Things I learned while working from home for 2 weeks
March 29, 2020
We are living in unprecedented times and for those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, there are three camps of people - 1. People who have always worked from home 2. People who have never worked from home 3. People who have worked from home on and off
I fall squarely in the third category. In the past, I have used Work from Home to mostly deal with situational circumstances -
- “Hey y’all, WFH today since the Plumber is coming in”
- “Feeling a bit under the weather this AM, and will WFH. Online all day”
- “Expecting package delivery. Need to be available in-person for pickup. WFH, available all day”
Personally, going to a different physical space helps separate my work life from my daily life. Having that compartmentalization has proven to be very helpful for being effective in different aspects of my life.
However, the last 2-3 weeks of working from home have blurred those lines significantly, not just for me, but for everyone who falls into categories 2 & 3 in the list above. In this new world, there are some things that I have come to appreciate and some things that I realize are missing from my daily routine that used to be there before.
This post is to highlight certain things I used to do in a physical office space, that I am trying to re-introduce into my virtual work environment.
I live in a 1-bedroom in Brooklyn and I have a designated space that is my work “office”. It isn’t a room. It isn’t a cubicle. There is no physical separation of this place from the rest of the apartment, but it is what I have marked to be my workspace. While this might seem like mental high jinks, it is a pretty good trope to achieve that same level of compartmentalization that you get when you go to a physical office.
In one of my work calls recently, I remarked that one reason I am looking forward to going back to the office, is to be able to use the chair at my desk again. The chair is nothing special, but it is decently ergonomic, which is a godsend for my weak lower back. Having a good seating posture coupled with a good seating arrangement, is worth its weight in gold.
It is so easy to forget to take breaks when you work remotely. When you are in an office, there are certain triggers that cause you to take breaks; whether it is the end of that 12pm meeting that makes you realize its time to get lunch, or someone tapping you on your shoulder asking you if you want to go for a coffee. These missing external triggers, make it really easy to forget to unplug yourself from your computer. I am making an effort to reintroduce these breaks, whether it is something like standing up and walking around the apartment, going and looking out of the window, fixing a snack or reading a book. I believe a clean break & return to work, revitalizes those neurons and makes you more effective at what you were working on.
I have always viewed commute as a net positive. That is largely in-part, due to the usage of public transport (#MTA) which gives you plenty of time to do other things. If I were driving to work myself, I am not sure I would feel the same way, but since I haven’t done it, I have no opinion on that. Being on the NYC subway though, has given me time to read books, listen to podcasts, or just meditate (I do not mean deep focus meditation, but more like lack of thoughts) before I get into the hubbub of work.
Not having that, has been a pretty big change for me and this is something that I haven’t been super successful at reintroducing just yet. I am mostly trying to be able to still read books, whether it is at tail-end of day or sometime in the middle on a break. However, if I can do it right, I will basically use the morning “commute time” to mimic what I used to do when I actually commuted. Reading a book from say 7am-8am, or trying to do some skill-building during this time, would be a pretty successful outcome in my opinion.
Working from home makes it all too easy to lose track of time and boundaries. For people who are used to commuting into work (yours truly included), depending on the time taken to commute, your bio-clock ends up waking you up at the same time as before. As a result, there are more hours in the day all of a sudden, and it is all too easy to say “I am up already, might as well clock in at work”. That is a slippery slope, and suddenly your 9am-5pm can start looking like 8am-6pm or 7am-7pm, which tends to get to an unsustainable pace.
Rather than waiting for it to get to that point, even if you don’t feel the strain, be cognizant of how long you are actually working, and make the effort to restrict that slippage for your own mental health. Make sure you also set some kind of working arrangement with your team and colleagues and set expectations of your available to ensure they don’t schedule calls or meetings outside of those times.
Working in the confines of your own apartment, focused on the screen and task at hand, makes it easy to not interact with your teammates and colleagues for anything non-work related. However, when you are in a physical space together, there are tons of micro-interactions and conversations that happen, that make relationships with your team well-oiled, and just shows your human side.
Take the time to talk about things that are not work-related with your team and you can do so in all kinds of ways. Some things that we have been doing are
- Setting up a water-cooler’esque channel for people to jump on and leave whenever they want to. This way anyone seeking conversation, which sometimes turn into sounding boards, can make it happen
- Virtual happy hours to grab a brewski to decompress, at the end of the week
- Team-building sessions like pasta making, or making origami - where one person leads the session and the others follow from their own apartments & homes!
There are plenty of opportunities for me to talk with my teams through the course of the day, be it meetings, sprint ceremonies, pull requests, what have you. One thing that is markedly absent are the hallway conversations with people not on my team, such as folks in the Sales or Data teams. Having their perspective is super important for me to do my job, because it’s a world so different from my own, that talking to people who are in it, helps shape my view on the business, and technology needed for that business.
I have started having virtual cafes with folks now where we talk about things like wine collections, vinyl records and segue into meaty topics like concept based machine learning or what the programmatic sales landscape looks like these days.
A day or so into working from home, I had a persistent headache, and I wasn’t sure if it was from staring at the screen all day. Later I realized, that I was basically drinking no water during those days. I am used to drinking 1-1.5 portions of my 48oz bottle each day at work.
Since having that Eureka moment, I now always keep a fairly big glass of water right next to my computer which gets refilled each time it goes to zero (giving me a break each time to go fill it!)
I have never been a ‘big lunch’ kind of guy. My lunch breaks have typically been me at my desk perusing through news or something new in the tech world, be it Product Hunt, Dev.to, Hacker News or something informational. When people see someone eating at their desk, it is common courtesy to not disturb them until they get done, unless there is some emergency. However, in this virtual space, no one knows you are eating, and those slack messages will come streaming in.
If you want to protect this time, put a Slack status or a calendar time block for that duration, to let people know that this is your lunch time, and they will respect it.
I don’t think this is a point I need to talk about too much, because everyone is mostly aware of how easy it is to binge eat or not work out when you are home. I am not trying to get washboard abs at the end of this (never happened, never will), but making sure there is some physical activity, be it starting the day with some back strengthening exercises (damn you, lower back!!!) or doing 5 pushups between meetings, helps to get the blood flowing. Additionally, releasing those endorphins has proven to relieve stress and pain, which is great in these times.
When it comes to food, I stick to 2 meals during the day (mostly breakfast & lunch) which tend to be some variation of healthy food. I try real hard to not snack on things unnecessarily, but am not always successful. When I feel hungry, as much as possible, I drink water instead to stave off those hunger pangs, because more often than not, I am thirsty and not hungry.
Who can ignore Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or Disney Plus in these times? This is another kind of moot point, because unless you disconnect your internet, this isn’t going to be avoided.
With that as the base scenario, I try to limit my hours on the tele. This is most exacerbated after work-hours or on weekends (surprise surprise, this is no different even in the non-wfh scenario) but this is where I try to reclaim my book reading hours, not always with a lot of success.
Last but 100% not the least, I make an effort to not watch/read too much news during the day. These are some trying times and people get sucked into following the news minute-by-minute to see the spread of the virus or to get the latest. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot to be gained at this point, except for ratcheting up your hopelessness or despair. The best you can do right now is keep your social distance, support local businesses, and do the best for your team and family. I am not suggesting you don’t keep yourself abreast of the zeitgeist. All I am advocating for is to consume it in a measured way, because news like alcohol should be consumed in moderate amounts (or so the wise folks say 😁)
Since there is a ton of misinformation, and panic-forwards passing around, in the morning, I catch up on the official Johns Hopkins Covid-19 website to get a sense of what the world is looking like, and once in the evening just after I log off, I will check in on the news for any breakthroughs or latest news that I should be aware of. Keeping the news flow to a trickle, and mostly to the factual representation of what the world looks like out there, has greatly helped me maintain a strong constitution in these times. Highly recommend this, if this is your cup of tea.