Working from home: initial impressions

The remains of a pier in sea. There's a bridge in the background.

COVID-19 is out there and like many, I’m working from home. Allow me to offer my unique perspective.

Not everyone can work from home - not all jobs can be done remotely and even if they can, there are many obstacles to working from home. For example, the people you share your home with - partners, kids, roommates - have to give you enough physical and mental space so that you can work. And they have to have space for their work, too!

Myself, I’m lucky and privileged enough to pull it off. My biggest gripe is that I don’t have a proper home office, so I’m working at our dinner table. It’s not ergonomic enough for the long term, but I can handle it for a couple of weeks.

The organization I’m working with has previously given the option of working 1-2 days per week remotely, but right now everybody is recommended to work remotely full time. This is the first time we’re remoting in anger.

I’ve worked remotely occassionally for ages, but software development is team work. Being productive is not just about the individual. The partial remoting was not enough for the organization to develop proper remote work capability, so this has been a an interesting experience.

Connections: Most of the developers do not have VPN connection to the internal network, due to the usual kind of enterprise bureacracy. We just made some changes that increase the need to access the internal network. What a great timing!

The issue is getting resolved now with high priority, but it’s a bit sad if it takes a pandemic to get a working VPN.1

Meetings: It was always possible to attend meetings remotely via a video call, but it wasn’t great compared to showing up: it’d be hard to follow what is being said in person, the screensharing didn’t always work, etc.

Now when the meetings are conducted online-first, this stuff has to work. Turns out it does. We’ve made a lot of progress on this front and I’ve already had fun, productive meetings this way!

Communications: It’s common advice that you should overcommunicate when working remotely and it’s true. You have to perform the work even more than in the office. You aren’t bumping into people at the coffee machine, after all. The writing skills that I’ve honed by IRCing for two decades now get to shine on Slack.

At the office, if you ever wonder what is going on, at least you can look around and go talk to the people. When you’re remote, all there is Slack. Quiet Slack is of no use, but people are warming up.

The coffee machine: So what’s the online version of bumping into people at the coffee machine? I don’t know yet but I’m sure something will appear.

Once the epidemic has passed, the organization will return to office work. I hope that the remote work skills we develop now carry over and allow fully productive partial remoting in the future.

  1. Based on what I’m hearing from my software developer friends, this is by no means a unique experience. ↩︎

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