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Matt Lawrence ☕
Matt Lawrence ☕

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Working from Home

If you’re new to working from home, then you’re probably a little nervous about how it’s all going to work out. How will you be productive without your team members next to you? How are you going to avoid all those distractions at home? Will you be able to get all your work done? With the sad development of coronavirus (COVID-19) ravaging through many countries worldwide, many companies and individuals have made the choice to close the office in favour of remote work. While most programmers and technical staff are used to some sort of working from home scenario, there are a lot of us that are being torn from our comfort zone of commuting to the office and chatting at the water cooler. As an entrepreneur, I’ve been working from home for the past ~5 years, and while I used to work in an office prior to opening my own business, I’m happy to report that you can be super productive with just some adapting. So, let’s address some of the most common questions…

How will you be productive without your team members next to you?

One of the most common gripes I hear about remote work is that you don’t have the convenience of tapping on your colleague’s shoulder to ask a question. While this is true, we have the next best thing – chatting apps. Whether it be Slack, or WhatsApp, or whatever solution your workplace uses, chatting apps are more than just a tool to keep in touch when you’re out of your normal working hours.
Let’s take a common scenario for a web developer. You receive an AdobeXD prototype from the design team and you’re tasked with creating a client’s website from it. You start coding away and suddenly you realize – Is that a slider from left-to-right? Or does it just fade through the images in place?

Ideal Office Solution
You get up from your desk, walk over to the designer’s desk and ask them how the slider works. You then take that information, go back to your desk and continue developing away. But…this isn’t the utopia of offices and it’s hardly ever this easy…

Typical Office Solution
You get up from your desk, walk over to the designer’s desk and they’re not there. So you ask one of their team members and they say something like “Oh they left a little while ago, they’ll probably be back in a few minutes” Since you’ve got a few minutes to spare, you’ll probably end up chatting with that team member for 10 minutes before realizing the designer you came to speak to isn’t back yet – so you go back to your desk and send them a message (email or otherwise) asking for information. In this scenario you not only wasted time walking over, but you also wasted yours and your colleague’s time chatting while waiting for someone that might be gone for hours.

Working from Home Solution
You send a message (email or otherwise) to the designer asking them for additional details and then begin work on another portion of the page while you wait for the designer to respond. You’re not only saving the time it took to walk over to your colleague’s desk (which is minimal I know), but you’re also saving yourself from potential distraction of chatting with one of their team, or another colleague you might bump into.

How are you going to avoid all those distractions at home?

If you’re like most people, then your home is designed to distract you after a long day of work. It’s the place where you might play some Xbox, watch a little Netflix, hangout in the workshop, or even take a nap on the couch. As a result, many new remote workers are often worried about their own ability to set these distractions aside and get some work done. Not everyone’s work ethic or discipline is iron clad, and it’s just too easy to lay down after lunch for a nap.

Luckily though, and I’m a bit of an outlier in this regard, I actually don’t think you should fight these distractions too much. As discussed in the episode “What We Need to Do Better” of the HTML All The Things Podcast, I mentioned that instead of fighting off my distractions all the time, I indulge them – within reason. If I’m really not into the work I’m about to do and I’d rather watch something, I’ll pull up some Netflix, throw it onto my second monitor and then continue to work and watch. Slowly but surely, I get into what I’m working on and the Netflix becomes a distraction, so I pause it. This also works when I start getting worked up about something, when I get anxious, I take a brief video break, and slowly head back into the work. The key is not doing something that you know will pull your attention away for hours, or that’s too involved. If you like to build things for a hobby, you shouldn’t “take a brief break” and build an entire table – that’s not going to work. However, if you’re really itching to get back into the workshop, maybe you can start drafting up some plans for a new project, or finish sanding a section of a work in progress. If you’re like me, you’ll eventually start feeling guilty about stepping away from the computer, so you’ll sit back down refreshed and ready to get back to work. I believe it’s unrealistic that humans won’t be distracted in this day and age between our smartphones delivering hundreds of push notifications, to news reports piling in, and just the everyday workplace stress level – we’ll inevitably want to step away and do something else. Get it out of your system, then get back to work.

Will you be able to get all your work done?

Speaking generally, this relies on you not your environment. Some people work better with a lot of background noise and goings-on that happen in an office, while others need silence to focus - everyone is different. While a lot of remote workers will tell you to work in a café, you might be hesitant due to the climate (coronavirus). Assuming you’re staying in you can do a few things to help you get the environment you need.

If you need a quiet environment:

  • Finding a quiet room in solidarity might do the trick
  • If your home is noisy, then grabbing some ear plugs – or even noise cancelling headphones with nothing playing

If you need a noisy environment:

  • Playing a podcast, or a TV show that you’ve seen before (so you mostly listen to the audio)
  • Having a fan, or other white noise playing
  • Utilizing a variety of different “Focus” playlists that can be found on Spotify and other music streaming services
  • Moving from a quiet study, or home office, into the one of the more lived in areas of your home like a kitchen or living room

If all else fails:

  • If you’re a person that really needs that office environment and you’re not allowed to go in, you could always utilize something like a co-working space. Co-working spaces are offices that you can rent a space in for a day/week/month sometimes even just a few hours. They’re generally filled with a bunch of different businesses all doing different things, but together they generate the same sort of typical office environment you’d probably expect. Again, however, these co-working spaces can be crowded and with the current COVID-19 situation you’ll probably want to try and stay home as much as possible.
  • Force yourself to adapt – yeah, I know it sucks – But at the end of the day you’ll eventually get used to working in your home office. It might take a couple days before your productivity starts to improve, but if you stick with it, you’ll eventually find the home environment that’s right for you. It’s important to not focus on how uncomfortable you are working from home, how much you want to work in the office, or how unproductive you are. Just sit down and keep at it, it’s just like a new job, you get overwhelmed the first few days or weeks, but slowly you learn little tricks and adaptations that get you through the workdays with ease.

This article is also available on Medium

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