Jason Sultana

Hi, I'm Jason! I'm the author of this blog and am a certified Microsoft Developer / AWS Architect that's addicted to good steak, good coffee and good code!

Working from home

10 Oct 2020 » career

G’day guys!

I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone that COVID has made a huge impact on almost everything. It’s changed the way we live, it’s changed the way we play and it’s changed the way we work. For many of us though, COVID has actually opened up the door to something that we’ve only ever dreamed of: Working from home. However, while working from home sounds like it’d be both easy and awesome, it’s not without it’s fair set of challenges. Today I thought I’d discuss those here and provide a few ways that I personally overcome those, just in case anyone reading this might be on the verge of working from home (WFH) themselves. Alrighty, here we go!

What are you talking about? WFH would be awesome!

I’m not gonna lie, WFH does have it’s advantages. Just to make this a fair discussion (and since you’re probably more interested in these anyway), let’s talk a bit about those first.

1. You save money. Congratulations, you no longer have a commute! This means that whatever you used to spend on public transport or fuel can now remain safely stored in your pocket or bank account. This can actually amount to significant savings. In my case for example, I was spending about $50 a week on train fares. While that doesn’t sound like an extravagant amount, that actually amounts to about $2600 a year, excluding public holidays and annual leave. So you’re actually saving enough for a pretty decent local vacation, just by working from home.

2. You save time. This is an extension of the previous point, but by removing the typical hour-ish each-way commute, you’ve saved yourself about two hours of time every weekday. That’s close to 10% of the day that you’ve now got all to yourself! What could you do instead in those two hours? Exercise, healthy cooking, pluralsight videos, personal projects or freelance - the list is endless! And if you would have asked me before I started WFH, I definitely would have paid more than $50 a week to have an extra two hours every day.

3. It’s bloody comfortable. Prior to WFH, each of us would probably spend our mornings having a shower, putting on our make-up or collogne and trying to look more-or-less as presentable as we can be before heading to the office. Now, I’m not recommending that you skip the shower and work in your pyjamas, but the edge is definitely off. Nowadays I find myself working on the couch on my laptop in my slippers. I definitely prefer my slacks and slippers over my tight belt and stiff leather shoes!

4. I get more time with my wife. While having your partner around while you work can be a little distracting at times, I really love the moments when we’re both in the study working on our respective laptops, not necessarily talking to eachother but just being together. If you ask me, an extra 8 hours with your spouse a day is genuinely priceless. And of course, we get to eat lunch together!

5. Freedom to move. This point actually has two meanings. Firstly, you’re free to move around the house, whereas at a traditional office, you have a fixed desk or office that you typically can’t stray from except for bathroom or coffee breaks. At home though, I can and do move from the couch to the the study to the dinner table from time to time. Hell, I could work in bed if I wanted to! Secondly though, WFH gives you more options when it comes to where you live. For most of us, where we rent or buy is largely determined by how easy it would be for us to commute to our jobs. If you’re working from home though, that’s no longer in the equation. I could live in woop woop if I wanted to, so long as I could get an internet connection.

I’m sold! Boss, I’m working from home starting from tomorrow!

Hold on there, mate. When I started this post, I actually intended to list you the challenges of WFH, and I haven’t got to that part yet. Well, here we are.

1. Nothing! Working from home is great!

I’m kidding of course. Here’s the real list.

1. You may find yourself actually working more. As hard as it is to believe, I think a lot of us could find ourselves actually working more than we normally would, since the lines between work and home are now so blended. For example, while one might typically start the work day at 9am when coming into the office, you might find yourself logging onto your PC at 7:45. And while you might normally pack up and run to catch your train at 5pm sharp, now there is no spoon - I mean train - for you to run for. So you might easily find yourself working until 5:30 until it’s time to prepare dinner.

You might intuitively think that working a little overtime is no biggie, and you’re still better off spending that time at work than on the commute, which is partially true. But you need to look at the quality of the work that you’re doing during these extended periods - are you in the zone making solid progress, or are you just browsing your emails, perhaps subconsciously wanting to appear as online for as long as possible in Microsoft Teams or Slack? I maintain that a solid 7.5 hours of focused work is much better than 10 hours of unfocused work, and it’s much better for your mental health and lifestyle.

If you find yourself falling into this category, I recommend setting some alarms for yourself, on your PC or on your phone. One of them can remind you when it’s time to start work, and another can remind you when it’s time to stop. Decide on when you are going to start and stop work, and commit to that decision. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you’re online the most, you’ll be seen as the most productive. Most companies will reward delivery more than time, and rightfully so. Do your work. Do good work. And then go home. That’s been my philosophy when working at the office, and that’s my philosophy when working from home.

2. Your home PC isn’t as powerful as your work PC. I’ve never been one to overspend on computers. I’ve had a lot of coworkers over the years that would brag about their insane gaming rigs with more memory than Ultron and more processing power than Skynet, but I usually find myself using hardware that’s just on the upper end of average. Under normal circumstances that has been enough, but that may no longer be the case when WFH. You’re now using your computer for a longer period of time, probably remoting into a workstation over a VPN and multitasking a lot more than you were before (unless you count having Facebook, Youtube and LiChess open in Chrome at the same time as multitasking). You may find that your current setup is failing to meet the new requirements imposed by WFH. Well, there are a few things you can try to combat that:

  • Review your internet plan. You’re using the newtwork a lot more than you were before, so you may need to change to a plan that offers you better upload and download speeds.
  • See if you can’t loan better hardware from your office.
  • If your company won’t let you loan better hardware to support WFH, you’ll still be able to claim any new purchases on tax. So while you may need to cover the costs of a new PC now, you should get some of those costs back when you do your tax return.
  • Use Linux. This one may earn me some nasty comments, but I’m willing to accept those for the sake of truth. I personally started dual booting Windows 10 and Ubuntu a couple of weeks ago, and my Ubuntu environment is quite noticably faster to load, snappier and more responsive than Win 10. In fact, I haven’t booted into Win10 since I’ve installed Ubuntu! Linux can be a bit foreign if you’ve never used it before, so I’d like to make another post next week about how to set up a Linux installation for WFH. Stay tuned for that!

3. It’s hard to stay focused. This was probably the biggest challenge for me personally, and funnily enough, none of the recommendations that I’ve read on other blogs seemed to help. I’ve read that you should pick a room to serve as your office-from-home so you mentally associate it with work. I’ve read that you should get dressed in your normal office clothes, and that you should commit to regular working hours. All of these sound great, and probably are still good, but none of them helped me stay focused. But I have two tips that I’ve discovered, that hopefully might help you out too if you’re suffering from the WFH fuzz.

First, just try changing your environment. One of the cool things about WFH is that you can move from the bedroom to the couch to the balcony - anywhere in the house is a potential workstation! Though if you’re going to be having a conference call from the dunny, a virtual background is a must ;-) Personally, I find myself starting the day in the study and then moving to the couch after lunch, sometimes moving back towards the end of the day. When I start to feel myself losing focus, I just move to another room and that change of scenery tends to bring back my mojo. I think that sunlight also plays a big part in this.

Another interesting tip is to keep using your noise cancelling headphones. The main reason I got headphones for work is so that I could listen to music on the job. When I started WFH, I thought who needs headphones when I can play music as loud as I want through my speakers? Actually though, a good set of headphones gives you more than just sound. They give you focus. Just because you can put them away and play music out of your laptop, that doesn’t mean you should.

Anyway guys, I think I’ll stop here for today. What do you think about WFH? Did you find any challenges (or perks) that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments :)

Catch ya!