WFH: the long haul

Imagine that after all this, you are part of the workforce that can continue to work from home. You’re in it for the long haul.

The biggest change will be around quarantine/lockdown procedures, so you will have a lot more flexibility with who you are around while you work. You may currently be all alone and desperately wish for company. You may be surrounded 24/7, and desperately wish for solitude. There will come a day when you can fish your wish! Tip 1: Experiment with your environment. Try out working from coffee shops, the library, local co-working spaces, or just a different room in your home that is now magically unoccupied. You may love the sound of other people in the next room, but not having to deal with actual humans. Your aural environment definitely matters. Some sounds snap you into work mode, and other sounds rip you right back out. Find the right sounds, and invest in good equipment — I like Sennheiser MOMENTUM over ear wireless, BOSE Q25 over ear (mine are wired, but I’d invest in wireless if I were doing it again), and Mifo wireless earbuds.. Think, too, about how penned-in you like to be. Does working outside or next to a big sunny window seriously appeal to you? Put your desk in that spot. Do you do your best work when you are in a cave and have no distractions? Face a corner and pull the blinds. The people you are around, the things you can hear and the things you can see are all major inputs while you’re working. Think carefully about them and change the things that don’t work.

An amazing and wondrous thing about online work is that it’s accessible, in the sense that most of these tools have a desktop app, an iPhone app, and Android app, maybe Linux, and certainly a website as well. Tip 2: Set boundaries. You are in the marathon now. You signed up for a fun run, it turned into a 10k right around March 22nd, but now you’re doing it for realsies. Let’s go the full 26point2. You are never going to get there if you overtrain and never take a rest day. Take Slack and Zoom off your phone. Set appropriate expectations with the people who rely on you and who you work with most. If you say “I’m heading out! 👋🏻” at 5pm (local time), don’t come back unless there’s an emergency, or you have a prior commitment. Don’t read all the Slack channels in realtime. It’s really easy to be seduced by 24/7 always on culture. Your regular life will suffer for it. Set a clear start time and a clear end time, and stick to it.

When you’re communicating remotely, especially if you’re a lead, there’s a temptation to use all the tools and conference it up. Tip 3: Find the sweet spot between face-to-face communication (Zoom), realtime async communication (Slack), and permanent archive communication (we use P2). Not everything needs to be a meeting. Getting face time with people can be incredibly valuable, especially if that’s what you’re used to. But it can also be very tiring — not to mention inefficient — to expect people to hop on a video call (or even just a voice call) all day. Whether you share longer-form ideas in a shared Google Drive, or you start using some private WordPress blogs to post forum-style, find someplace where you can share those longer ideas and rip apart and rebuild ideas together, apart. Save your meetings for personal catch-up and for making decisions, not debate. Over-communicate in all things, but give everyone else the choice of how and when to engage with your communication.

Some of us need a lot of structure and working from home can seem too… loose. Others of us thrive on spontaneity, and working from home is perfect for finding the flow. Working from home successfully is like riding a bike every single day. You need to tweak, tighten, loosen, and figure out the ride of your bike to make it work. Tip 4: Establish your own work rituals (either alone or with your team) that make your days build into successful weeks, and your weeks to move purposefully towards established goals. Whether it’s listening to music, sitting down at a precise time, breaking for a tea break at exactly 11:04 am, or getting outside for a jog every afternoon, the little rituals you develop around your work make your work more effortless. When a ritual doesn’t work for you any longer, fiddle. Help yourself to maintain rituals — if you must have a steady supply of something (yarn to twist around your fingers while you think, an apple to chew through while writing your next day’s to-do list, a fully-charged headset, etc), make sure you plan ahead so your day doesn’t get snagged on a small upset. Smooth your own path, purposefully.

One final tip: You can start all of these now. Don’t wait for a perfect future state — it doesn’t exist. Start creating your strong processes, loosely held. You may not be able to go work in a coffee shop at the moment, but you can still experiment with the environment available to you, even if it’s just making sure your toddler has easy access to YouTube Kids, and working from the other end of the couch. You can take ownership of tiny parts of your workday, and make them start working better for you. Good luck, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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