Remote Work Tips for Newbs

I’ve been working remote full time for the past 7 years, and freelanced remote part time since 2000/2001 (ish). In light of recent events, many folks who have never worked remote before are finding themselves forced into it. But I am here to tell you that working from home can (and should) be the least frightening thing about the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) epidemic.

In the past week I’ve been asked a number of times for any tips or tricks I might be able to convey to friends and family who are now in this situation. I’ve responded on Twitter, Facebook, various DMs, text, smoke signals, etc, so I thought it might be easier to just write it out here. I will probably update this a bunch with new tips as I think of them (keep in mind I’ve been doing this so long that most of this is stuff I don’t even think about anymore) and I encourage anyone with additional tips, or even just questions, to email me or Tweet at me.

So without further ado, here are my biggest tips:


The absolute biggest thing for me is to have a workspace that is separate from living areas so that when I go there I am “at work”. Avoid working from bed, couch, and other living spaces, otherwise there are no boundaries and work can overtake your home life (no bueno).

I’ve had a desk for work since childhood. My parents made sure my siblings and I had desks for homework, then in college the dorms had desks. After college I was already freelancing, so when I got my own places, I made sure to always have a desk to work at. I didn’t realize until recently how uncommon this is. I also acknowledge space constraints. When I lived in NYC, my desk was crammed into the bedroom out of necessity. I recall a particularly interesting time when my girlfriend (now wife) had a desk at the foot of the bed, and my desk was in the corner of the room. My feet would be directly behind her monitor if she was working late and I was sleeping and our dogs would creep from the bed onto her desk for attention.

All this is to say, I know it’s not easy to carve out some space to be specifically for working, but for me at least, it has been the biggest thing in keeping me motivated, productive, and happy working from home.

Self Care

I struggled coming up with a title for this section, because I don’t particularly think in terms of “self care,” more so: things I do to avoid feeling like a trash person. Not that there is anything wrong with being a trash person if that’s your thing. But I digress…here are some things I do to maintain a healthy body and mind while working remote:

  • Get dressed in real clothes every day so I don’t just wallow in my filth.
  • Take a real lunch break where I make a lunch and eat it away from my work station. Or take that time to do something else away from your work station. My sister noted that she will often eat from her desk then take her lunch time to exercise, which is actually something I’ve been doing a lot lately so I guess being crazy runs in the family.
  • Take time for a morning routine: exercise, breakfast, shower, whatever. You don’t have a commute so take advantage of that equivalent time.

Don’t become a hermit

It can become difficult to feel like part of a society of humans while working remote, so find reasons to leave the house. I often take calls from my phone while walking around the neighborhood or will take breaks to run errands. Don’t feel the need to babysit your computer. Take advantage of the flexibility to work when you need to and live your life when you want to.

When I am really busy with work I can start to feel like a recluse. I’ve had times where I run to the store and realize it’s the first time I’ve left the house in 5 days. So it’s more important to make sure to socialize (but maybe less during an epidemic…). Make plans with friends, phone calls or video calls with family/friends, etc. But make sure to get out every so often to remember what other people are like.

The right tools for the job

The nature of remote work means that you interact with your work and coworkers in different ways, and often the tools for the job that worked in an office don’t work as well from home. Here are some invaluable tools for remote work:

  • Good headphones. Pick up comfortable headphones with a mic and use them for every video and voice call. And mute your line when you aren’t talking. All of your coworkers will appreciate it.
  • Zoom. Video calls are VASTLY more productive, often even for quick questions, than text communication. Zoom is by far the highest quality video call software I’ve used.
  • Slack. If your teams are now suddenly distributed and you can’t just tap someone on the shoulder to chat, Slack is your new best friend. Tell your managers and get your organization on board.
  • External keyboard & trackpad. Granted this is personal preference (but most of this article is, so sue me) but working for hours at a time is a lot easier if your arms and body aren’t hunched over a laptop. I use an external keyboard and trackpad + 2 external monitors, but that’s probably overkill for a lot of folks.
  • A comfortable chair. Since I have a dedicated desk (remember the workspace I mentioned earlier??) I have made sure to have a comfortable and supportive chair as well. Some folks prefer stand up desks, which is cool too. But the main point is to make sure you are physically comfortable working in the space you have setup for yourself. Don’t be the fool that has a sore back from sitting on a hard stool with no back rest all day (I’ve made this mistake).


When you no longer see your coworkers in person, a lot of nuance can get lost in planning and conversations. So over-communicate. If you have a question, post it to larger groups on slack than you might normally (the answers often come from folks you hadn’t thought to ask). Err on the side of a video call rather than lengthly text chats or emails. A mile long email can often be ironed out in a 5 min video call.

Aside from work communication, make sure to engage with coworkers in less structured ways. You don’t have the water cooler to gather around, so set up places (often slack channels) to talk about music, news, sports, share pet pics, etc. These people are still a major part of your life and connecting with them on a more personal level is still super important.

Additional resources

This is by no means comprehensive, and I’m sure I’ll add more to it over time. There are lots of other folks who have tons of experience working remote, so here are some of the recent things written about the subject that I’ve been reading: