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! πŸ‘‹πŸ»” 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.

New office space

My husband and I are sharing an “office” — we took an unused nook in our attic bedroom and repurposed it with a very uneven plastic folding table, and my old office chair. My set-up is closest to the window, and his is closer to the camera. We work at different times, so we only need one chair. All three cups are mine, and I’m not sorry.

Guess how many times I’ve hit my head! It’s more than 6!

Working remotely from a distance

I work remotely everyday, and have done so for more than 7 years. Like everyone else, though, my entire world has changed in the last few weeks. I usually work at a rented office — I don’t share it with anyone, and I could continue to work there probably, but I feel safer being at home. So I am adjusting to working actually from my house (which doesn’t have an office), and my husband and I are adjusting to figuring out how to manage the kids at home all day between the two of us, and the kids are figuring out how not to be jerks to each other (real mandate I gave them).

Right now, we’re switching off and working 6 hours Monday through Saturday. He’s going to the office from 8am-2pm, and I’m working from 2pm -8pm. The reality has been that he has things that come up, and I end up working later (both with the kids, and then at work-work). But that’s ok: we’re both adjusting to this. Bob is the director of public works for our city, and he’s had an incredibly draining week, figuring out what and who is essential to the functioning of the city, and also getting everyone on Slack so that communication doesn’t break down. I had a really easy time moving from my office to my house. I had an office backpack (one I keep at the office specifically to bring my office home), and I know exactly what to toss in it for a trip or extended period at home. It took me two extra minutes at the end of my day to transfer my work from the office to my house. It’s just not that easy for everyone. People have to figure out whole new methods of communicating, how often to communicate (over-communicate, people, when it doubt, over-communicate), and how to structure their lives again. It’s tough.

When I work now, it’s 10am Pacific, so I see those folks much more, and I see East coast people much less. I have almost zero overlap with Europe now, which is hard. I’ll be re-adjusting my schedule in microdoses in order to be able to connect with my leads in Europe and APAC. It’s like I’m visiting a new place, and experiencing a slightly different work environment because of it (like that joke, it’s like going to Toledo and Jeopardy is on at 7 instead of 7:30). But since everyone has gone to their own private Toledo, it’s not even predictable. I’m sure it will be, however. I have great faith in the team I work with and with Happiness at Automattic as a group to adapt, and keep rolling, while communicating clearly about what they need to do to take care of themselves.

Let me tell you about my days:

I get up with the kids, and I gin up breakfast for them (rarely is it gin, however). While I make my own breakfast, we put on TedEd and TedTalks. We themed this week Lemony Snicket (because Audible is reading us A Series of Unfortunate Events at bedtime), so they’ve done some Unfortunate art, and we’ve been watching TedTalks (or TedEds) about disasters or problems (being very relaxed on the theme, “problems” also includes riddles!) After breakfast and Ted, we do laundry. One twin (they’re 8.5) helps to empty the dryer, switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer, and start a new load in the washer. Then that same twin helps with folding and putting away the basket. The other twin plays with Grant. Then they switch jobs the next day. After laundry time we might go outside, or we might get math done. Eleanor has a math packet (and a bunch of online content) she’s been assigned, so she does that, and then Henry grades her. We do art or reading (sometimes both). Henry sometimes will use this time to work on coding. Much of my time while the twins are doing learning is spent with Grant. Around this time lunch rears it’s head, so I make them all sit down and articulate what they want (they tend to wander like lost cows if not actively corralled). They eat, and we either sit down for quiet time (a movie/reading), or we go outside. If we went outside, there’s a good chance that Grant needs a bath. By then, Bob is arriving home, and I head upstairs to get to work-work.

At work-work, I log on, and sometimes have a call or two lined up (on Zoom). Once those are over, I catch up on backscroll in Slack and all the pings I missed. Then I go through Basecamp and read all the posts/comments I missed overnight and during the day. Then I sweep email (I get P2 digests via email), and I pull out the posts I want to read in depth. I then read those P2 posts and comment/like, whatever, and move on. Then I can start with everything else. If this sounds like a lot, it’s not. I feel a sense of intense urgency for about the first hour. Then I realize that work is humming along smoothly. Yes, people are anxious. We are absolutely being really careful to make sure people are able to take care of themselves and their families. We are making sure to communicate and establish new schedules as best we can, and stick to them, then re-evaluate, and commit again. It’s shifting sand, but it works and it’s working pretty well as a whole, because this is a dynamic bunch that is used to working remotely. Even though individually we are stressed and scattered, the basic blocks of work are happening because our workplace hasn’t changed at all. We all “go” to work how we’ve always done, just sometimes with more coworkers.

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not! I can only speak for myself here, but this experience has shown me just how fortunate I am. I have an incredibly flexible job — I dropped a note in Slack over the weekend explaining my new schedule and my boss and team said “no problem.” I’ve been rescheduling calls with team members and everyone has understood and been flexible too. My kids are all healthy right now. This wasn’t the case a few weeks ago when Grant was in the hospital for severe asthma. I have a partner who can work from home and adjust his schedule in a way that means we can be here for each other. I live near parks and other places the kids can splash in puddles and ride their bikes.

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Who says the pools are closed?

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I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I feel a great sense of stability from having worked in a remote environment, and having that touchstone in all this turmoil is really important. I sincerely hope that more companies that are able to go distributed after this pandemic, do so. Not only is your entire workforce not in one city, but you have amazing talent able to provide stability across the entire world to those who really need it — their friends, family, coworkers.

I think this post hasn’t made much sense, but you’ll have to forgive me, as I feel pretty scattered this week. Here’s to a better one next week. Love you.


I took my best girl on a lunch date today. She chose the brownie and a side salad, with a deluxe hot chocolate.

Before we left, Bob asked that we bring him back a decaf Americano. As we were eating, a server asked if we needed anything and Ele reminded me to order dad’s “American Expresso.”

Buellton / Solvang

The next leg of our trip took us from Yosemite out to the coast. We took a fairly direct route, and ended up at Pismo Beach, where we went to a little joint called Chipwrecked, which I was disappointed with. But I loved being back on the coast. I got an almond milk latte which cleared up a lot of my concerns.

The drive out of Yosemite was slightly disastrous — both Henry and Grant began getting car sick. We took many, many short breaks on the verge of the road for them to stand outside the car looking green. Whenever Grant started picking up rocks to throw, we knew he was good enough to get back in the car. Something we talked about a lot, driving through California, was how lovely and different the landscape was every few hours. We drove down out of the mountains into rolling hills. The hills eventually settled down into very flat apparently fertile farmland (hard to tell in the middle of winter), with lots of signs that argued with each other about dams. We came up on another range of hills that let out onto the sea.

From Pismo Beach, we continued down the central coast to Buellton. We stopped at a winery on our way to Split Pea Andersen’s, which is where we used to go as little kids (as good Danes). We stayed at the Inn and had delicious split pea soup for dinner. The inn had a pool, so we went swimming even though it was just a little bit too cold for outdoor swimming, in the evening, in February.

The next day we swept into Solvang to do some laundry at the laundromat there, and to check out the town. We wandered around (visited a great bookshop!), got coffee, pet a lot of dogs, and really enjoyed the cutesy architecture. We also took the kids to visit OstrichLand, which, ho boy, was really something. They loved it! I thought we each would lose an eye. It did give me a chance to tell Bob about Australia’s Great Emu War. Unsurprisingly, he did not believe me. From Solvang, we headed south to San Clemente. Selected pictures:


β€œThe snow is melting into music.”

John Muir

We spent two nights in Yosemite, and it was not enough. We had glorious weather, that begged we stay outside, so we did. We arrived in the early afternoon, and parked across the meadow from Yosemite Falls. We ate our lunch gazing across the dormant grasses at the series of falls, and craning up at the top edges of the hanging valleys all around. We walked to Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and halfway to Vernal Falls. Horsetail was, alas, dry, so no firefalls for us this year. Bob and Henry woke up early to climb up some part of Yosemite Falls, and saw a bobcat! A raccoon visited our balcony, and Grant attempted to let it in. All in all, it was an adventure. Selected pictures:

Grant enjoying the view. Yosemite falls in the background.