Working from home: Two weeks worth of observations
March 29, 2020
One of the side effects of the quarantine is the fact that I got to work from home for a bit more than two weeks. Here’s some of my observations.
The work itself
I did work from home some times in the past but this time is different. There are a few things that make this different. The first is the fact that it’s more than before. A lot more. The most I’ve worked from home was a week. Now we are 16 working days and counting. The second is the fact that everyone is working remotely, so I am not the exception. I think this is the biggest point of interest here.
In the past, whenever I worked from home I felt at some point that I might be missing on conversations that happen in the office. A lot of times people engaged in ad-hoc conversations about things and obviously I wasn’t there. This is normal for a non remote-first companies and it’s one of the biggest fears for many people when thinking about working from home. The current situation changed all of that. There is no office to have those ad-hoc conversations. The side effect is though that you end up doing more meetings but in my experience not by a lot. Still more though.
Silver linings on the meeting front is that now more people are included in the conversations because if you are doing a meeting might as well ask if anyone is interested to attend. You’d be surprised how many people will say no and how many will say yes. People end up tailoring their own time and priorities and frankly that’s more productive.
Speaking of productivity, I will admit that I feel pretty productive. I would imagine that if I didn’t have to deal with the fear of imminent death for me and my family by a new virus I would have been more productive than I am in the office. What makes the biggest different is the lack of distructions (I am easily distracted) and the controlled environment I’m in. Working from your own space is liberating. I have my music on, my drink in my mug, can snack whenever I want, can take a power nap if I feel like it. But there are learnings when it comes to the physical space too.
The physical space
As I mentioned above the environment is yours and you make it what you will. There are issues though that I can only imagine they will become more pronounced. Firstly, I am working from the same desk that I use for gaming, side projects, watching youtube, speaking with family etc. This can make the switch from work to play, and vice versa, a bit challening. There is not enough separation of concerns. I’ve read from a lot of people that the solution to this is to have a separate space for work but in any big city with their small apartments that’s tough. It helps not using the same laptop for work and play.
The other issue is the chair. As I mentioned in my previous post I did start looking for a new chair because my current situation is killing my back. Unfortunately I’m still waiting on the delivery of my new Aeron so this is work in progress. I also left my favourite keyboard in the office along with my mouse. That makes my setup a bit less optimal. But these are things that one needs to think about when working from home more permanently.
The final variable is other people. I am privileged to be sharing my space with my partner as she is also working from home. That’s great because we can have nice conversations, spend more time together and take breaks together. The issue is though that we share one desk and one space. So if we happen to have meeting together it’s a bit challenging. So sometimes the kitchen becomes a meeting room. This is, again, solvable in normal cities by having a bigger space but in London that’s less possible.
When you go to work one way or another you move. I’m not saying it’s exercise but you get up, dress, go to a place with other people, walk around places etc. When you work from home there is non of this. While this is important today (Please please please STAY HOME!) it might be annoying for some people. For me it isn’t as I’m a bit of a house person anyway. The things I do to stay sane is going out for a run after work, or a walk etc. I would have liked to have a bicycle, so I can go for longer rides to the outskirts of London, but the lack of parking space is stopping me. I will definitely get one in the future though.
I also found out that the lack of commuting is doing wonders to my time. Once I close my work laptop that’s it, I’m home. I get to cook, clean and exercise and be ready to chill way faster than before. That means more time with my family and my friends (even if it’s virtual right now). This honestly made me feel so much better.
Finally the thing that surprised me the most is my eating habits. Because I’m always home I eat things I cook and I snack on healthier stuff. The result is that I eat healthier. If you combine that with the fact that I have more energy to exercise (thanks to the lack of commuting) I feel healthier. I lost some weight as well which is a surprise. It does help that I love cooking.
Final thoughts and the future
I hope the future finds us all alive and well. But assuming the best, I can see working from home being a bigger part of our lives. I don’t believe that suddently everyone will be working from home. This isn’t for everybody. People live in flatshares, with big families, in places with bad internet or simply they don’t like to stay home all that time. That’s fair. I still thing though that we will see a foundamental shift. It’s clear that most of the work we are doing CAN be done remotely and people will take advantage of it. I expect to see more people working from home 2-3 days a week. It’s going to be normalised.
Real estate will also be changing. If a family is working from home some, or most times of the week, there is no reason why to stay in the center of big cities. Taking London as an example we can imagine how people will be avoiding zones 1-3 and instead moving further out. I can do a big commute 2 times a week but certainly can’t every weekday. If this happens hopefully rents in the capitals will see a downwards trend.
Savings can also see a boost, both for individuals and companies. For individuals if you suddently don’t have to pay prime rent prices for the city center and you don’t have to commute every day then you can see how you can save hundrends, or even thousands a month. On top of that avoiding eating that overpriced junk food for lunch 5 times a week can also save you a lot. These things in the long run add up. Companies on the other hand will be able to tap top talent for less, simply because they won’t have to give them space in their offices and therefore they won’t have to pay all those expensive rents. Real estate is expensive for everybody.
New industries will come out of this. Coworking spaces will grow more, little towns will see more action, people will be able to spend more time with their families and hopefully be happier. Surely they will be a lot more that we can’t forsee right now, but the future can be bright.
As you can see I’m keeping an optimistic view of what this “work from home revolution” will bring but there is always the chance that we will go back to business as usual. It will all depend on how long people will stay in lockdown and what the aftermath of all this catastrophe will be. I will keep hoping for the best though.
Thoughts of a developer, a photographer, a runner, a cook. All of them the same person. George is also on Twitter!