Making Working From Home Work

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This is a cross-post from my miscellanea blog.

First Thing's First

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! 🍀🇮🇪🍻☘️

It may not be a great time for going out, but it's my hope everyone finds some small way to celebrate and have a bit of fun, since lots of peoples's anxiety levels are probably elevated. In any case, have a good, fun time, and hopefully don't do anything that'll scare the pets, kids, or your spouse. 😆

Making Working From Home Work

I've been working from home in a remote capacity for nearly three years now. I've learned a few tricks to how to help things work for me, so I figured I'd share a couple observations and recommendations, in the hopes it aids someone else who is recently starting their working from home. I won't seek to dwell on the severity of COVID-19 and its spread, but I do hope you all stay safe, clean, and do what's needed to help out in this crazy time.

Working from home is a larger topic than many expect, especially amongst those whose first time it is. The complex part is that what works for me may not work for you, making all the articles or posts offering up sage advice may be entirely useless, at least to you or someone. That being said, I have a few suggestions of what to try out and, hopefully, aid you in your quest to make working from home a bit less of an ordeal.

Embrace Some Routine

I normally have a distaste for routine, not because it's unworthy of having one, but because it's uninteresting. Compared to a daily commute to and from an office or work site, a commute from home can be ridiculously small, for those who are lazy or incredibly late in waking up without an alarm. My absolute bare minimum is about 20 feet or so down the hall to my home office.

While that sounds great and efficient, as many of us "lazy" developers can strive to be, it also brings with it some warning bells. Laziness in the sense of a lazy (read efficient) developer can make for a great strive to pursue efficient solutions, but shorting yourself on the separation of work and home life means that while you can work from home, you'll never be free of thoughts about work. The separateion for me involves a dedicate space that when I go to it, is where I work. That I can go to a room and close the door and be "at work" is the best way I start my morning.

My morning coffee breaks involve me heading downstairs to my kitchen. It's easy to let the home life distract while not in a dedicated work space, so time boxing yourself is a great way of limiting that potentialtiy. For me, getting coffee shouldn't take more than about 5 minutes, especially if I ride a restroom break in around then. This again gives me that separation between active work time at my desk and the other things I'd have to get away from my desk for in a brick and mortar space.

Recommendations

  • use a dedicated space

    • unless you need to stretch legs
    • get coffee
    • take a long conference call outside, because that can make the difference in long-running meetings that don't require a second monitor
  • time-box your distractions

    • give yourself the opportunity to leave your work cave
    • keep distractions at bay
    • hard rules versus soft rules are things you need to find for yourself, such as whether you can listen to a podcast or have a tv on in the background
  • protect that separation

    • let any family members know your expectations while working
    • help set up expectations for others so that they have their own dedicated time/space (this bleeds into the next section)
  • re-assess what works or doesn't for you

    • not recognizing issues or successes is like operating blind
    • don't beat yourself up too much, if you need to change something up, do it, and learn from the experience

As A Parent

Looking at things a month ago, my kid likes to come and check in on me after getting home close to my end of work day. Because I've set expectations, she knows to check if my door's open, if I'm on a call to check to see if she can talk to me first, and to let me inform her when I'll be done. These drop-ins are usually far faster than anything any of my former office coworkers would have done and, since we have expectations on both sides, far less distracting.

Living with a kid who's now staying at home from school, it's important to help cater to their needs, while you cater to your work needs. Kids have a normally quite structured environment, from their classes during the day, recess at regular intervals, even class structure even for my kindergartener involves a lot of routine. There's nothing wrong letting them have art for a while, painting or coloring, then letting them know to wrap things up and head outside to burn off some energy. This is all a part of their norm anyway, so have a rough plan, follow it as best as you can, and as with everything else, manage everyone's expectations.

As it happens, my kid's school sent home some study packets to help with figuring out what some of those efforts should be. My kid's class even had a video conference this morning for some face to face time, questions, along with a story time. This helped a lot with some of the re-establishment of routine, as even young kids know that things aren't normal right now. With some family self-quarantined and some at further distance, we're beginning to schedule some semi-regular video calls to help keep with a sense of connection and interaction beyond just with those of us at home.

Recommendations

  • have a plan
  • plan on breaks, call it recess if you need to, and make sure they burn some of that energy
  • family walks are good, just manage expectations about social distancing with neighbors and any nearby playgrounds

    • we got about an inch (25.4mm) of snow last night and the sandbox and swing set in our yard was still used today
    • our patio furniture may be stored ahead of usual schedule, if nothing more than to provide more of an opportunity for outdoor time
    • sidewalk chalk is a good choice with a clear ground and can help with big fun
  • don't stress it all and see what works for you and your kids, one size doesn't fit all, nor should it

Influx of Other Home/Remote Workers

This is tricky one for me at the moment, as my previously normal routine is now full of other people in the house during the day. My dog is about the perfect office coworker in that she almost never needs anything, except infrequently going outside during the day, and is always up for a lunch break walk. Now, we have a kid's daily schedule to manage and my wife is set up in our living room for her work. We've achieved a good rhythym now, but the first day was interesting.

The largest change for me beyond the physical presence of my family members has been that instead of making breakfast and lunch for just myself, while making our family dinner about half the time, now I'm helping make breakfast and lunch for three people. This takes a bit more forethought and preparation, so setting the alarm a little bit sooner can help out. We've found ourselves looking beyond mere breakfast cereal a bit more and I have no doubt we'll be getting crazy with some breakfast ideas before long. We've already done breakfast tacos once this week, so it's bound to improve.

The key for us was, as mentioned above, not stressing out over the small things and to manage our expectations for each other and ourselves. We discussed with our daughter what we expected of her during our day and she's been great in adapting with us. My wife and I are taking turns during our meeting heavy times of the day to trade off on who's the parent on point for assisting my kid with anything from getting a snack to preparing some cardboard, newspaper, and water color paint, or the like. It's working out pretty well, and most people adapt over time, so the biggest take away in my opinion is to take it a step at a time and not sweat the small stuff.

Recommendations

  • don't sweat the small stuff, seriously; we're all in this together, if remotely, and many of us won't have minor things like the whole family being home as an issue
  • plan out your meals in advance

    • as much as you can, since many people are now making breakfast, lunch, and dinner for their whole family
    • barring a true plan, have a rough idea of what meals to have, or what level of leftovers you're at
  • go through your pantry and/or your freezer

    • chances are there's more there than you remember
    • cycling through is always a good idea
  • bake some bread

    • seriously, if you bake fresh bread, you'll be the hero of the day
    • maybe make some pizza dough and do pizzas on a stone or on the grill
    • the strange science of baking is pretty fun for kids to learn about too

Extra Referenes

Here are a few online things that can help aid you and your kids. A good number of items are on YouTube.

Kids

  • Cosmic Kids Yoga, there's no magic here, it's yoga, but with theming and sometimes stories to help keep kids interested; it can help with stretching and burning a little energy during the day
  • The Cinncinatti Zoo's Home Safari videos, while caretaking during the pandemic, the staff at the Cinncinatti Zoo are helping show and inform about some of their animals; so far we've seen Fiona the (less baby) hippo, Rico the prehensile tailed porcupine, and an ocelot named Sihil
  • Yo-Yo Ma, #SongsOfComfort, and lots of musicians are performing in a small stage/screen setting and helping provide a bit of a gap; it's pretty neat to see and I recommend checking out to see what your favorite performers are up to

Food

  • The Chef Show, on Netflix; this is right up there with GBBO as far as food television, in that it's focused on the subject matter, not drama. There's no secret here as to why Jon Favreau wanted to team back up with Chef Roy Choi to make more food, they have a great time, there's lots of great things to learn, and it's pretty wholesome to watch.
  • Binging With Babish, the YouTube channel by Andrew Rea, has a "binging with..." episodes recreating food from popular culture in addition to the "basics with..." in which he dives into, well, basics. Interested in making pizza at home? Recently there was an episode on neopolitan style pizza (just use a more terrestrial ingredient), or check out how to go about making fresh sourdough from scratch.
  • BA Test Kitchen does a bunch of neat videos, from gourmet makes to "it's alive" and beyond; just be forewarned a bit of expletives fly, although most of them are bleeped from my watching
  • 4 Levels of Burritos, Epicurious has a bunch of those "4 Levels of..." videos, but this burrito video is the gold standard in my opinion.

Summary

There's so much more, like using a Pomodoro timer to keep yourself on task with structured breaks for yourself (which I recommend for software development anyway, as available), getting a good desk chair, taking a walk and stretching regularly, and making sure to do social things with your family now that you see each other even more. I highly recommend a nice board game. This is a bit of an endless topic, so feel free to drop some comments and/or share what works for you. Ultimately, stay safe, wash, and look out for each other out there.