Jumping into cold water is always a shocking experience. Being able to calm yourself, acclimatise to the temperature of the water - before you attempt to swim is how you survive.

A ton of people worldwide have just plunged into the icy water of working from home, and since I’ve been doing this for six years I have some advice from the good and the bad of what I learned over the time.

In this post I’ll attempt to cover some of these lessons to try and help y’all who’ve had the cold water treatment learn how to swim.

Don’t Work In Your Pyjamas

The number one mistake people make when working from home is to pour yourself out of bed and immediately sit at your new desk and begin work. Don’t do this!

I personally like to get a sweat on every day either out running with my dog or if I’m housebound then on my exercise bike. So my routine is that I get up, change into my workout gear, take the dog outside for his morning duties, and make a coffee. This routine takes me around twenty minutes or so and gives me some distance from sleeping Neil to working Neil.

If you aren’t an exercise-aholic like myself then I recommend you shower and get changed into ‘work gear’ before sitting at your new desk.

Take Lots of Regular Breaks

The number one mistake I made when I first started working remotely was to not take enough breaks. If you think back to any office environment you have worked in, I’d take a guess that around twenty-five minutes out of every hour has some non-screen interaction. People coming and going as they get a drink / use the toilet / talk to random people about random things. Even if you are one of those introverted headphone wearing office dwellers (like I was) you are still generally getting a ton of visual distractions as people move around you that give you a break from the screen.

When people switch from this to working remotely there is two things that bite - a fear of missing out on interactions that have now moved to chat apps or calls, and a worry that people are convinced you aren’t actually working if you don’t respond instantly to their direct interactions with you. These two things combined can let you almost become magnetized to your chair.

Don’t do this! Think about the office environment - how many times have you looked for a colleague at their desk and they aren’t there. You don’t immediately think ‘This bampot is skiving!'. The same is true for remote working, so give yourself a break.

Trust Your Staff

I’ve already seen a bunch of leads worried that they won’t know what their staff are up to, worried they won’t work on the right things, worried they will go off into the weeds when the grass just needs cut. I’ve seen pitches from extrovert control freaks that all staff should be forced into a continuously running group call for the entire working day to simulate the working environment. What this all boils down to is that you don’t trust the people working for you - which honestly is a much deeper problem than them being at home. This screams to me of a failure of hiring the wrong person or a failure of not training the person.

When I was at AMD I learned that having an asynchronous way for people to know what you are working on is key. The entire game engineering part of the org I was part of would keep weekly logs on confluence of what we were doing, which let people across the org and actually across the company see what we were doing. This is a great way to keep people updated on what you are doing and also letting you develop side interactions about your work.

When I joined Unity I brought this with me, and keep a running yearly log on all the things I’ve been up to. It provides a great way for remote people to feel connected to what other people are doing and have side conversations on the work.

Stop Working

The thing I still struggle with the most isn’t a lack of working, it is working too much. When you were in the office and had to leave at five to have dinner with the family, that forced a physical break between you and your ability to work. When the computer is in the same dwelling as you the temptation to say ‘I’ll just finish this one other thing that has been annoying me’ is a fight. Especially when it is a bug you have caused. Just this week at Unity I found two bugs in some complication optimizations I’ve been working on, and I found myself itching to keep working on them late into the night because I felt guilty that I was holding up a release of Burst.

Don’t do this! I need to learn this lesson fully myself, but since we all know crunching is bad, crunching in the home can’t be any better.

Don’t Conference Call During Your Lunch Break

One thing I definitely advocate is to take your lunch break away from your desk or computer. Get some fresh air, do something else round the house, socialize with your equally quarantined partner / cat / Rocket League friends.

One thing I think you should never never never do is have some form of ‘Let’s all eat lunch together on a conference call to scratch the social itch.'. It is totally ok to have a social-only set of interactions with your co-workers, but that should be on the companies time. Think back to when you are in the office - how much time in a day do you spend during company time interacting with your co-workers about non-company things? Think of all the watercooler or coffee-making moments where you have a five minute stop and chat. You don’t clock out to do this, so why should you sacrifice your contractually allowed lunch break to recreate the same just because you are remote?

Like I said before, I use my lunch break to get out of the house. I walk the dog, go for a run, exercise on my bike. Hell I’ve even taken a bath in my lunch hour. Do anything you can to get away from the desk for an hour.

Picture of Benji and I out running
Out in the fresh air with Benji!

Lean Into Your New Super Power

I found working from home to be utterly liberating. I’m a highly socially capable introvert - anyone who has met me will know I am life-and-soul of any party, but I naturally want to be away in the wilds with my dog away from people. I need a huge period of time to recharge from social interactions - a week away for work would need two months for me to recover.

For me the ability to go full focus when I started working from home was so empowering. I could go into a zen like zone that I’d never been able to in the office. I honestly reckon that I was operating about 10% of my peak performance when I was in the office. My productivity and happiness at how I’m getting to really think through the problems I get to work on has been super charged since I’ve been remote. Remote working is my super power - it’s how I get to be as good at what I do as I am.

Don’t Let Real Life Invade Your Work

It’s so easy for real life to invade your work when you are at home. This was a hard adjustment for me and my partner. ‘Oh you are at home so you can do X around the house!' - no, no you can’t. It’s very easy to see that because the person is at home they can do the dishes, clean the home, look after the kids, whatever. It’s super key that you resist this urge otherwise you won’t succeed at home. It is better to just have a blanket ban on doing anything around the house during work hours that you wouldn’t have been able to do in the office, at least to start with. Have a seperation of work-you and home-you - even though they are sharing the same location!

Take Advantage of the Lack of Commute

If you are like the average office worker you’ll have somewhere around an hour commute built into your day. Now you’ve just got that time back to do what you want with. Read books, learn a language, play Witcher III some more, build Lego with the kids - whatever you always wanted to do but didn’t have time? Now is the time to do it. So liberating to get that dead time back!

Summary

This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the things that’ll make remote working work for you - just a meandering list of some of the things I’ve learned along the way. For me working from home has been a game changer in my life. I’m happier, healthier, I got a dog that I get to spend every minute of the day with, I bought a house in the stunning Isle of Skye with views to die for, and live in a close knit community. I’ve built social interactions outwith my work colleagues into my life which let me broaden my view points.

If you are in an enforced Coronavirus-derived work from home then I encourage you to lean into it and see if its for you. I realise that some extroverted people will miss the chaos of the office, but if you’ve been one of those introverts that has been forced to live in the extroverted world this is the time to see if working from home would allow you to be happier, healthier, and honestly a better worker. It worked for me at least!