On working from home

Filed under meta on March 23, 2020

I’ve long been in favour of flexible work policies that allow remote work where possible. While there are many benefits in face to face contact, I personally believe that having a home office helps productivity and quality of life.

With the current pandemic, I’ve spent the last sprint working from home, and we managed to blaze through enough work to convince the executives somewhat that a remote first policy is certainly viable. I think this is being bolstered by the numbers from many other offices around the world, showing nervous middle management that their reluctance was more about the inability to move beyond their comfort zone than it was about productivity.

But triumph of the lazy programmer aside, I think it’s important to share what I believe helps us work better outside the office.

Keep your workspace minimal

My entire desk is taken up by two monitors, a keyboard and mouse combo with ergonomic wrist support strip and a 3D printer. Aside from that, I have a couple of pens and a tablet, my notebooks are stored on the shelf behind me.

Off my desk, I keep the floor tidy to keep my head in the right place for work. I get up and vaccuum it after stand up every day to pick up any wayward cat fur so I can avoid as many allergens as possible, and just generally keep my workspace clean.

Part of this is a mental frame, tidy means things are ready to go and there is less to distract from your focus.

This is your home, there will always be distractions

In the past, before I was a grizzled senior dev sending sarcastic emails to suits organising crowded events in the middle of a pandemic, I tried to eliminate distractions before sitting down to work, and it led to a spiral where I spent more time clearing distractions than I did doing useful work.

Now that I’m a little older and more experienced, I’ve learned you hit a point of declining returns where it’s much better to learn self control and focus instead.

I have my Steam window open in front of me with the new Stellaris expansion begging me to finish my campaign, guys on discord talking about pick up D&D games and some empty plots in the garden that I’d like to plant some stuff in. And there will always be things like that demanding your attention, it’s better to learn to put them aside for a more appropriate time when you’ve got your work done.

If I’m having trouble focussing, I’ll reboot my desktop into Debian which has fewer distracting applications, but I’ve found that that’s really not necessary lately, having trained my self control more.

Reward yourself for getting work done

Whenever I get a card across the line, I’ll give myself 15-20 minutes to disengage from the work and reset a bit. It’s not something leadership likes to hear, I guess, but I find letting myself have a little bit of an endorphin hit chatting to people on Telegram or checking my Minds feed helps me refocus properly when I do come back.

Don’t lie to yourself about the work you’ve done

This is the other side of the coin from rewarding yourself for work done. Being honest with yourself about the work you’ve done every day ensures that the chaos doesn’t grab you by surprise. It’s rare in a well estimated SCRUM sprint that you’ll ever be idle, but you shouldn’t create work for yourself as a dodge.

If you’re honest to yourself about how you’ve used your time, it makes it easier to both be able to manage your time and inoculate yourself from tilt spirals where you find it hard to get anything done because you feel as if you haven’t done during the day.

When you’re off the clock, disengage properly

This one is normally easy for most people, as the commute time serves as an indicator for the end of the work day.

Something I always struggle with is being able to put things down and rest properly at the end of the day, and without that clear delineation between work and rest time it’s too easy to just keep going. In the past I’ve broken this up with a trip to the gym at the end of the day, but they’ve just closed today, so I’m going to have to find something new.

On another note

On my personal accounts, I’d probably make a joke to play off the seriousness of this, but I feel as if there’s a lot of people looking for better ways of working. I feel as if now is one of the biggest shifts I’m going to see in my lifetime, and the more info we share on the way we can effectively work from home the quicker it can become the new normal.

Hope any of the 6 people a day that click through to this site find some use in the post, stay safe.