Luckily, as of this writing, I am employed. I’m a software developer so despite my company’s overall reticence to the idea, I have been working remotely for a number of weeks. I’m not sure how tenuous my position is with the current and future state of the economy. I have a number of friends that have lost their jobs and I know the latest unemployment figures are staggering. In terms of coping, the only thing I can offer input on is on how to work effectively while remote.
I live with my fiancée who is also now working from home. Being stuck in the same room with anyone 24/7 for an indefinite amount of time, regardless of relationship, is likely not good for that relationship, whether it be a spouse, friend, or acquaintance. Our solution has been to set up separate workstations in different rooms. We each work normal hours (8-5). We text each other as if we’re both at our physical workplaces during the day, and “meet up” for our lunch hour. This bit of manufactured normalcy allows us to keep some semblance of an ordinary day and is of the utmost importance in maintaining sanity.
A strange thing happens when a non-remote company goes remote - I've seen this phenomenon a couple of times prior to the pandemic, and every time the work shifts to remote, employees typically work far harder than when they are in-office. My idea on why this occurs is wide-ranging and the topic of another future article, but in summary, I theorize that there’s some cultural insecurity around “being busy” that drives employees to work flat out in order to “prove their worth”.
On a good (non-pandemic) day, software engineers aren't the most assertive people. If you’re the kind of worker that puts in 80 hours a week while working in-office, you’re going to have an uphill battle during remote. Reasoning will start to fly that it’s not a huge deal for you to hop on the computer at any hour, day or night, “What’s the big deal, you can’t go outside anyways?”. Everyone needs to decide for themselves what their non-negotiables are - if someone tries to negotiate with those, you don’t need to provide reasoning, you just say no. Of course you are then responsible for the consequences of that no. The good news is that if you’re fired over standing up for something that’s important to you, that position wasn’t a good fit for you anyways.
Turning off your work phone at 5PM is a good start. If you’re responsible for company tech (Site Reliability Engineer, Dev, etc.) you might give your supervisor your direct line in case there is some kind of P1 issue - site down, revenue being seriously impacted, etc. Chances are you know what constitutes a P1 issue and what doesn’t, use your judgement.
My work computer also goes off at 5PM. This is how I typically operate in-office too, that way it has a fresh reboot every day. I have a personal computer that I work on personal projects on. Having that division is helpful for me.
The most notable thing that goes away when going remote is office smalltalk. In one sense, this has been a massive relief. No more am I plagued by distractions while trying to work on a complex piece of code — my hatred of open office plans constitutes another post. In another sense, deep work must be broken up by social activity as it usually promotes deep background thinking. In order to alleviate this, I try to schedule chit-chat with other coworkers - usually around some non-work-related topic. I talked stock market with a coworker last week. When I came back to a coding problem I had been struggling with, the answer was obvious to me.
Most of us are probably going to come out of this pandemic a few pounds heavier. If you’re working remote, your office is now just feet away from a bunch of your favorite foods. Plus eating while bored is fun! Two things have helped me curb these bad habits and keep good physical fitness.
Work with what you have. I have the following minimal setup:
- 50lb Kettlebell
- Yoga Mat
- Elastic Bands
- Rock Climbing Holds
One of the keys to incentivizing myself to workout during this has been to set aside a space for it. Over the past weekend I mounted my rock climbing holds into a supporting beam in the garage. I’ve been parking my car outside and using the garage as a “gym”. Having the separate space has been a good disconnect from the office, or relaxing areas of our apartment.
If you don’t have a lot of space, you can decide that when you’re on your yoga mat, you are in the “gym”. I think having some kind of mental distinction is key.
Unless you have a serious home setup, you’re probably not going to be setting PRs, but you can keep a good baseline level of fitness even with just bodyweight movements.
Practicing intermittent fasting for 20 hours a day (20:4) has helped me with overeating. I’m not good at portion control, so it’s simply easier for me to decide times of the day when I can and can’t eat. The black and white thinking allows me to more easily assert my willpower over the hunger.
Get out multiple times a day while the sun is up. Go for 10-15 minute walks. I've also been supplementing with large doses of vitamin D in addition to this, which has positive effects on mood and immunity.
On the weekends I try to get to the park and go on a longer hike. The doom-mongers will think that this is irresponsible. Despite what’s being reported on the media, I’ve found parks that are very empty of people - you may have to go on a scouting drive to find one, but I promise that if I can find them in the densely-populated LA area, you can likely find them near you. FWIW they’ve typically been the “less popular” ones even before the pandemic. You don’t need the most scenic vista, just some room to roam and reconnect with nature.
That’s all I have on working from home tips for the pandemic. Stay safe, stay employed, stay healthy, but above all, stay true to yourself.