WFH

Since the whole world is now working from home (terms and conditions may apply), everybody else is writing their working from home tips. I didn’t want to feel left out.

The way I see it, there are two related aspects: first, how you deal with it; two, how your office culture deals with it.

If you’re asked to work from home, you need to make the most of it. But right out the gate, it’s important to note that it doesn’t suit everyone. It sounds good, but some people just find it hard to be productive when there are distractions, from housework to a Nintendo, and they find it hard to manage without the face-to-face social interactions. There are many reasons and there’s no shame in admitting it’s not for you.

Of course, right now it’s not much of a choice for most of us. The common tips are stick to a routine, actually get dressed, and have a specific, physical work place. All these are good. I’m not going to argue with those, but it’s not the whole story.

Is it all about maximising productivity? Not everything I do is about increasing the amount of work I do, not directly at least. By not commuting I gain somewhere between ninety minutes and two hours a day. Honestly, I probably do spend some of that working, but I also exercise and have dinner with my family. I try to get some reading in. Occasionally do household chores. Getting the balance between taking advantage of the situation and Getting Stuff Done is the challenge and the hardest bit is that it’s you that has to set those limits.

What I’m saying is, don’t be afraid to mix things up a little to keep your sanity.

And, finally, one of the best things is that I can control my environment the whole day. In practice, that means that I play music most of the time without having to wear headphones! Game changer.

The other side is how your employer and your colleagues manage. This is the hard bit.

These days the technology is pretty good. When I first worked from home a decade ago, I found it difficult. Now we have fast broadband, collaboration software like Slack and reliable web conferencing software.

But, as William Gibson said, the future is here it’s just not evenly distributed. Just because the software exists, doesn’t mean your employer allows you to use it. And just because you have it, doesn’t mean that your team will use it well1.

One of the problems I had a decade ago was that there was a big development centre where most employees worked and there were a handful of people, like me, working remotely. Because most people were in the office, we remote workers often got forgotten.

The current situation means that we’re all remote, which, as odd as it sounds, actually helps.

Participating in remote meetings, using Zoom or Skype or whatever, is a skill that everyone needs to learn. Mute if you’re not talking. Agree whether you are or are not going to use video — being aware that video uses more bandwidth which might be a challenge if multiple people are working from home!

Using Slack or Microsoft Teams is also a learned skill. If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to new users, it’s err on the side of having discussions in public. It’s often tempting to directly message an individual or make channels private, but often the team can benefit from the answer or maybe the person you’re asking isn’t there currently.

Also, make sure you set aside a channel for chit-chat. You don’t only talk about work in the office so why would you expect that to be any different online?

What I’m saying is that working from home, counterintuitively, is a skill that everyone will need to learn. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you don’t know the etiquette of a web conference or a Slack conference. And managers who are used to being able to physically look over their staff will have to get used to trusting them to do their jobs.

As bad as this this situation is, if we all learn that our jobs can be completed without commuting and our managers learn not to micromanage, maybe we’ll come out of this with a stronger working culture.


  1. I’m leaving aside issues such as companies having VPN software but not enough licences. There’s no magic in solving this problem. ↩︎

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