A beginners guide, from some experts in the field.
There is a ton of information out there on working from home. You can find tips, tricks, and workarounds for most working situations. And now with Covid-19 sending everyone home, I'm sure you're being bombarded with tons of "this worked for me" examples from everyone you've ever friended on social media. And I'm sure those examples work for some people.
Most of us here at Apex, went from working solid 9-5+ office jobs to primarily working remotely. We have a corporate office, but half of our people live out of state, and the others only come into the office once a week. So we've been doing this remote stuff a long time. And it hasn't always been easy. We asked all of our people to give you their best advice. And most of it is really good (smirk).
Our president, David Knapp; is a machine. He works all the time. He used to have to come into the office to get stuff done. Now, working from home on his farm, he has 6 very solid tips for you:
- I find that early morning hours - 5am to 8am are perfect for creative and/or deeply technical work.
- I love the fact that I can schedule 30 minutes to have coffee with my wife every morning. And its great to have lunch together as well.
- I have a Ring door bell so that I can see who is at the door and ignore most of them (UPS delivery for example). This lets me keep working and not get interrupted.
- A separate workspace is really important. I have a beautiful office over the garage now but before that, I used the master closet (which has a window). I called it my “cloffice”.
- Having a scheduled end time and sticking to it is really important. Not having a drive time (where you try to avoid the traffic for example) means that it is easy to slip into a mode of “I want to get one more thing done”.
Mostly everyone at Apex would 100% recommend you get a Jabra. It's a small speaker / mic that works amazingly well. We have big Cisco conference phones in the office that we never use. Someone always has a Jabra, and it gets plugged in first thing in the morning.
The Jabra can be used to handle conference calls, but it can also stream music. Working from home means you can play whatever background sounds best get you in that "get stuff done" frame of mind. Pandora and Spotify are your musical friends.
Some other tips from our team involve having kids and working from home:
- With kids at home, things might be loud at times when working from an apartment - so like Dave mentioned - finding the most appropriate spot is key (may help and may not!) and if your spouse is working from home too, you need to coordinate for sure.
- One of us starting early in the morning can / will help with some of the schedule, as we may have to take turns to take care of kids.
Other tips on working from home? Make sure you still treat it like work:
- Act like you are at work - never wear sweatpants. Take a shower and be sure to dress up assuming you have to step out at a moment's notice. Doing this also makes you feel better.
- Make “water cooler” moments. You can do that with a shared channel in your instant messaging system, but also by joining meetings a couple minutes early and asking someone about their day.
- When you are working from the office and need something, you can walk to someone’s desk for a discussion. When working remotely, a Slack chat can often work, but many times it is better to hold a voice call, with or without screen sharing. (Try to avoid video conferencing though. Seeing your coworkers in their home attire and hairstyle may be disconcerting.)
100% - AVOID VIDEO CONFERENCING!
A long time ago, I heard that IBM made everyone on conference calls turn on the video feature. Someone asked if we should make that happen at Apex, to be closer to people you may not see all the time? Nope. No. Just don't do it.
You can't know what working from home for some people is like. Some people won't have a quiet space, some people will be at Starbucks to get free internet. Don't stress those people out by trying to schedule video calls. Just a phone call or chat will work just fine.
And now, here's what I've found works for working from home.
- Put on calendar reminders for everything, and turn the volume up on those! Sometimes you'll forget what time it is, and a meeting will sneak up on you. It happens. I have a 10 minute warning for every meeting, and do you know what happens in those 10 minutes? I get up, get a drink, have a biobreak, sometimes I let the dogs out, sometimes I eat a snack. I think I would be malnurished if I didn't have that reminder on.
- I have to have noise. I live in the city, there are people walking by, cars driving by, UPS, USPS, FedEx, Amazon trucks stopping all the time. I have to have music, or the TV on. I'm great at not paying attention to them, but I have to have something making human noises in the house, or I would be constantly looking up to see "what was that?".
- My husband also works from home. He puts on a fake pair of glasses when he needs to buckle down. I know when I see him in his fake glasses, not to interupt him. He says it boosts focus and concentration. Find your fake pair of glasses. (He also listens to podcasts while he works, I can't handle having someone talk to me while I'm working, which is what a podcast feels like to me. But TV? That's people talking to other TV people, and that I can tune out).
- Also - COFFEE ALL DAY!!!
At Apex, we live and breathe Agile. We use it for software development, but we also use it for as many of our other activities and projects as we can. Every day, at 10am we all get a Slack reminder, to submit our daily standup: "Reminder: Please submit your standup. What did I finish yesterday| What will I finish today? | What are my blockers? Submit before 10:30 am". It's a simple 3 lines. But they mean so much.
At 10:30 we have a 10 minute phone call, everyone calls in, we read through the first person's responses - "Anyone have questions for Erika?" No, ok on to the next person. "Anyone have questions for Xxxx?" It's a great way to keep up with what your team is doing no matter where they are located. And oftentimes, because we used to be able to just get up and ask someone for help but now can't, a standup is a great way to get help voluntarily.
We changed the wording of our standup status report from "what did I work on yesterday" to "what did I finish yesterday", inspired by this email from Joe Eames. This apparently trivial change of word choice really affects how you think about your status report and the work itself.
I recently picked up a copy of The Gift of Struggle. Highly recommend it. Great book. In the beginning the author tells a story of an experience that left a great impression on him. That profound experience guided him through much of his life and led him to great success. As I read this story I instantly remembered a similar experience in my own life.
As a young 22 year old programmer with barely 6 months of experience under my belt, I began working for a successful entrepreneur. This man had written all the original code for the business, and hired me as his first developer to help maintain the code. After several months we were chatting about the status of various projects, some of which were dragging on longer than desired (as software projects tend to) and he said something that struck me at the time, and has stuck with me as a guiding principle since that day.
When I told him that I was “still working on” one of the projects, he said to me, “there’s something I want you to think about. As the owner of the company, I don’t get paid to work on things. I only get paid when things get done. If you want to maximize your value, operate the same way.”
I don’t remember whether he was frustrated at the time that something was taking too long, or if he was just kindly giving me some advice as a friend. But I remember thinking about what he said over and over through the years, and how I used it as a guiding principle in many of the things I’ve done.
First as an employee, those who ultimately decide my fate have priorities built around me getting things done, not just working at something. Outside of work, projects that I do for my career, whether that be organizing meetups, giving talks, creating courses, or running conferences, the same thing applies. The value is only created when the project gets done.
This doesn’t mean that I cut corners, or unnecessarily rush projects. If you read my code quality emails you’ll hear me talk about spending extra time crafting your code. As a proponent of automated testing, I encourage people to spend extra time writing tests along with their code.
But it does affect how I think about my work. It’s tempting to go to work and just try to fill my day with activity. But when I focus instead on moving things to completion, I achieve the goals of my managers and bosses. And in the process I make myself more and more valuable to them.
Financially, the projects I’ve done that I didn’t get paid for until they were finished were by far the most valuable to me.
Well, that's all I have for you. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions you have. Even though we work from home a lot, most of our customers don't. So this is a time of learning for all of us.