As a work at home parent is someone who works from home and integrates parenting into his or her work/business activities. They are sometimes referred to as a WAHM (work at home mom) or a WAHD (work at home dad).

As a work at home parent, I integrate parenting into my work activities as a penetration tester, not the other way around. Keeping the kids alive and our home in order is a priority; however, doing that doesn’t pay the bills, so a balance needs to be struck! In this post I’ll be talking/musing about being a remote worker and how I survive based on my experiences! Feel free to try anything you read below; however, just be cautious that your mileage may vary, it’s taken me a while to get it right for my circumstances.

The TL;DR, is that full time remote work/working is not for everybody, nor is it easy to embrace consistently long term. If you’re a person who likes direct in person contact and communication, long -term remote working is more than likely going to pose several problems for you, unless you can work out or adapt to the isolation and communication aspects; HOWEVER, that said, with some forethought, ground rules and being consistent, it works and works surprisingly well, and even more so, if you have a great team/organisation behind you!

So, the longer take on working remotely …

Working remotely may sound like a dream-come-true for some, and when doing in sporadically or for short term fixed periods it can be fun and exciting, but in all honesty, it’s hard graft and definitely not as easy as it seems. You really do need to be a person equipped with a certain dose of self-discipline to overcome the temptations of being able to “bunk off”. Even after 8+ years of remote working and all the experiences associated with that, even now, it can still be a challenge, juggling being a parent and having to context shift to work mode once the kids are off to school, sometimes swapping the husband, dad, and work hats multiple times a day for various reasons! What makes it more achievable, is sticking to a fairly regimented process, which I’ve tweaked over the years, due to work and family commitments changing/evolving/relaxing!

How I make it work!

Now, admittedly, this might seem or even be common sense to some and for others, it might be a completely alien concept, BUT (big but) working remotely/being a full-time or long-term remote worker doesn’t mean less rules … shock … I know! Working remotely can and does (for me at least, and the job that I do) mean more flexibility to be present in and for more non-work-related things, the trade-off being, follow some obvious, yet not so easy to accomplish, rules, which at the core centre around a consistent and repeatable regimented approach to how you work!

So, with that in mind, here are my key points in no particular order, which help me (and maybe you…) surviving long-term remote working:

  • Keep Regular Hours
  • Work out Your Routine and Set it
  • Have a Dedicated Work Space
  • Limit your Distractions
  • Stay in Touch
  • Get and Stay Active
  • Dress-code
  • Have a Laugh / Make Yourself Laugh
  • Deliver you Work
  • Change of Scenery

Now I listed out the key points, lets dig a little deeper!

Keeping Regular Hours (This doesn’t necessarily mean 9 to 5…)

Consistency is Key … Yes, that’s right, committing to keeping regular hours of work, while being a remote worker will help keep your mindset in the right place. All too often, I’ve encountered folks who don’t do this and as such, are not setting themselves up for effectively working remotely from the get go. It might not seem it; however, working from home demands a much more rigid and different skillset, outlook and work ethic than working in-house at your office building. An employee who is productive in-office, might not be as productive at home, or vice versa.

Regardless of the type of person you are, I have found one of the keys to me successfully working remotely is establishing a clear schedule to follow every working day. As I mentioned in the title, this does not necessarily mean 0900 – 1700hrs! Now, I will say that due to the work I do, I have a large degree of latitude and flexibility in my day, so my working habits and hours might not be exactly what you call “normal”, though setting that aside, as a general rule of thumb and unless you have other agreements in place, I’d suggest, if your office work starts at 0900hrs, then it is best to start your day at 0900hrs too. If you think about this, your brain and body are already accustomed to this, so stick to the program!

Let’s talk about breaks…

Just because you’re working at home, don’t forget to take regular breaks; however, I don’t mean a binge session of [insert_netflix_show_here] … play the game 😉. Aim for your normal breaks that you would have if you were in the office e.g., a coffee break, a lunch break and if applicable a mid-afternoon break as well!

Remember, consistency is key!

Set a Routine

Routines, let’s face it, we all have them! So, keeping a dedicated routine while working remotely should be no different, whether you do or don’t have to work during certain hours!

For example, my morning routine looks something like this…

  • Workout
  • Wrangle kids out of bed & breakfast for all
  • Boot up computer, check emails and get set for the day ahead

That’s all before 0730hrs and the same routine I follow Monday to Friday, but that’s what works for me because … kids, and because I like to know what’s going on before I hit the ground running when I actually start work!

For you, look to identify what have to do each day, e.g., morning, midday and afternoon, what your personal or family commitments are and also consider when your most productive. Once you have identified these key points, then work from there to start building out an actionable routine!

For instance, a friend of mine, with no kids, likes to grab a coffee and eat their breakfast, while catching up on what’s going on in the world as well as browsing through their work emails. After this, they’ll have some ‘banter’ with their colleagues on their given comms platform. Then come their given start time they set about delivering their given workload and or assigned tasks.

Have a Dedicated Work Space

As a penetration tester, all I really need is an internet connection, be that WIFI or physical network connection, as such a I can work wherever e.g., the lounge, kitchen, bedroom, sofa etc.; however, just because I can doesn’t mean I should or you should for that matter!

Having the flexibility to move around, especially if you don’t have much on is great, though as a general rule of thumb, I’ve found out the hard way, over time, if you don’t create a dedicated work space, the lines get even more blurred when working remotely, as your entire home effectively becomes your entire office. This is not good, as it ultimately means that you never really can get away from work! Think routine above, you want to be able to have a work routine and then your separate, normal non-work, routine.

So, with that in mind, get a dedicated work space. Arrange a space at home that would function as it were your office space. Now this may be easier said than done, for a multitude of reasons, but trust me, doing this will pay dividends! Even if it is a small room or an empty space big enough for a desk and chair, set it up, and make this your dedicated work area that you go to and leave when doing anything work related. At all other times stay away from this area, as the temptation is too easy to slide into doing a little more or just checking “one last email”. Also turn your computer off at the end of your day, this will also aid against blurring the working hours your keep.

Let’s face it, no one wants to be a workaholic. Get your head out of your workspace and enjoy your life!

Limit Distractions

Ok so this one, is definitely easier said than done and it’s one that I have to constantly battle with! When you’re a tiny persons’ ‘snack bitch’, distractions, adorably so or not, are something you just have to live with!

With this in mind, this is a point really, or rather strictly, dependant on whether you have a separate working space or not! If you have a dedicated work space, in a room, which you can close the door on, limiting distractions are easy, close the door, set some ground rules, done; however, if your dedicated work space, is say, in the kitchen (like mine was for several years…) e.g., the hub of most homes, it’s not so easy!

For me the solution was to set some ground rules around how and when to interact with ‘dad’ while he was working, invest in some really good noise cancelling headphones and wearing them anytime someone else was at home and especially when the kids were about (that sounds bad, but mum is normally here too lol…). Its not a perfect solution, but worked for me!

At the end of the day, regardless of the type of work you do, let’s be honest, in order to work efficiently, you must be focused on your work or task at hand, whilst avoiding interruptions. Establishing ground rules and boundaries for when other people are at home while you’re working is a must; also try to keep your surroundings engaging and inspiring to look at, this will help your eyes and thoughts wandering and top tip, keep your desk tidy and neat.

Keep Connected (effective communication)

This is a relatively straightforward one, frequent communication with your work colleagues and people that know what you are working on is a must. Regardless of your chosen communications platform, whether it be Slack, Teams, G-Talk, G-Hangouts, Skype etc., the important thing is to chat with your colleagues and wider teams. Whilst it’s important to have work related/focused calls and chats, it is equally important to have some “water-cooler” chats and banter with the same people, talk with them not only about work, but also about yours and their interests. Doing so will build not only work bridges and rapport, but strengthen them into something more than just a work-related thing.

Remember that being over-communicative and personable will benefit not only your employer, but also yourself. Be open, ready to listen, contribute and reliable!

I previously worked for several folks, who believed, that unless you were in an office, face to face, you were somehow not as effective at communicating and even worse, not contributing as much as those that were! Now, whilst I personally and whole heartedly disagree with this view based off of my experiences, I do understand why and how folks can still think like this!

Stay Active (a must for me …)

Exercise, exercise, exercise! Do it as and when you can! It doesn’t always need to be brutal gym sessions, 10mile runs or folding folks in pyjamas (BJJ for you folks)!

Get your head out from behind your computer and desk, stand up regularly, drink plenty of water, take regular breaks in order to make up for the fact that you’re not walking to work or lunch anymore.

For me, I like to get active early in the day, normally around 0600hrs, it’s just my thing and sets me up for the day ahead, though I appreciate not everyone can or likes to get active that early in the day never mind get out of bed!

Whether it’s a walking/running a lap around the block, a 30min cycle, a cross-fit WOD, some squats, throwing kettlebells about, do something, do anything! Even if you only have 4mins, yes really, 4mins, something likes this will keep you feeling good. After this you can build things up from there!

This Full Body Mobility Routine can be done easily at home with little space … no excuses!

It’s no secret that, exercising in the morning is also favourable for improve your metabolism, feeling energized throughout the day, your mental and physical health and will help you stay focused at work.

Anything is better than nothing, with the caveat, you need to do it safely and correctly!

Dress Up! (Or rather, dress office ready….no suits though lol…)

Right, let’s face it, this may be a controversial one; however, another common mistake that you, as a remote worker, can make at the beginning of your remote working adventure, is to stay in your pyjamas, or at least, bottom half PJ’s and top half presentable top.

I’m going to put it out here right now …. DON’T, JUST DON’T under any circumstances do this!

In order to keep the work mindset and routine, even at home, make sure to get dressed! I don’t mean, like you would, if you were going out, but as if you were going into the office, in accordance with your office dress-code policy.

Dressing like you were going into the office has a number of benefits, this can really give you a boost in moral and you are more likely to have a productive and positive atmosphere going on. The added benefit as well is that you won’t be feeling like heading to the couch/sofa with your laptop if you wear your ‘nice’ clothes.

Have a Laugh / Make Yourself Laugh

Having worked from home for 8+ years, I’ll admit it, I have sometimes have felt alone and have missed small talks with my colleagues and close team members. At the end of the day, if even only a little while, we all like to talk, it’s in our natures!

Having ‘banter’ or a bit fun with your colleagues, throughout the day, via chats, even if you talk about work stuff, discuss YouTube videos or cat meme’s will at some point entice a laugh and lift your mood!

Laughter is proven to benefit your health and mood!

Deliver Results

Delivering consistent results is key/pivotal to remote working! There’s no getting around it!

Looking at it mainly from your employer’s perspective, they can’t actually see you working, nor can colleagues. This can and has been a known point of friction/concern for remote workers.

How I do this, in my line of work as a penetration tester, is focus on getting things done and then presenting visible effects of my work in a written report which is intermittently or given or presented in full at the end of an assessment.

Visit Your Office Sometimes (if you can or want …)

It seems contradictory to even say this, given the fact that we’re talking about surviving remote working, but visit your office … sometimes, if you can or want or when you feel the need!

As humans, we have a want and/or need to socialise, or well in my experiences the vast majority of folks do, with only a small minority who don’t! People being people want to talk and not just chat via a video chat where folks don’t turn their camera on for whatever reason!

Another great way of doing this can be to sign-up for company events, team lunches, organised fun, team days/nights out. This can make going to the office more fun and less ‘work’ focused.

Lastly, work is not only about working, but also about exchanging knowledge and learning new skills and whilst this can be done very effectively remotely via the likes of Slack, Teams etc, sometimes and I have no problem admitting this, it’s just better in person.

In Summary

So, there you have it, the above is my take on how to survive working remotely/being a remote worker, in a world where it is becoming more and more common for teams to be geo-graphically displaced.

Some of the above may be common sense, new or old news to you, but feel free to take anything you have read here and apply it to your remote working practices!

Thank you for reading!