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Working from anywhere: Living Armory’s remote-first culture

The future of work looks very different than it did just a year ago, pre-COVID. Armory has embraced and extended our strong remote culture to become a remote-first company, which means that although we have a physical HQ in San Mateo, CA, we don’t require anyone to be in a physical office, and that HQ serves more as a collaborative space.

I believe this trend is just beginning to ramp, and that within a few years, with 5G connectivity (and even high speed, low latency satellite-based internet on the near-term horizon), people will truly be able to work from anywhere — it won’t be uncommon for people to literally live their dreams, like working from a treehouse in the jungle of Costa Rica. People do their best work when they are happiest and most fulfilled, and where we each choose to live plays a huge part in that. At Armory, we’re not just supportive of remote work, but we actively encourage our crew to find the best place to work for each of their personal family situations — one that maximizes the work/life balance. And by being a remote-first company, we can find the best talent for any role globally, and we can also build a much more diverse and inclusive company, which is personally very important to me as the CEO.

The best part is that our crew is already doing it. In the video above, I did a “Between a Shield and a Fern” CEO interview to hear all about how the Armory crew is pushing the boundaries of remote work and living the future of what many of us will be trying:

  • Zak lives and works from a 41 foot sailboat in Marina del Rey
  • Evan works from Seattle — and across the entire US — in an Airstream for weeks at a time
  • Gino finds cafes in South Florida to get quiet time from the kids
  • Jason works from a farmhouse in Missouri
  • Ryan works from his rooftop in San Francisco

Our crew has also shared a number of pro-tips about working remotely — whether it’s from a home office, or a boat.

Mastering WFH Discipline — Armory Crew Shares their Pro-Tips:

  • Beth: Set up hours for think time. Find at least 2 days a week where you can do this. Block your calendar and hold to those times. Think time needs to be the best time for you to focus, process market data, work on code, write, whatever needs to happen.
  • Beth: I set a start and end of day alarm. I might start earlier if I feel inspired. Those 3am ideas can be the best. This way you don’t lose track of your day. When the alarm goes off for the end of day, that’s family or you time, depending on your life situation.
  • Beth: Have another person who can remind you to take a break. It really helps me to have another human remind me that it’s ok to walk away and give my brain a break.
  • Beth: Have several spaces or configurations to help you work. I have a tiny house; for me I work at the kitchen table, standup sit down desk, or couch.  Depends on what I’m working on.
  • Beth: If you are an extrovert, find ways to work together, remotely. Our product & eng team has “team time” twice a week. (Try saying that 3 times fast). During this time, I often don’t have anything to add but it gives me that collaborative feeling I got when working in the office. 
  • Beth: Set up a virtual Happy Hour. I know! This is work. That being said, our team’s HH time is amazing. It’s free team time to have water cooler conversation, talk about our lives, and blow off steam. 
  • Beth: Being an extrovert who is a single mom, during a pandemic, isn’t always amazing. Making the time to interact with people and find connections is important. I am most creative when I can talk out loud about my ideas. I have standing meetings to just chat with people, about work ideas, hiking, gardening, jam whatever. 
  • Clay: Make sure you are diligent about keeping your calendar up to date & accurate. That’s the source of truth others will rely on to reach you.
  • Michael: Set a schedule; get up the same time as you normally would, shower, dress, eat, then start work. Don’t bring your laptop to breakfast or start slacking in the shower
  • Evan: Working from home with kids in the house? If you have a car, you may have a phone booth!  Cars are typically very well insulated acoustically.  If you can park your car close enough to get wifi from a location (or just use your cell phone), you can jump in your car and have a quiet space to conduct calls.  This is something learned when due to COVID-19, we suddenly had 2 people WFH that both need to hold calls constantly.  Check out this steering wheel laptop desk! 
  • Michael: Make a list of top things you’d like to get done today. Writing them out on post-it-notes is more meaningful…something about seeing it in my own handwriting I guess. Don’t worry if you don’t get them all done, it’s just a  plan, and plans change! (DROdio: similarly, here’s how I prioritize my time)
  • Michael: Designate a workplace in your home. Bedrooms are not a good choice, but if that’s what you got then use it! You want to distance yourself from your work when you aren’t working.
  • Michael: Stay hydrated. I drink A LOT of water every day. 
  • Michael: Stand up. If you don’t have a sit/stand desk get some boxes. You need to spend more than half of your day vertical. 
  • Michael: Don’t think you need to be at your desk or in your office or on slack 12 hours a day. Kevin posted about turning off slack, etc. notifications… definitely do this. Unless you’re on-call for support, is there anything that just can’t wait until tomorrow? And we don’t need you to be “in your home office” all the time. Take the laptop to the patio, read that article from the couch. This kind of goes against the “designate a workplace” bullet; the idea being you don’t only “work” at the office at your designated desk…why should work from home be any different?
  • Michael: Take a walk. I try to get out of the house every single day, even if it just a trip to the mailbox. Do it when the sun is out…and if you’re scheduled back to back, push a meeting off 15 min. Don’t take a meeting during your walk…that defeats the purpose. Get out, look at the sky, realize that your world is bigger than what you see on your screens. 
  • Michael: Interact in person with others. So this is the tricky one with COVID right now, but you’ll figure it out. Talk to your family, stay 6 ft away from your neighbors and say hi, Facetime that buddy from Alaska you always were meaning to call. 
  • David: Make human connections with the crew remotely. Send someone a random DM just wishing them a nice day, nothing else, like if you were passing them in the elevator. Ping people you don’t work with regularly and build a relationship with them. Create a coffee pal.  Do a happy hour, or eat my lunch with them.  All like you would if you were in an office environment. 
  • David: Master the mute button. Especially if you’re on the road or in noisy environments. If you’re at your computer and you’re using Zoom the default shortcut for muting / unmuting is CMD+Shift+A, and you can leave yourself muted and press the space bar to temporarily un-mute.
  • David: Don’t forget to log off to protect your personal time.  Especially in a cross-time zone global role.  Set boundaries.  It takes more time to communicate remotely versus in person, which is why many find themselves working more than if they were face to face with people all of the time.
  • Margaret: Turning video on is a great way to connect — but we also want to make culturally it OK for our crew to have their video turned off. It can be draining to feel like you need to be in “presentation mode” all day, every day.
  • DROdio: Using Zoom’s “call me” feature to connect to audio can give you more stability, esp when you’re in an iffy internet situation. Using your phone for Zoom’s audio will ensure that even if your screen freezes, you can still participate in the conversation
  • DROdio: Zoom virtual backgrounds are really useful! With a virtual background on, you can truly work from anywhere and nobody will even realize where you are. (In the video above, I was outside on my back deck, for example, because I had a child still sleeping within earshot of my home office area). Ther are many sites with high quality free stock photos for virtual backgrounds, like this one.

Pro-Tips for WFHing w/ Kids at Home:

We have an entire document dedicated to “LFH” — helping kids Learn From Home.
  • DROdio: Many of you likely have kids running around as you try to work. This is definitely a challenge. I’m finding that the new Apple AirPod Pros are great — with a long press you can switch between “noise canceling” and “transparency” mode. Noise canceling really helps w/ focus, while a quick long-hold to transparency mode lets me take care of any emergencies the kids bring up, and then dive back in. There’s even a hidden feature called “Live Listen” that lets you use your phone as an external mic to pick up even more sound in Transparency Mode (kinda feels like you have superhuman hearing powers).
  • Beth: I wish i had a great answer. I have a freshman in high school. This is hard! The schools don’t have it figured out, my kid is taking wood shop, remotely. They are working out how that’s going to work. Here is what we do:
    • Each morning after I have checked on east coast folks, my kiddo and I walk through what he needs for the day. Get a jug of water, eat, grab some snacks. Tell me what the day looks like. This is good for helping my kiddo get set up and lets me plan if I have meetings where I may have to jump in to help. 
    • We check on each other to make sure lunch, water, walking around, happen. It sounds basic but he no longer has to walk from class to class. He needs to find a way to do that just as much as I need to remember I’m not walking from meeting room to meeting room.
    • My kid is learning to advocate for himself when he needs help and problem solve. We message each other throughout the day even though he is in the other room. Sometimes you just need a hedgehog picture or cute kitten. 
    • For me, I need to give myself a break. I love to win. It’s hard to win when in a pandemic, working remotely, while your child is learning from home. That’s ok. We are all doing our best. I have a few people at Armory and we all check in on each other. Compliment, suggest taking a time out, vent to each other. Stress about whether we are breaking out kids. Grieve that fact that our kids aren’t having the experience we wished for them. All of that is ok. 
    • Find your crew within the crew — your personal support network.

Pics of our Crew’s WFH Setups:

Zak in Marina Del Rey (on a 41′ sailboat)

  • If you choose to live and work on a boat, I recommend you get a solid fixed monitor stand that you can bolt to a table, and secure the rest of your setup as well. This removes the friction from actually using your boat to go sailing as well as working, because you don’t have to spend time stowing your work setup.

Alice in Seaside:

I have a relatively big and empty kitchen bar/countertop. To that end I’ve set up some space near the door/windows so I can enjoy the ocean view and the natural light. This is where I normally stand to work. If I want to sit down to work I just use the kitchen table.
  • Schedule in meals and break
  • Schedule in walk/exercise!
  • Block off calendar if you need deep thinking/deep work time
  • Schedule Slack notification schedule so notifications are snoozed outside of working hours

Justin in Portland:

  • I have an office set up. Sometimes meet up with other Armory PDX crew at co-working spaces, where you can get day passes.
  • Get this portable ultralight laptop stand makes the laptop screen an ergo height. You can use this on the kitchen counter, table and where ever if you can’t use your main desk.
  • Get some mag-safe adapters, so when your family trips on the cord you don’t wreck the laptop, and make moving from table to office to co-working space is easy.  I recommend this one or this one.

Fernando in Portland

  • I hadn’t worked remotely for a significant period of time until joining Armory, so I’m looking at this with mostly fresh eyes.
  • My primary goal with my setup is to be as mobile as possible. With the exception of the monitor, webcam, and headphone stand everything is designed to travel well. Being mobile means that even inside the house you can move throughout the day and maintain a consistent work environment.
  • If you’re not sensitive to light, definitely choose an area in the house that has lots of natural light. You’ll put less strain on your eyes in the long run!
  • Consistency is key, unless you’re comfortable with lots of change, you’re going to lose productivity as you change setups. Choosing gear that allows you to maintain a consistent thread throughout your environment allows you to enter a focused mode much more quickly.
Mobile Setup

Sean in Olympia

I’ve been working remotely since October 2016.  I did not start with this setup but instead assembled it over about 9 months as I discovered what I needed.  Besides equipment, here are the most important things I discovered:
  • Have a daily routine and do not, for any reason, skip it for even a single day!  Just because you’re not leaving the house does not mean you are not going to work!  Brush your teeth, take a shower, do you hair, and put on clothes you don’t sleep in!
  • Have a separate dedicated space for working!  Even if all you can do is have a corner of the TV room, make it your work space and do all your work there.  And when you’re done working, don’t use that space for anything personal!  Having a physical separation turned out to be critical to actually personally respecting the boundaries I set for myself.
  • Take your time assembling your kit, buy one thing at a time as the need arises. If you buy it all at once you may find you don’t like some or a lot of it.  And don’t be afraid to try multiple configurations.  I started with one monitor on a stationary desk in a high-backed leather chair, and it was awful for me but you may love it. This is at least the 5th iteration of my setup.
For details on my equipment and links to purchase on Amazon, check out my README.

Kit in Cupertino:

 

Get the Right Gear & Set Up Your Workspace:

Audio & Video:

Headset: 

    • Best Microphone noise cancellation
    • Active noise cancellation on all outside noise coming into the headphones
    • Soft, light, and replaceable ear cushion
    • Can work wired and wirelessly, and while charging

Speakerphone:

  • Why is it recommended?
    • Works wirelessly so you do not need it next to your computer
    • Top noise-canceling microphone array (will cancel out fan noises etc)
    • Echo cancellation in larger rooms
    • Portable

Webcam:

Ergonomics:

  • The portable Roost ultralight laptop stand makes the laptop screen be an ergo height.
    • If you don’t have a stand, propping your laptop up on some books is better than nothing, and helps you maintain proper posture. Nothing worse than hunching over your keyboard at the dinner table for an entire day.
  • Get some mag-safe adapters, so when your family trips on the cord you don’t wreck the laptop, and make moving from table to office to co-working space is easy.  We recommend this one or this one.
  • Get yourself a fancy split ergo keyboard
  • Something like this to make your desk space sit or stand