you need a way to indicate that you're not to be disturbed.

You can close the door and think.

Multiple Monitors

Multiple MonitorsI can't understand how anyone willingly subjects themselves to actually working on the laptop screen. Don't get me wrong, I bought a really nice laptop with a really nice screen, but there's just not enough room on it to keep Facebook open while also watching a YouTube video while also coding.

You probably don't need 3 (this setup is for a computer programmer, after all) but you do need at least one. And because monitors are a pain to setup and tear-down everyday, you need that permanent spot to work from that I mentioned earlier.

Nice-To-Haves

A Sit-Stand Desk & A Top-Notch Chair

In 2017, I was having some lower-back pain. It was a persistent ache, and didn't seem to be connected to my activities day-to-day. It turned out that I was getting that ache while sitting at my desk.

To solve the problem I bought a sit-stand desk (this one is from Autonomous.) It is seriously the best $500 I have ever spent. It lets me stand when I want, and sit when I want. (I even have a setting that lets me use a stepper to exercise a bit.)

If $500 is a bit too pricey for you, then at the very least go to your nearest office supply store and buy a top-notch chair for yourself.

Your back will thank you.

A Window

The big reason everybody wants the corner office is because it has natural light. (Ok, the six figure income and recognition that comes with it might have something to do with it.)

Nobody really wants to work in a cube farm or a basement. You're going to be picking your own office, so you might was well pick one that has some natural light. Not to mention, you may occasionally want to stare out it blankly.

Plus, it's supposed to help boost your productivity! This Harvard Business Reveiw article even calls it "The #1 Office Perk."

So, get a window.

A Dog

So, I am totally a dog person. I'm the kind of person who remembers your dog's name, but not yours. I will cross the street to meet a new dog. I can't think of many activities that having the dog with me doesn't improve.

So, naturally, they improve working from home. Now, hear me out. The dog provides important stuff.

Firstly, when you're working from home, you're alone. And depending on the structure of your team, that may mean spending hours and hours without speaking to another human being. The physical presence of another living thing numbs this sensation.

Secondly, a dog will interrupt you. They want to go out, or have a treat, or just get some attention. Taking the dog out everyday forces you to take a break. Breaks are hard when you're the only one who is keeping track of them. The dog helps you walk away.

And finally, the dog gives you someone to discuss an issue with. My dog, Marney, has been involved in more whiteboard solutions than most of the HR people I know. She doesn't give feedback, but she seems interested, and it helps me work out a problem.

Now, some of these things could be solved with a cat. But...why?

Summary

So in summary here are the three things you must have to work from home:

  1. An Office - A permanent place to work
  2. A Door - To keep that permanent place off-limits to other people while you work
  3. Multiple Monitors - Seriously, huge productivity plus

And here are the three things you really ought to seriously consider:

  1. A Sit-Stand Desk & A Top-Notch Chair - Your back will thank you
  2. A Window - Nobody intentionally works in a dungeon
  3. A Dog - Because it can be lonelier than you first think.

I hope that helps. If you've got any remote-work tips, let me know.


Agile Probably Won't Solve Your Problems

The Agile process has been a boon to the software industry. Whether you're building the next generation of cutting edge IoT devices, a desktop-bound accounting application, or next year's killer app, Agile gives you an advantage. It's flexible, and gives teams a way to talk about the process of building complex things.

Recently, according to an Agilist consulting friend of mine, it's come into vogue to implement these processes in other business areas. Marketing, sales, support--even distribution--is working to implement this strategy. These efforts, he reports to me over the watery half of an Old Fashioned, have met with mixed results.

There's a very simple reason for that, of course. Agile probably won't solve your problems.

Executives have a problem in that they keep looking for a magic bullet. They believe hype more than substance. Agile excels at taming the kinds of troubles that have long plagued teams of software developers--planning problems. But that's a problem of highly specialized, precisely trained people. It's the kind of problem engineers and legalists and E.R. physicians face.

It's likely not the problem that's bothering your salesforce.

The troubles you're probably having in most of your departments aren't based off planning. They're problems of execution. They're teams with ineffective leaders; staff that's unconnected to the work; and managers who only care about results so far as they affect their bonuses. They are--in short--business problems. They are the same business problems that have been causing trouble in business since the first founder hired the first employee.

A quick read (you actually have to read it, btw, you can't just read the cover) of Harvard Business Review will help to set you straight. Business suffer mostly from a lack of communication. Agile, for all its strengths, can't solve that.

If you want to solve those problems you need to hire team leads who actually lead. You need to pay attention that managers are managing with care. They can't simply pay attention to strategy and execution. They also have to take that the people who execute it are capable to do it. Your organization needs to focus on the market. Both where the market is going and ideally, why. Those are the failures that are really slowing you down. They aren't the failures that a planning system fixes.

Unless you have a very specific problem--a failure to plan complex tasks well while maintaining flexibility--the Agile probably won't solve your problem.


Laravel Certification Begins Sales -- Is It Worth It?

Laravel Certification Opens to Early Bird Sales

This afternoon, the folks over at Laravel, LLC--the for profit branch of the Laravel organization--sent out an email to everyone who had signed up letting them know that "the Laravel Certification Program is now available for pre-order!" Otwell and company have set the price at just under €200 (presently, that's just shy of $240 US, for my fellow yankees.) At that price, it's in line with other similar certifications, although the quality of this one remains to be seen.

Another Certification Program?

I can hear the collective groan from here. Every time another one of these certification programs is whelped by its totally profit disinterested group, we go through the same debate. "Is the cert worth it?" or for that matter "Is any cert worth it?"

Ultimately, we bog down. One camp seems to put a magical faith in the certification that'll get them a better paying position without having to put in any actual time working to get there. The other camp insists that passing these certs proves nothing, and passionately argues that you might as well put your money in a pile and light it on fire. And anyone thinking about plunking down 200--ok, I don't know what's on the Euro note--let's say Frenchmen smoking cigarettes--200 Frenchmen Smokin' is left to scratch their heads and wonder about the state of their 401k.

So, Is It Worth It?

My answer here is pretty simple: it is worth the cash if you're doing it for the right reason. To me, a certification isn't something you get because you're hoping to start new programming career. It won't get you a job by itself.

I Look At Resumes

And I look at as many of them as I can find. Getting ahold of a capable (let alone competent) developer in the current space isn't easy. There's just not that many out there. And I abhor the idea that a C.S. degree qualifies one to write actual applications. (Full disclosure: I don't have one.) The things they're teaching Computer Science students in college simply aren't the things real-world programmers do everyday.

If a resume for a Jr. Dev came across my desk and that dev had zero experience, but was Laravel Certified, I'd likely still pass them over. The upside to these certs is when that resume is in a pile of 4 or 5 resumes with a similar level of experience. The certification suggests familiarity with the platform, and that familiarity is far less of a gamble then "I worked in it on and off for awhile."

It's Worth It, Because You're Competing

In the end, every job application is part of a competition, and we compete with the intent of winning. If the only jobs you'll ever apply for are the ones where your resume isn't in a pile, you probably don't need this certification. (I'm looking at you, Donald Trump Jr.) But if you're competing these certs do offer a competitive edge, especially with your less technical management set.

Have I bought the cert? Heck no. It's like $240, for Pete's sake. But if you're interested in moving forward, $240 is a small price to pay to stand out of a crowd.