With the current pandemic a lot of people are now working from home full-time and we all need to adjust to a new way of balancing work and life. Not only that, we are not having a normal “work-from-home” situation. This is a “work-from-home-while-living-through-a-pandemic-that-can-potentially-wipe-out-the-family” situation.
So there are a few challenges to face, but those of us who have been doing DevRel as remote workers for a while can at least help with some tips for working from home over a prolonged period of time, and some for dealing with all of this mess right now with COVID-19. Here are some things I’ve found work for me, hopefully they work for you!
A lot of the following tips are for getting used to the remote work thing, but the reason many of you are having to start doing this work outside the office is because of measures taken by governments to #FlattenTheCurve. We’re all fighting this together, as a global community, and it is everywhere we go. There is no escaping it.
That creates a toll on mental health.
I am not a mental health expert, I cannot guide you in how you can tell if you need to practice more self-care, but one piece of advice I can give you is that you need to recognize that this is not normal.
It is OK to not be OK.
Even if you get all the working from home (WFH) pieces right, you might still find you are unable to focus or be as productive as you used to be. For me it’s harder to find mental energy to drive strategic programs that need longer-term thinking. Smaller, tactical, tasks work for me to keep me moving and getting stuff done. I try to limit strategic initiative effort per day/week in some way to keep my mental reserves from depleting.
Remember also that you should not judge a WFH experience based on what you are going through right now. Like I said, this is not normal WFH. Hopefully some of the following tips will be able to help you now and also going forward once we get out of this!
When working at home, it’s important to have a way to switch your brain into “work” mode, and separate work from regular life. Without that, you can feel like you are always working. Everybody has their own ritual that works for them. Some grab a cup of coffee, or get showered/dressed just the same as if going to work, do some exercise, or walk around the block to ‘commute’.
My ritual is to put away dishes in the kitchen, make a breakfast, and then press the “Work profile” button on my phone (Android feature), signaling to myself that I’m now working. I then “commute” back upstairs to the home office. I turn it off at the end of the day, signaling that I’m done, and close the laptop lid. This little repeated ritual allows my brain to feel like work is over, even though I’ve been at home the whole time.
Over a decade ago, I needed to work from home for an extended period of time while I recovered from some minor surgery. I thought “this is great, I don’t even have to get out of bed all day!”. This was a mistake. Your “office” was always there, it was too easy to just log in and check on stuff or do that one last email or fix one more bug when I woke up with my brain saying “IT WAS THE HOST CONFIG!”
I realize not everybody has this luxury. Back when I was working in Montreal in the early 2000s, I had an apartment that was essentially one big room. The only furniture I owned was a futon that was always folded out for sleeping. This was not an ideal way to separate life and work. But even here, try to have a separate desk or table where you can create a “work” space that is separate from your “rest” space. The more space you can put between your office space and your sleeping quarters, the better you will be able to balance work/life.
Video is helpful, but isn’t necessary for this. The key is to connect regularly. Do calls, connect with your own team, participate in community discussions. Make sure that you are talking about more than just work, make sure to get personal too.
There are loads of collaboration tools out there. Teams and Zoom are some of the top ones right now that help with this. Very easy to connect with video and I rarely have issues. Especially great when you want to pull in multiple folks for an adhoc discussion.
The Sitecore community has started a great #SitecoreLunch initiative with a regular weekly Zoom call that happens Fridays at 12:15pm eastern time. It helps people to connect with each other and just chat. Such a great way to help fight the isolation!
For more asynchronous connections, you need a tool that can support chats and ongoing file sharing/discussions/etc. Working Out Loud is definitely a thing, and it helps everybody know what is going on. This doesn’t mean write about everything you are doing, but make sure you are sharing stuff that people can comment on. Ask for feedback, tips, and help. Get connected! Tools like Slack and Teams are very common here.
Some folks have great setups where the background is very blank and no possibility of people jumping in behind them. However, that’s not always the case. Teams has a great feature where you can blur your background (Zoom has virtual backgrounds if you use Zoom). When working from home this is important because you may have roommates/partners/kids/friends/family members suddenly walking by or entering into camera view without realizing they are now on a video call. For their own privacy and sanity, it’s good to have the blurring on (or virtual backgrounds) so that everybody can feel secure that they didn’t just get recorded while wearing their Thundercats sleep shirt.
Our team generates a lot of DevRel content, so we have our own dedicated planning board to track everything we’re working on. We make sure that there are touchpoints in there where other members of the team have to get involved. For me, this lets me see what other people are working on, and connect back and forth with questions.
For example, this past while, @RobEarlam and I have been going back and forth on Docker content that we want to publish. This was a great chance for me to learn from Rob but also for Rob to get some feedback on ways to make it easy for a beginner.
Another piece is making sure there are projects where we get to work closely together on something. This creates bonding moments and also keeps me from feeling lonely when not getting to see my team for such long periods of time.
Seriously, it’s a problem! (At least for me). If I have snacks within arms reach, they get eaten. The further away you can put things to eat, the better. I make sure I work at least a flight of stairs away from food so that if I feel the desire to snack on something I need to consciously get up, stop what I’m doing, and get some exercise going up and down the stairs.
This helps simulate the same decision you have in an office to go to the shared communal space where there may be meals or snacks available.
One of the great things about working from home is you can take advantage of the benefits of being steps away from the comforts of home. Maybe for you that is having lunch with your partner, seeing your kids off to school, playing your guitar… everybody has their thing. Being able to help a kid at nap time or feed a child their first taste of pear is an amazing thing to be able to be a part of that I would have otherwise missed by being in the office.
That being said, when you are new to working from home all those distractions that are available to you can be, well, distracting. Learning to focus and create boundaries with family members is definitely a key component of being successful at working from home!
Note: Most photos here are from Unsplash, though I'm pulling from the version uploaded to jasonstcyr.com. I have added links on the stock photos that will take you to the original artists if you are interested in more of their work!
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