Working from Home

Andy

Andy
Written on 23rd March 2020

The development team are now working from home - find out how we're getting on and pick up a few handy tips about home working.

These are strange times. I'm looking out of my office window, and I should see (and hear!) children walking to school, and the rush hour traffic should be in full swing.
But it isn't. And it's not my usual office window I'm looking out of either. It's my home office.

I'm Working From Home!

At Webnetism we're pretty fortunate in that most of our work for customers can be achieved well away from customers - and indeed away from our colleagues. While the hard-core of administrative and warehouse staff have had to stay to man the business for now, the development and design teams have been sent home to fend for themselves.

From a technical point of view, it's not an issue. We've got access to the company's Virtual Private Network, which means that we can use our usual office-based computers and hardware without leaving the comfort of our own home. 

Pyschologically, it's a whole different ball game. So here is Andy's Completely Unoffical Guide to Working From Home.

Space

First and foremost, it's important to have your own space. I don't have any spare rooms in my house, but what I do have is a cupboard.

Well, it used to be a kind of  above-the-stairs wardrobe, just off the master bedroom, and in terms of floorspace it's barely more than a square metre. But it does have a window. And a desk, and some shelves. Obviously once I'm sat at the desk I can't shut the door any more, but how much privacy do I need?

My friends call it my coding cupboard. My wife calls it her office because it's where she wrote her PhD.

You may be luckier and have a whole room you can convert to an office. You may be less lucky and have to commandeer part of the dining room table. Whatever - make it clear to anybody else you are unfortunate enough to be sharing with, that between 9 and 5:30 (or whatever, we'll get to that) this is your office space. Although you should also make it clear that they are allowed to bring cups of tea.

Equipment

I don't know what your job involves, but mine involves sitting at a desk coding high-quality applications and websites. So all I need is a desk (see above) and a computer. I don't need a massively high spec computer at home, as all this one does is connect to my work computer, allowing me to remote-control all my normal applications. I'm using a 15 year old (but much modified) Pentium desktop. It's fine.

I've also got two monitors (I like two monitors. Two is an absolute minimum for me!) and a headset and camera for video calls.

Oh, and a comfy chair. This is very important. I probably should have put it first.

Software

Once the VPN is connected I'm using Microsoft Remote Desktop to access my office desktop PC and everything on it, and I'm using Microsoft Teams to keep in touch with the rest of the company. I don't need anything else, it's all on my remote PC.

Time

Some people find it distracting working from home - or in any new or different environment come to that - so try to limit those distractions. Set yourself a schedule, and make sure everyone knows when you've started (and finished) work, and when your lunch breaks are likely to be.

If you're home alone, even the silence can be distracting. I find having a radio on in a different room creates just the right background hum. Experiment with what works for you.

Don't forget to have breaks. While it's important to knuckle-down and get on, it's also important to step back occasionaly and not get too immersed. Get away from your desk at lunchtime - perhaps step outside for some fresh air and daylight. Remember, you're missing out on the commute and a lot of other social activities at the moment, so snatching a few minutes of "the outdoors" every now and then is a good idea. Even if it's just to stare at the horizon and rest your screen-weary eyes for a few minutes.

Colleagues

You should remember the rest of your team, especially as they're probably in the same boat as you.

As detailed elsewhere, we manage all our projects using Agile, so we have at least one development teem meeting every day. We now conduct this over Microsoft Teams as a video conference call - hearing another voice is great, but if you can add video all the better. It makes you feel so much less disconnected if you can see a few familiar faces. It helps to return some normality to your working day. (My wife has nabbed my new laptop with the built in camera, so I've borrowed the GoPro from my motorbike and that's now my PC WebCam).

Teams also lets me chat with individual members of the team - handy for work related queries, but also great if you feel the need to share a meme or blow off some steam!

It lets you share your desktop too - handy for demos, or technical problems you want to share with the team.

Be Positive!

Consider all the benefits. You're saving fuel (and the planet) by cutting out the daily commute. The time that you would have spent in traffic is now yours.
Mundane things like the ability to nip downstairs and load the washing machine or turn on the oven all save you time in the long run. No matter how slightly, it'll improve your work-life balance. It all adds up.

With that, I'm off to feed our pet rabbit.


Stay healthy, keep your distance and wash your hands!


 

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