Miscellaneous Remote Affairs

While I was adjusting to working from home, the world wobbled a bit and a new, quite worrisome coronavirus started making the rounds, which makes this post a bit more relevant than expected.

After all, it’s 2020. You’d expect that remote work would be mainstream by now, right?

Maybe I’ve been a bit ahead of the curve, but most people in the industry right now are looking at doing remote work for a fair bit as a containment measure, and some of them never really had the opportunity (or official permission) to do so.

Regardless of the coronavirus, I think businesses realizing remote work is completely feasible (and has been for many many years, ever since I dabbled with NetMeeting over ISDN some twenty years ago) is a good thing.

I just wish that other measures had been taken sooner, and that we weren’t seeing so much fumbling, hesitation and plain ignorance around what should be done, especially given that right now the infection is still spreading at a decidedly non-linear rate in Europe.

But let’s get back on topic.

Comfort

The hardest thing so far has been adjusting to staying in one place most of the time–I get antsy, much in the same way as when I had a “corner” office, and need to walk it off every couple of hours.

Offsetting my impatience by stepping out to have lunch and popping off to the local HQ once or twice a week was working OK for now, but since I’m likely to spend a lot more time indoors in the near future I am hoping to fit in an exercise regimen of some kind.

In the meantime, I’ve found that I need to take breaks every couple of hours or so and look out the window in order to clear my head and my eyesight.

Playing with lighting helps (I set up a couple of ZigBee RGBW LED strips to provide indirect lighting, which worked great in deep winter), but focusing on distant objects is the only real way for me to avoid eye strain.

More on Time Management

As I expected, time management has been the hardest thing to get right, and I can confirm and expand a bit on my previous post:

  • Relaxing has indeed been harder than I thought. I still spend an extra hour or so unwinding in my office at the end of the day and catching up on news, which in turn leads me to “lose” that time for more productive personal pursuits. That 6pm-7pm(ish) slot was usually taken up by various sync calls as people commuted back home (something that the Portuguese are really in to), so this feels like a Pavlovian hang-up.
  • The immediate consequence is that after a day cooped up in front of a computer I fall into the easy trap of binging TV (or the occasional movie) in the evenings, and as such haven’t been hacking away at personal projects or read a book in nearly a month (which is highly unusual for me).
  • That, in turn, leads me to stay up late, which is far from ideal when your new co-workers start their day an hour earlier.
  • Over time, my daily cycle has shifted a bit–which I can gauge by the fact that I am naturally waking up earlier than my alarm clock and having lunch about an hour earlier than the local norm (partly because calls get scheduled during what would ordinarily be lunchtime for me, and partly because I get started earlier in the day).

This, sadly, is making a complete hash of my social calendar, since I now have less opportunity to have lunch with friends (or former colleagues).

Upsides

The big upside is that I now tend to spend more time with my kids in the afternoon and evening, because instead of wasting time commuting I am just there.

And the good, no, excellent bit is that random interruptions have almost entirely gone away (at least for now), which means I can actually focus–maybe a bit too much on occasion.

Background Noise

Since this isn’t my first remote rodeo, I’m falling back to old habits.

One of them is listening to music while I work, which I can now finally do in earnest. This is obviously impossible while watching training material or on calls–which I spend a lot of time in–but highly effective otherwise.

As it happens, I got an Alexa Input on my last trip to Seattle, and have it plugged into the auxiliary input of my office speakers (the Logitech Z333, which are cheap but serviceable, even if I plan to replace them with a proper set of monitor speakers some day).

Alexa is dumber than Siri on occasion, but it lets me stream my music from Plex1, listen to local radio (via myTuner, which is very kludgy but able to stream Portuguese radio stations), and occasionally dip into Spotify (which can be distracting when I don’t tell it to stick to a specific genre, but useful for inspiration).

Like pretty much everyone else I know, I have an embarrassingly old set of songs that I used to listen to while cramming for exams, and they still work when trying to get into the zone.

So when the going gets tough, I ask Alexa to play those off Plex, and it usually gets it right. Well, mostly.

Keeping Organized

Having a flexible schedule (even if you’re an incorrigible workaholic) makes it a bit tougher to keep track of progress, so I have also fallen back into my usual pacing tricks:

  • Keep a running checklist of things I need to do monthly/weekly/daily
  • Set up calendar events to work my way through the list (also handy for tracking effort and project hours)
  • Use Tomighty as a Pomodoro timer to pace myself when slogging through documents and spreadsheets

Ramping Up

Besides the physical aspect of things, the role change means there is a lot of “new” stuff to learn (a lot about processes, new rhythm of business, completely new customers, projects, etc.), as well as many things that need “unlearning”.

Right now that means going through a very broad set of documentation and training sessions, which in turn makes it hard to get a feel for how far I’ve progressed on any one of them–my usual laser-like focus on one thing at a time doesn’t help at all here.

Biggest takeaway so far is that it feels a lot like my program management years at Vodafone (big projects that imply spending a lot of time doing Office docs, which the engineer in me does not enjoy at all).

Bottom line: So far what I really miss is doing hands-on, deeply technical stuff.

The people are awesome, though. Reaching out takes a little more effort, but mostly because it now requires scheduling things across various time zones (I have five of them up on my iMac menu bar thanks to Clocker).

Travel

There was supposed to be a fair bit, which I am obviously less than enthusiastic about now, even considering my legendary strife with (often painful) sinus trouble whenever I spend more than a couple of hours in an airplane.

Now? Well, we’ll see. With the Coronavirus expanding across Europe at a worrying rate, all bets are off.


  1. It bears mentioning at this point that the Alexa skills security model is still fundamentally broken since this requires my Plex server to be exposed to the Internet, but I can live with it until I find a better alternative (investing in a HomePod has crossed my mind, but that would require me to have a fundamentally flawed understanding of the work investing, as well as having the thing actually on sale here in Portugal–but I digress). ↩︎

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