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7 remote work discipline tips for the sysadmin

If you find yourself working from home or in some other remote location, these remote work tips can help you to stay focused and maintain efficiency.

Using protocols such as Secure Shell (SSH) and Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) have allowed me to work from home for the better part of the past twenty years. It's not the tools, the work itself, or the distance from your target hosts; it's the discipline required when working from an alternative location that you need to conquer. And, if you're a system administrator with a few years on your resume, then you know that managing us is akin to herding cats. In other words, discipline is not really our "thing."

When I first began working from home in 2001, the concept wasn't new to me. I had set up remote work environments for many of my business clients starting in 1996. At that time, users had computers equipped with modems that dialed into a server also equipped with modems. Once connected, remote users could perform their jobs exactly as they did when they sat at their office desks.

I not only had to train users, usually attorneys, to use this technology and prove to them that they were in fact, "on the network," but I also had to offer advice about working from home. Although times have definitely changed since those thrilling days of yesteryear, people haven't. Here are my tips for disciplining yourself when working from home or from any remote location.

1. Behave as if you're at the office - Now, this bit of wisdom might elicit a "Duh," but you'd be surprised how many people feel that when they work at home that they're in a private space and they don't have to behave in a business-like manner. You do. Conduct yourself as if you're sitting at your desk at your office. Just because you're using your home's WiFi rather than your employer's you're still bound by the rules outlined in the Employee Handbook. 

2. Dress as if you're working at your office - This guideline is in a bit of a gray area, meaning that if you have to participate in conference calls or any type of video conversations, the dress is business casual. Do not appear in pajamas or other clothing that portrays anything but a professional presentation. If you don't have to see coworkers, managers, or anyone, dress however you wish but realize that at some point, you might have to participate in a video call, so be prepared.

3. Take frequent breaks - Believe it or not, people who work from home don't generally get up and move around as much as those who work at an office. People who work at home tend to get "pinned down" and rarely move about. You need to move away from your computer for at least one short morning break, a lunch break, and a short afternoon break. There is a tendency to stay at your computer and snack, eat lunch, and remain there for too long. The isolation of working from home coupled with the lack of mobility tends to burn you out much quicker because you're always on the job.

[ Need a break right now? Go grab a free book on automation from Red Hat. ]

4. Have specific start and stop times to your workday - A friend of mine once said that working from home is the new indentured servitude, which means that with our ten-second commutes, we tend to work very long hours. Keep regular work hours. If you normally start your day at 8:00 AM, then continue that habit. If you end your day at 5:00 PM, continue that also. Don't change the expectations for your availability. 

5. Leave the TV off - This might be the most difficult line to establish. Unless you have a TV on at work, don't turn it on when you work from home. You don't need the distraction of the background noise. If you feel alone or need something to replace the background chatter of your office, turn on some soft music to keep you company. 

6. Track your productivity - Although it's a good idea to do no matter where you work, you should keep a "diary" of your accomplishments in a text file or in a spreadsheet. Write to this file every day. You must track your ongoing tasks, completed tasks, and planned tasks in this file. Your productivity, when working from a remote location, might be called into question so be ready with your documentation.

7. Attend every meeting and be "present" - It's not enough to just "phone it in" or to show up, you have to participate. You don't have to be chatty but you must engage and participate so that coworkers and managers alike know that you're on the job. Focus on the meeting, it's members and the topics at hand. Don't allow yourself to daydream or wander off during a meeting. Take notes and give feedback where appropriate to prove that you're engaged and interested.

Trust me, I know how hard it is to establish good habits when first working from home. You're at home. You want to watch TV, do laundry, go outside, or even take a nap. You must resist these desires to behave as if you're home. You're at your job but in a different location. Be professional. 

If your team is new to remote work, managers can often be suspicious of your productivity until they can measure your efficiency. You must be extra cautious when working from home and remain productive. It's fair to say that remote workers are often judged more harshly because your manager and your coworkers can't see you all the time. You must exceed expectations and show your progress along the way. 

Working from home can be a liberating experience but don't allow yourself to be liberated away from your job by violating regular office etiquette and decorum. 

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Topics:   Career   Sysadmin culture  
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Ken Hess

Ken has used Red Hat Linux since 1996 and has written ebooks, whitepapers, actual books, thousands of exam review questions, and hundreds of articles on open source and other topics. Ken also has 20+ years of experience as an enterprise sysadmin with Unix, Linux, Windows, and Virtualization. More about me

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