Still working from home after all those years
We are all experts in working from home now, right?
Since March 2020 we’ve been stuck in this strange situation where time has stopped and we are working regularly from home, at least almost everyone in the software industry. Because we were already a bit ahead of the curve.
I was seeing more and more remote work since at least a few years before. The first time that I had any meaningful remote work was around 2005. Back then, I was working as a consultant and I had regular meetings with customers onsite, carrying a laptop. Somedays I would finish the reports and other work from home, as it didn’t make sense to get back to the office. It was a small company, but most people will have similar experiences, some days not going to the office.
It took a while for me to encounter back in a situation where remote work was common, but in the last half of the 2010 it was more and more common. I knew some people that moved countries and kept their jobs, so they work mostly remotely. And on-call work routinely require people being able to connect from their homes, setting up a VPN, etc.
That was growing over time. Three years ago, it was common where I worked to work from home one or two days of the week, and I’ve been taking advantage of going for a month overseas to Spain and keep working remotely most days.
But now it has taken a sudden acceleration, and we experienced quite a lot of work from home. I’m going just to put in writing some of the elements I think are quite important in this, or at least they are for me.
While for working sparingly one day or two you can sit on the kitchen table or from the coach, this is hardly a sustainable option. You need a dedicated space that can be used for working effectively day after day.
A nice desk, a proper chair, sunlight, etc are all must-haves. In some of the first months of the pandemic, a great investment I did was to purchase a second-hand Aeron chair that’s really confortable and much better than the chair that I was using previously. My initial intention was to perhaps move it to the office after things settled but, well, here we are about to enter into 2022 and it still seems like it’s going to stay here.
Ergonomics is a huge problem with people that works all day with keyboards. We only have one set of hands and arms, and one back. We need to take proper care of them. Remember to set the chair and desk at the proper level to keep a neutral position.
One of the good things of working from home is that you are not bound as much into your space all the time. You can take breaks for a little while and go to the balcony or to the garden to take a call if the weather allows it, or the coach for a couple of hours.
A good option is to create your own standing desk to be able to use it for some time. I have one, that I use quite rarely, but I can set it up with a tall chest drawer from IKEA. I just put the computer on top, and set a cardboard box as desk in one of the drawers at the proper height. It’s a bit crude, but allows to stretch the legs!
One of the great things of working remotely is that it allows a more flexible life-style.
Obviously, there’s the fact that no commute means effectively more time, but there are also other perks.
Like eating at home, and being able to cook fresh food, instead of preparing a sandwich the day before or buy one. Or be able to take a break away from the computer from the debugging process and take the garbage out while thinking on the bug.
A common problem with working remotely is actually taking less breaks than you’ll do while working in the office. There’s less social interaction, and there’s not the same dynamics that allow to grab a Coffe with coworkers or have a good break for lunch from time to time. Precisely for that there’s the need to introduce more conscious breaks and introduce routines that allows to, first, leave the chair for a while and introduce some physical activity into the day; and second, to rest mentally from work and remote meetings.
Remember that there are natural breaks in an office environment, and they are all good and natural. Same thing should happen in working remotely. Don’t be afraid to reserve space in the calendar for activities like having proper lunch, walk the dog, school run, doing 10 minutes of yoga or anything that’s reasonable and can be worked around the schedule.
To be able to work effectively remotely with the rest of the team, you need that an Internet connection as good as possible.
This typically will be a decent fibre or other kind of broadband connection and a local network. We are reaching an interesting point where it’s quite likely that the connection at home will be way better than the WiFi speed in multiple points of the house.
It’s way better to have Ethernet connection, if possible, as it will be way more stable and reliable, but unfortunately, that requires wires going everywhere, which will require either cumbersome cables lying around or proper installation inside the walls, which may be costly. There’s the option of using PLC adaptors in some cases (effectively using your power wires as communication ones), but, in my experience, the speeds achieved are not fantastic.
A good router with more reach and modern WiFi protocols can be better than the ones typically provided by the broadband company.
Another alternative that is getting better and better is actually tethering from a mobile phone. 4G speeds are normally quite good, and now we are starting seeing 5G connections in cities. It’s probably not good enough for regular times, but it’s always good for certain spots, like taking a meeting while sitting in the garden; or to be able to take a day off the city and go to a country house for a day, all while continue working. Ok, perhaps half day.
It seems that remote work is here to stay. I think that most of us developers doesn’t want to go back to a world where 100% is required to be in an office. This last two years have been a transformative event where we learned as we go the hurdles of remote work.
This means also that we discover what are the good parts of physically being in the same building with other humans, and probably there’ll be some form of hybrid arrangement where we will gather in the same place from time to time. But however this is leading to, I’m pretty sure that remote work will play an important role, and being prepared with a comfortable and ready place at home, as well as a proper structured way of approaching it, will be important.