Almost overnight many of us were thrust into full-scale home working. What was once seen as a bit of a treat every once in a while, was now the working reality - and, for some, the transition was not easy.
There are others, however, that have made a career while working remotely. Moving from team to team, seamlessly fitting into the various team structures and working methodologies.
We sat down with a few of these freelance consultants to discuss their working from home practices to pull out some insightful tips for you to use when considering your working from home set up.
Find A Dedicated Workspace
Johan Sari is a Senior AWS Architect, Cloud Engineer and the founder of Serverless Sky AB Johan knows a thing or two about working from home effectively.
“Working from home requires a lot of discipline, meaning you have to find that self-motivation mindset. It's very easy to slip into habits you normally form at home.”
Forming habits, like building a structured and disciplined routine for home working, can be a bit of a project in and of itself that will only be completed by sticking to it over a long period of time.
According to a recent study, a daily activity like eating fruit at lunch or running for 15 minutes took an average of 66 days to become as much of a habit as it would ever become.
However, there was a lot of variation, both among people and among habits—some people are more habit-resistant than others, and some habits are harder to pick up than others.
As a result, Johan suggests thinking about the nature of your work as different activities lend themselves better to certain working environments.
“I actually would try and get a mix of home working and office working. I love working from home when I have a problem to solve, but try and get other people involved when it comes to conceptualisation.”
But, not everyone will be in a position to pick when they can go back to the office, for them - Johan recommends setting clear boundaries, both physical and mental.
“My number one advice would be to make sure that you have a dedicated workspace. And that workspace is just for your work. It should be a very specific place and that you can focus purely on work.”
For those lucky enough to have a dedicated room they can call a workspace, you’ll be able to benefit from the level of isolation that is conducive to productive work while still having the rest of the building clearly defined for relaxing. For those who don’t, this gets slightly trickier.
One thing that’s important to understand is that these barriers don’t have to be walls. They can be anything that says “this is work” and “this is relaxing”. So, if you don’t have room to dedicate - maybe things like dedicated clothes that you wear only while you’re working might be a good alternative.
Also, an important consideration is how you’re interacting with the wider company and team - as Johan highlights:
“Secondly, communicate as much as you can when you're working from home. Using communication platforms such as teams, zoom, slack etc. Always remember that systems development is a coordinated activity. Don’t be an island.”
Keep A Fixed Schedule
Christer Nissen is a Certified Professional Cloud Architect with years of experience in building modern cloud solutions in both AWS and GCP. As a contractor with his own company Cloudcraft Consulting, it's common for him to work a few days from home every week during customer assignments. Mirroring Johan’s thoughts about finding a dedicated workspace, Christer takes it one step further by recommending a defined schedule.
“Make sure you’re up and start working at the same time every day. Make sure you’re taking lunch at the same time. It’s so you’re keeping the same ‘clock’ as you would in-office setting.”
Not only are you able to synchronize with those you’re working with who may be following a less flexible working day structure, but you’re also encouraging a more disciplined routine that will help you in the long run. But, of course, one of the major benefits of working from home is the flexibility, as Christer goes on to explain.
“I can start working at 8.00 in the morning, get lots of work done in the first couple of hours, and then take 15 minutes for a walk outside the house in the forest to refresh the brain, and get back to work. Lunch can happen outside in the instead of at a busy restaurant. The afternoon can be spent working un-interrupted and there is again a chance to take a walk or exercise somewhere when needed.”
Ergonomics, as I’m sure many of you sitting at the kitchen table are well aware, are very important. The good news is that many companies don’t mind if you go in to fetch a chair, a monitor or a keyboard if you’re really struggling.
“I would say get a comfortable desk. Definitely get a separate work room if you can with a comfortable desk and comfortable keyboard and the monitors and all that stuff. Because it needs to be at least as comfortable as in the office. ”
Structure Your Life First
Michiel Sens is a Principal DevOps Consultant, Automator, Trainer & Book Author. With years worth of remote working experience, juggled with his successful position as a DevOps thought leader, Michiel places significant value on making sure you put yourself first, ahead of work, if you want to work from home successfully.
“Make sure you structure your own life and let work fit around that structure. Otherwise, it's very easy to break your back on this stuff.”
Driven by the fact that many people see working from home as the exception and not the rule, you can find work dominating much of your home life when it really shouldn’t be the case. The main culprit of this? No clear boundaries.
One thing Michiel advises is that you utilize the tools that really support you in a remote way of working and get rid of the ones which do not. Doing so will help you keep creative sessions with your team as seamless as possible despite the distance.
“I like to work with whiteboards and stickies and you know, put them on the wall and try and do things as creatively as possible. But it’s hard to do that with your team when you’re not in the same space. I now use tools like MIRO and MURAL to help me out with that. It can help to do the brainstorming sessions and such, all together with your team.”
So passionate about DevOps and flexibility, Michiel has also written several books on the topic which you can check out here.
Use Your 'Commute Times' To Work on Your Own Development
Flexibility, with both your workplace and the time you spend at it, is one of the premium benefits of working from home. Not only does it mean you can spend more time with your family, on other projects or simply looking after yourself - it also means you avoid many of the periods of 'dead time' that those going into the office simply can't avoid.
Steve Cocks is a DevOps Architect at Swedbank. With a background in the British Army, Steve knows a thing or two about teamwork, collaboration and working towards common goals. For Steve, working from home allows him to spend more time working on developing himself while others, who have to go into the office, cannot.
The commute can sometimes be 2 hours of your day - if you blocked that off to work on a side project, or sharpening your skills on a particular area you believe is important, you'll be standing yourself apart from the competition.
While some return to offices and others continue to shield at home, teams start to adopt a hybrid system. For Steve, this could cause potential problems:
I see problems ahead with those who prefer (or have to be at home) compared to those who choose to go to the office as they will start to miss out on things and not be part of the crowd. While everyone is working remotely it's working but if we start to get a mix it wouldn’t be so effective for those at home