Some thoughts about working from home

Some thoughts on working from home

Seems particularly relevant to share at this point in time.

Over the past 10 years or so, I would say about 7 of them have been spent working from home. Or “working remotely” as some (especially clients) prefer to call it. During that time I’ve learned a lot; about what makes it work and what doesn’t. I figure I might as well share some of this.

I will not be covering all the talking points, stigma and reasoning that goes into discussing WfH, pros, cons, and so on. Not in this post anyway.

To successfully work from home, here’s a few things you should consider.

The Workspace

For people who’ve not tried it, WfH seems like a great idea. “Great! I get to stay at home all day. I can just sit in my pyjamas on the couch, watch some Netflix while answering emails and getting stuff done.”

Yea… no. Doesn’t really work like that.

Sitting on the couch all day while working on a laptop would quickly make your spine want to crawl out of your body. Keeping Netflix or other distractions running would drive your productivity down to near nothing. Staying in your pyjamas… Not really sure about that one. But I wouldn’t go video conferencing in that attire. Please get dressed before attending team video calls. I feel I have to stress this. I speak from experience.

No what you need is a proper workspace. In your home. I realise this might mean something different to a lot of different people. What’s important here - just as it would in an office space at your place of work - is that you have a proper desk, a proper chair (no, your kitchen or dining room chairs just aren’t going to cut it in the long run), and all the things that go with it. Proper lighting.

Now keep in mind, WfH is what I do. I’m not saying your setup needs to be maybe quite this elaborate. But I’m also saying, don’t underestimate the tools you need to do your work effectively. Dual monitor setups have proven their value time and again. At least get one proper monitor, don’t try and work from that 13” or 15” screen directly off your laptop.

I would also never go without a proper keyboard and a mouse. As anything I ever write these are personal opinions, feel free to not share them. But I find it a very worthwhile investment.

The Room

My home office is in a dedicated room of my house. If at all you have that option, definitely go with that. But I do realise this is not an option for everyone or probably not even a majority.

Second best would be to set up somewhere in your abode that you can dedicate as a workspace. Dining room table just isn’t going to hack it in the long run unless you live alone or you are always home alone while working. I’ll cover that in a little bit more detail further down.

Make sure whatever space you choose is well ventilated, well lit, supports you in all the right ways when seated.

Ideally find a location where you can close the door but if that is not an option, go for something where at least some kind of “divisor” can at least map out the semblence of a marked space “for working”.

Your Workday

While WfH does allow for a more fluent work schedule, try and stick to a work schedule that matches that of your co-workers. While it is perfectly acceptable (in most cases) that you reap some of all the benefits WfH gives you (being able to pick up the kids from school, go for a jog, whatever), you owe it to yourself and your co-workers to let your schedule be known and transparent.

The latter is very important. I feel I have to stress this as well.

WfH is based on a whole lotta trust, and mistrust is one of the main reasons employers give (although they use different wording… believe me, it’s mistrust) for not allowing everyone who can on their workforce to do it.

And once you have a schedule, stick to it. For your own sake. Believe me, I’ve been down the road of “Ugh it’s Monday morning… I can start a little bit later today”. And you can. But it’s a very slippery slope and soon you find yourself working until 8 or 9 in the evening to catch up. While this can be fine on occasion, I doubt you will get many stamps of approval from your partner for this type of thing.

If you are away from Teams, Slack, Hangouts, or whatever means of team communication you and your co-workers share for extended periods of time, sooner or later someone is going to come asking questions. Don’t take this to mean, you absolutely must respond to every incoming communication right away - you could be deeply immersed in problemsolving something (common for developers). But be there for your team mates. Be there for your co-workers. Set that “Away” status (Away 2 hours: Gone Hiking) and let the world know what they cannot see since you’re not all in the same office.

While we’re at it, don’t call. Just don’t. Discover the wonderful life of asynchronous messaging that these collaboration platforms provide. Don’t force yourself on another person with a call unless it has been scheduled and agreed in advance.

The Team Call

Whether it’s for Daily Standup or any of the other frequent Scrum Ceremonies that is being played out, for the love of all things please learn to use your very basic communication tools. You need to understand how to work your microphone, and (optionally) your webcam.

It really isn’t that difficult.

Know that person who always shows up to team meetings? “Can you guys hear me? Wait, I can’t hear you. Let me try reconnecting. Hold on while I restart my PC”. Yea. Don’t be that person.

This post isn’t a tech tutorial. But once you set up at home, spend 30 minutes with this. Try things out with a colleague, in a “safe” environment. Make sure you know the ins and outs of this very basic gear.

And once you’re on the call, mute yourself (well your microphone) when not actively speaking. And don’t forget to unmute when you want yourself to be heard. Believe me, no one is interested in the traffic noise from your street, the kids playing in the next (or worse; same) room. It’s all fine and novel the first couple of times but it gets old very very quick.

It’s not that your kids aren’t adorable and lovable and all that. But you probably wouldn’t bring them along normally to your office for the same reasons that apply here.

This is why it works best if you can dedicate a room as your place of work. If you’re at the dining room table, you are in essence disrupting the living space of whoever you share your home with.

Getting Stuff Done

I saved the best for last.

If you’ve been trusted to WfH, you need to be able to get stuff done. We’re very much still dealing with a managerial gap here, and if you want to continue doing it - you need to also prove it.

A lot here comes down to transparency. Not only the transparency I mentioned above about being available, but also being transparent in what you spend your time. Now I work as a consultant and always have to submit time sheets so for me this comes natural… if I can’t provide details about what I’ve been working on, odds rise very quickly that I won’t get paid.

Make your time sheets detailed enough so that whoever reads them gets some kind of idea of where your time went. Here is what I did on a random day last year.

9:30 - 12:00
Devops Tasks – Debugging problem on local which might be systemic on all environments. Someone has run the LB translator through all of the SXA media assets (stylesheets, javascript, and such) and it was causing lots of problems for the Solr indexer.

12:00 - 14:30
Programming – Further debugging. Finally a breakthrough, was able to get the GeoFluent /translate call working

14:30 - 15:00
Meetings / Status Calls – Developer Team catchup

15:00 - 15:15
Meetings / Status Calls – Daily standup

15:15 - 17:00
Programming – Working the translation api, while also doing a few calls with [redacted] around various minor things

17:00 - 19:00
Meetings / Status Calls – Grooming Session

And here is an example of a time sheet I received right around the same time.

8:30 - 16:00
Programming - navigation

Now I ask you, which one of the two inspires confidence and which one doesn’t?

Keep a detailed log of your time. You are really going to be glad you did if, all of a sudden, there are project delays (they happen all the time) and middle or upper management comes looking for heads to chop. Being able to clearly and coherently say what you’ve been spending your time on is very useful. Always.

Approach your work professionally. Now we’re back to the whole “no Netflix” thing. If you consistently aren’t getting stuff done you will quickly find yourself doing the commute to and from that office again. Or worse. Make sure you get stuff done, make sure you raise blockers at Stand Up (that’s actually what it’s there for), make sure you reach out to and communicate with your team when needed. Just as you would, if you all shared an office space.

And Enjoy the Privilege

WfH is NOT an option for everyone. There are, of course, many jobs that require direct interaction. Even in the tech industry. But if you, like me, find yourself in the category of “Knowledge Worker”, chances are that WfH can be made to work just as well - if not better - than the commute/office/commute.

As a closing note; you’ve just freed up some time. I live in Switzerland where it is fairly common that people commute anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes to and from work. Well the good news is, that time is now yours.

Don’t be like me. Don’t just work more (billing by the hour is a powerful force). Use that to go for a walk. Take the dog if you have one. If not, maybe get one? I am living testament to what happens when you work from home for an extended period of time (as in, years) and don’t move around enough. From back problems to weight issues… Actually I think I’m going to go for a walk now. Spring has arrived (sort of).

You with me?