How I Work from Home (The Obligatory Coronavirus Post)
For those of us in the UK, we cannot be sure when the lockdown will end. However as the end-to-lockdown starts to be mentioned more and more in the news, I’ve grown reflective of what I have learned from mid-March to mid-May from the impromptu global working-from-home experiment.
I’m aware that Corona has been hard for a lot of people. However I genuinely believe that the lockdown has been one of my best times at work, and so I write this blog with a view to distilling the magic for use in post-covid life.
Here are a few bullet points describing what I have found worked for me.
The first issue I faced was maintaining my productivity.
Having a Separate Office Space to remove Distractions
After a few weeks, I found myself unable to focus. I had one big desk, which had two “work” laptops, two little one-board computers, a NAS, and my big gaming desktop. I sat at the same desk for work computing and out-of-work computing.
I got out an old desk which I’d bought for £10 from a charity shop and set it up facing away from my out-of-work desk. I am facing away from my personal machines and do not have them in my eyeline.
I’ve found this to be essential, for a) removing distractions, and b) carving out a dedicated home-office space, which I have never had before. The first few mornings at my “work” desk were incredible, and my first week was “adderall-like”.
I also chose to not move any periferals (monitor, keyboard) over to work-desk. There can be no cross-contamination of focus.
Having a More Rigid Routine
The next thing I learned was that I needed a routine. My pre-corona weeks consisted of travelling to a customer site on Sunday night, working onsite through to Thursday, getting back home late Thursday night and then WFH Friday where I could catch-up on admin. At the start of lockdown, I was in a “Groundhog Day”-loop where every day was the Friday after a long week of travel and being away from home.
I am a BIG believer in the sanctity of life outside work. I’ve had too many times when work will swallow up my whole personal life, and I’ve read so many tech blogs about people at US companies who work 10hr days. Ergh.
The first thing that I had to address was my sleep and work barriers. I am now starting my day at 9am, and finishing when I come to a natural stop after 5. I’m also sleeping more regular hours. And again, I’ve found that I am super-focussed as soon as I start.
Setting my own Targets
While I am not a big fan of the command-and-control management-style, I have come to appreciate having a PM that I can talk to at my beck and call. This was the last thing that I really struggled with.
I have forced myself to drive my own actions, and really scratch the “autonomy” itch that self-motivates. (I always think of the semi-famous Youtube video on Motivation based on this book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
I’ve also been trying out GTD and have a desk covered in post-it notes. I feel that my workflow is far from perfect, but it is good enough and it is something that I can build on.
After trying to remain productive, my next issue was not going insane.
Trying to be Outside when possible
This is pretty straightforward. I try to get outside at least once per day.
And, most mornings I will try to eat my breakfast cereal outside, if the weather is nice. I sit next to my back door and eat my coco pops. I am living my best life.
Having “water-cooler” calls
I try to have at least one phone-call per day that is not primarily work-focussed, so that I am not a total automaton.
As long as I get the chance to shoot the breeze, that seems to work.
A more important part of water-cooler-esque talk is that I tend to use calls with colleagues as mini rubber-duck sessions; I can mull over a problem verbally, and ask questions, and get another point of view.
I find that I can’t really digest a big task without a phone call.
Living you best WFH Life
Finally, lockdown gives the opportunity to try new things that I might not get the chance to.
Trying new working practices
I mentioned earlier that I’ve been trying out GTD, and now have a ton of post-its. I know multiple colleagues have whiteboards in their own homes.
Learning new Technologies
I’ve been trying to merge in learning new skills and technologies into my day-job tasks in order to keep things fresh. I’ve been building a lot of little noddy setups, and as a kenetic learner and this works well for me.
Embracing the flexibility
I remember a tech blog or mission statement that I read ages ago evangelising remote asynchronous working patterns- “You CAN go to the shops during the workday! You CAN walk the dog!”
I have not done any of these things, however I appreciate that the option is there.
Embracing the Focus
I feel that I can go deeper into learning things- it is some special priviliege to work in such a distraction-free environment! Am I a “greater-than 1x” developer yet?
Attaining WFH Nirvana
This is the next step, which I have yet to take. We can understand that this is working remotely, and not just working from home. The new thing to investigate will be how can we leverage asynchronous behaviours in our current workplaces? I’m not yet sure.
A very nice resource to read is GitLab’s “Phases of Remote Adaptation. GitLab seem to be at the forefront of all the remote-working ethos.
Other Links that I Like
- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22549300 - a thread on HN which I’ve took many suggestions from in the early days of lockdown
- https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/guide/ - GitLab’s massive and comprehesive guides for remote working
- https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/remote-work-starter-guide/ - GitLab’s “Start Here”
- https://aidensgallyvanting.blogspot.com/2020/03/working-from-home-aidens-top-10-tips.html - Remote Working suggestions from a colleague of mine
- https://engineering.kablamo.com.au/posts/2019/successful-remote-work/ - A blog on HN which has more points and is much more succinct, discussion here (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21393968)
- https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/phases-of-remote-adaptation/ - Just more of GitLab being the mac daddy of remote working