(Almost) Everything You Need to Know about Working From Home
GM and Ford are contributing their manufacturing facilities to make much-needed ventilators for coronavirus victims. We asked ourselves what we as a small company could contribute, and decided we could share our experience transitioning to a fully distributed company. In this podcast, Ivan and TEN7 team members Chris Dart, Dani Adelman, Tess Flynn share tips that have helped them become successful and happy remote workers.
TEN7 team members Chris Dart, Back End Developer, Dani Adelman, Director of Operations and Tess Flynn, DevOps Engineer.
- Team intros
- How do you work at home when you don’t have a home office?
- Claiming a work space (even if it’s just room on the kitchen table)
- Headspace management
- Routines and rituals are important, but different for everyone
- Consistency is key
- Working from home is personal growth work
- Managing distractions
- What if it’s TOO quiet?
- Will your productivity go up or down working from home?
- No commute means less stress
- Ergonomics are crucial; essential equipment
- Yoga keeps it loose
- Getting unstuck
- Tess’s adrenaline leveraging
- You need to get Slack (or some other real-time communication platform)
- Post-work rituals
- Wash your hands!
- Herman Miller Mirra chair
- Ergodriven Standing Mat
- Logitech MX Master 2 Mouse
- Helix PCB Keyboard
- VariDesk® Pro Plus 36 Convertible Standing Desk
- Anker Ergonomic Optical USB Wired Vertical Mouse
- Bose QuietComfort wireless noise-canceling headphones
- Marantz Pro Complete Podcast Kit (microphone, stand and cable)
- Yoga with Adriene (free videos on YouTube)
- Practice Yoga Austin (on Facebook)
- Blog post with all these tips!
IVAN STEGIC: Hey everyone! You’re listening to The TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic.
The show today is another special episode, given the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in across the whole planet. There isn’t a corner of the world that has been spared from the COVID-19 coronavirus. At our regular staff meeting on Monday, I asked our completely distributed team the question, “What’s TEN7’s ventilator?” I’d been reading about how Tesla and GM, and now Ford, are going to be using their idle manufacturing capability to produce the ventilators that are so desperately needed right now. I wanted to challenge ourselves to come up with how we, as a company, could contribute positively to helping out during this global pandemic. What is TEN7’s ventilator project? Well, we had some brainstorming and we decided that the one thing we do really well, which could be useful to people right now, is working remotely. I mean, we’ve been doing it for years, and we used to work in the same physical space together for many years before that too. So, we’ve experienced the whole transition from a physical office space to remote work, and we could potentially talk about that. Maybe there’s some things we’ve learned that others could benefit from.
Initially, we thought that having a few short interviews with some team members would be the way to go. Maybe we’d publish those individual stories as a series of quick podcasts, but the more we talked about it amongst ourselves, the more we realized that interacting with each other in real time would be much better, especially in this forum of the podcast. So, that’s what we’re going to try to do. Let’s see how this goes. We’ve got more people involved than we usually do, so it’s not just two of us, there’s four of us.
Joining me today are Chris Dart, Dani Adelman and Tess Flynn.
CHRIS DART: Hello.
DANI ADELMAN: Hello.
TESS FLYNN: Hey.
IVAN: How’s everyone doing today? Let’s get an audio thumbs up or down.
CHRIS: I’m doing pretty well.
DANI: Thumbs up.
IVAN: Thumbs up.
TESS: I plead the fifth.
IVAN: [laughing] Tess pleads the fifth. Well, we’ve never recorded anything with this many people, so I have no idea how this is going to go. Feel free to just jump on each other, step on each other, do whatever you feel like. We’ll thrive on the chaos that it might cause. I think the first thing we want to do is introduce each other, or yourselves, so let’s go in alphabetical order, starting with Chris. I’d love to hear your full name, your role at TEN7, not just your title but what your responsibilities are, and then how long you’ve been with us. Chris.
CHRIS: My name is Chris Dart, and I’ve been with TEN7 for a little over a year as a full-time employee, a little bit longer as a contractor, and my role at TEN7 is mostly back-end software development, some systems operation support and also client support triage, helping handle support requests.
IVAN: Yeah. You’re our main support guy aren’t you?
DANI: Yeah. So, I’m transitioning into a role currently from Customer Success Manager to Director of Operations. Exciting. I have been with TEN7 for—I’m not sure exactly how long—maybe close to a year.
IVAN: Close to a year, I think.
DANI: Coming up close, yeah. So, my responsibilities, so I’m the main point of contact for most of our clients, handling anything related to the operations of the company. Things like billing and budgets and timelines, and keeping everything on track, brainstorming better, more efficient ways to run the company and various other things as well.
IVAN: As we discover what those are. [laughing]
DANI: [laughing] Yes.
IVAN: And Tess.
TESS: And I am Tess Flynn. I am the company's DevOps Engineer. I keep all the infrastructure running and do some backend stuff whenever I’m not doing that.
IVAN: So, we have quite a wide variety of responsibilities and people that are part of the discussion today. Tess, you’ve been with us for almost four years now, I think.
TESS: Yup, and I have been remoting primarily since before that, since 2010? 2011? Something like that.
IVAN: Yeah. I was the one who convinced you to come into the office after you started working for us for a short while, but I think much to your happiness, we ended up being fully distributed, and so you only had to endure that for a short amount of time.
TESS: It certainly meant that I didn’t have to go onto the bus at seven in the morning.
IVAN: [laughing] So, I was thinking that we could talk about really tactical things that someone who is new to being a remote worker could really use to get up and running quickly, to learn from mistakes, and things that we’ve learned from over the years. And I wanted to try to maybe summarize all those things at the end of the podcast in the form of a blog post. So, kind of really tactical. So, that’s what my hope is to get through. So, jump in with any thoughts or answers with some of the questions I have here.
I think one of the first things I want to talk about is, how do you set yourself up for work at home, especially if you have a house or an apartment, or your home is maybe not conducive to that. Maybe you have kids running around all the time, or you just don’t have an office. Any thoughts?
DANI: Yeah, I can speak to that. So, I’ve been working remotely on and off for about five years, not always in the space that I’m currently in, but the space that I am currently in is very small. I do not have a separate room I can use as an office space. So, for me it was really important to have some dedicated space that is considered my office space, even though I have to kind of share space with another area of my house. I have this small area that is my go-to for during work hours specifically, and then I make an effort not to use that space if I am working on, say, the weekend or sometime outside of regular working hours, to keep that separation. But, I use that space as my work setup. So, I’ve got my computer, I’ve got my notebook, whatever I need. So, it’s my center island in my kitchen.
IVAN: Oh, is that what it is? I’ve always wondered about that, [laughing] because we only ever see each other from the front, right?
DANI: Right. Yup. Yeah, so you always see what’s behind me, but in front of me is my entire kitchen. So, what happens is at the end of the day, I shut everything down and push it aside and turn that into my eating space. So, it’s a very strange transitional area, but I think it’s really important to have that dedicated space even if it’s not a traditional office space or a desk or whatever, so that you can call that your office during the time that you need it to be your office.
IVAN: Yeah, so the words that I heard from Jeff when we recorded the other podcast, and he said to me on a number of occasions is, “You kind of work at home but you live at work as well.” So, I think what you’re saying is it’s so important to have a distinction between where you’re working and when you’re working and when you’re not. Not to have a blurred line between those two. Chris or Tess, what’s your office setup like?
CHRIS: Well, I am fortunate to have enough space to have my own office space that’s pretty much where I just do my work. I do use the space sometimes when I do some emails and stuff, because it’s comfortable, but I have that space. But I also have some rules about starting up my day and that to separate work time from home time, so that it feels like there’s a transition. One of them is that I can’t start work until I do some kind of exercise. So, jumping jacks, or lunges...
CHRIS: What was that?
IVAN: Burpees [laughing].
CHRIS: Yeah, I don’t know what those are.
IVAN: [laughing] You don’t want to do burpees, they’re so hard.
CHRIS: I don’t do things that are hard. [laughing] I just do something to get myself physically relaxed and ready for the day. And I think, like Dani said, sometimes I like to just shut things down at the end of the day, make sure that everything’s off. I don’t go into the space except to do work, but when I find myself using the space to do projects on the computer after hours, I feel like I ought to be keeping time.
IVAN: [laughing] Muscle memory.
CHRIS: Yeah, right. Have I let people know that I’m taking a step away from the desk? I think if you don’t have a dedicated space like what Dani said is sort of having rituals around Now is work time and this space is now sanctified as work space.
DANI: Yeah and I think that can also signal to other people who may be in your house that, Okay, I’m at my workstation so I need to be left alone to do my work. A lot of people right now, I’m sure, are having to work from home in a space that isn’t conducive to having an office, and they do have partners or children or other people in their house, so I think that dedicated space, even if it’s not an office, is that signal to other people.
IVAN: So, you’re saying give people some sort of a physical signal that you’re working and one of those things is even if it’s not an office, you’re in your space, you’re at the table in the kitchen, or you’re somewhere, and that means Don’t disturb me, I’m working, and perhaps another physical cue would be, headset on. I have my headset on, that means I’m either on a call or I’m listening to background music or white noise. I’m working, also leave me alone.
Tess, do you have any rituals you do before you start work in the morning?
TESS: Not particularly. I’ve been doing this for so long it’s very easy for me to fall into the regular 9-to-5 habit. I do maintain a dedicated space. I do use that every day, and I do use that as a signal to others that I am working. I do occasionally use the same thing for project space outside of work hours. But usually that’s only when I’m trying to be very focused on working on that, otherwise I tend to stay away from it.
All of this conversation, especially now that we’re bringing in terms like, “doing a work ritual,” is really all headspace management. And that’s really the hard thing that a lot of people who work from home have to get into. Headspace management is the real trick of all of this, because when you go into an office, what happens is that you go through a series of certain steps, which prepare you mentally to be in the work headspace. So, you have breakfast, you get in your car, you have to deal with the commute, you have to find a parking spot, you walk to the office, you talk with people, you sit at your desk, and now you’re in the work headspace.
When you work from home, all of that that you do incidentally to get you into that headspace, because you’re trying to get to a physical location, now you have to do it without changing your physical location. So now it becomes headspace management. This is why you have to build all of these other cues in front of you. This is why I’m really particular. When I started working from home it was really, really tempting to be like, I’m just gonna work in pajamas today. And I quickly learned that was a terrible, terrible idea…
IVAN: Totally agree.
TESS: because every time I end up working in pajamas I have a terrible day. Usually something’s broken, or something has to be fixed, or something has to be done immediately, or worse things.
So, I always try to do the same kind of thing. I try to get dressed in the morning, make sure that I have at least street clothes on, they don’t have to be “work” clothes, but street clothes, you know, to let me know that I’m in that space, even if I know I’m not going to leave the house that day. Then I go to the same location, I set everything up the same way, and then I start working. I mean I even use the same kind of bottle to keep my coffee in, and that is also a signal to myself and to others that I’m in that work mode.
DANI: I think consistency is key, like Tess was saying. Having that consistent routine, that consistent set of things that you’re doing every day to signal that you’re in the office is really important. But, I think that can be different for everybody. So, for me, I’m totally fine working in pjs, because for me, I want to be comfortable, and if I’m not comfortable, sometimes putting on street clothes for me, makes me want to go outside, and so that’s difficult for me, or I’m not as comfortable, so I can’t get in the zone and get focused as well. So, I think it’s going to vary for everybody, of course.
TESS: Exactly. That’s actually the other thing about working from home, is that, how you experience it and get yourself into the mode to be productive is highly personal, which leads me to the other main point about working from home is, you end up having to get to know yourself a lot better in order to work from home more effectively. You need to know what your patterns are, what you like, what helps you focus, how you get out of being stuck from a particular set of circumstances like if you can’t concentrate, or you can’t get out of work mode at the end of the day, or things like that.
IVAN: Yeah. I find it really important to spend the time in the morning and do approximately the same thing every morning: get dressed, get myself ready, spend some time with my wife, watch a little bit of news, watch whatever’s happening in the world, drink some coffee and then make my way to the office, which for me is upstairs in the attic. And on my way up to close the door behind me and to have this office in the attic to myself. And that’s my signal to everyone that I’m not available is, The door’s closed to the attic. Dad must be working.
That’s just what I do, and it’s so important to know that there’s so many different things that you should be doing, but you should have some sort of a ritual to get you in that headspace, that you’re going to be working. It’s easy for me to talk about not having distractions up here when I am in the office, when I am working. What do you guys do for distractions?
CHRIS: I found that before when I worked at an office, and I worked at a school, the sound of children talking outside my office, because I was in the educational area of the school, and hearing people talk and getting interrupted was a thing. I couldn’t listen to podcasts, I couldn’t listen to music, I couldn’t listen to anything because with that noise it was just too distracting. But now that I work from home and it gets pretty quiet and there’s nobody around, I find that it actually helps me to have a little talking, even if I’m not listening to it. I’ll just have some podcasts on that aren’t really exciting topics or anything, but just talking in the background actually helps me concentrate more. But otherwise, I tend to close the door, and I don’t do personal stuff. I’ve always avoided that at work. I don’t go to Facebook and stuff during work hours unless I take a break, because otherwise [laughing] it could be an hour before I get back or something. But I think that’s probably true at an office too. This is the space I’m dedicating to working and I don’t want to be sidetracked.
IVAN: Yeah, when we were in the office space in downtown Minneapolis, it was a totally open office and the distractions were aplenty. I think after we transitioned to being completely distributed, I noticed that my productivity went up as opposed to down, which is the natural thing to think is.
Dani, what do you do about distractions in your environment?
DANI: I totally agree with you. I am way more productive working from home now that I’m used to it and in a groove with it. I think when I was in an office, people would come in constantly and ask you questions or talk to you. You didn’t used to have all these tools like Slack or other things that you might use to communicate with each other from afar. So I found that I was way more distracted and interrupted in an office. Now, I am sometimes distracted by things that I feel like I should be doing because I’m home. Like, now you’re thinking about things like, Oh, I have to do laundry, or I have to do the dishes, but sometimes getting up for a second to rinse out my coffee mug or to grab something to eat, those are all things that are really just mimicking what you did when you were in an office. It’s not really any different, you’re just in a different environment. So, sometimes that’s helpful. Sometimes I’ll feel like, oh, I can’t focus, and then I just need to get up for a minute to go wash a dish, and then when I sit back down again I can get back into my work headspace. So, I agree with you. I think once you learn how you work best in this new environment in your home, you might find that you are a lot more productive than you used to be.
CHRIS: One thing I think I really enjoy about it, and I would hope that people who are starting this is that commute, it was such a stressful experience. Even if I only had to go 10 miles or five miles, just the bumper-to-bumper traffic, that really could put me in a real foul mood by the time I got to work, or it put me in a bad mood getting home, and not having that has really helped, I think, reduce the stress level in my life, and I’m hoping that one of the silver linings in this whole isolation thing is that maybe more people will end of working from home as a norm, and that the pleasure of not having to commute [laughing] will improve the quality of life in general.
IVAN: I agree. I agree. I think there is a number of silver linings that the pandemic is going to surface for us, and hopefully we’ll all still be around to see them. I’m sure we will. [laughing]
Tess, once you told me that one of the most important things for you was to make sure you had a good chair. And further to that, if you’re maybe standing, that you have some sort of mat or yoga cushion or something that you can stand on for extended periods of time.
IVAN: Any additional thoughts to that? And maybe we could talk about some of the essential tools that you have in your office that you’re using.
TESS: So, one thing that I am finding, because I am certainly getting up there in years apparently now, is that ergonomics are incredibly important. When you work from home it’s tempting to just throw together whatever you’ve got. Sometimes that’s all you really do have available to you. But the problem is that that is going to cause a lot of problems over time, particularly repetitive stress injuries. I have been working with computers since I was five. I have been in the tech industry since 2004. I have been around.
And the thing with all of that is it wears on you to use badly ergonomic devices and badly ergonomic desk situations. Most people think that a good chair is something that costs, Oh, this costs $200.00 at Office Max. It’s like, No dude, you’re like an order of magnitude probably too low there. You need to get a little bit up there to get a really good, decent office chair. And after that you need to worry about the rest of it. Now for me, I have, I think it’s a Herman Miller Mirra chair because that’s what we had at the old TEN7 office, and then we just repurposed all those at home. I have a VariDesk 36 convertible standing desk, it just goes on top of the table. And if I need to sit down, I can sit down. If I need to stand up, I actually stand up. I have a rather weird standing mat too. I’m trying to find a brand name...it’s called an Ergodriven. What’s weird about this is that it is not a flat anti-fatigue mat. You can get flat anti-fatigue mats fairly easily for probably $25 dollars U.S. at the time of this recording.
However, I have found that a lot of those don’t really work for me, because what I end up doing is I tend to lock myself in place, which means that now my entire lower body when I’m standing is just locked in a single position. I found that actually does not help. That actually contributes to more muscle knots, more storing of tension, and that means that any recovery period after work takes longer. So, this particular anti-fatigue mat that I have is actually contoured, and it only has a small, still standing spot, just barely big enough for your feet. But it has raised sides so that if I want to, I can shuffle around, and I can keep my body engaged, and I can keep moving. And this is useful for me personally; shuffling while I’m thinking is actually very useful, and it can actually keep me standing longer because I’m not locked into a single position.
Another thing that I have that’s another ergonomic device are, of course, input devices. So, mice. Spend money on a good mouse. The one I currently have is a Logitech MX Master 2. They are fairly ergonomic. They do sell a left-handed version if you can order it directly from them.
I also have a very unusual keyboard. [laughing] I have a DIY keyboard based on the Helix PCB that I got from GitHub. It is an ortholinear 60%-size keyboard that is split. So now my fingers only have to go up and down, they don’t have to go left or right at all, like I would on a staggered keyboard. And because it’s split—and this is something that goes back to the You have to know yourself—is that my most comfortable typing pattern is with my forearms resting on the table. Not everyone is like that but for me that’s absolutely essential for long-term typing. So, by having a split keyboard I can keep my forearms rested on the table surface, and then, I can actually position the keyboard so that my wrists are bent from left to right. And this reduces a lot of fatigue for me. Getting this keyboard—building this keyboard as a matter of fact, I built it myself—was just a revolution in typing for me, because now my wrists aren’t in agony at the end of every individual day.
IVAN: So, you have a good chair, a Herman Miller chair, you have a nice mat that you can stand on so that the lower half of your body doesn’t lock. You have a good mouse and then ergonomic keyboard and a standing VariDesk that you can move up and down.
Chris and Dani, do you guys have any equipment, any furniture, anything that you’re using right now that you absolutely love that you could recommend?
CHRIS: I got a standing desk from Amazon. I don’t know the brand, but it was just the frame, the mechanical part, and then I built a top for it so that I could just make it as big as I wanted to, but that’s pretty nice. It’s electronic, although you can get ones for relatively low cost that are mechanical with a crank. Using it, to remember to use it—sometimes I don’t, hen I’m really focused on coding I need to sit down, I can’t seem to do that standing up.
But, the other thing I have is a vertical mouse. It’s an Anker A7851. I’m right-handed so it’s really easy. I’m sure you could get a left-handed one, similar to the one that Tess has. But it’s nice. It’s comfortable. My hands are more vertical and that’s really important to me.
I have a hard time buying chairs. I ended up with a chair that’s relatively comfortable, but I didn’t go out of my way to find a really expensive one, like a higher quality one, but that would probably be the next thing on my list.
IVAN: Yeah, when that tech stipend kicks in for you again Chris, that’s maybe something you could use it for.
TESS: I actually do want to highlight the whole tech stipend we have at TEN7, because I think that a lot of companies that are now considering going fully distributed really should look into that idea.
IVAN: Oh, that’s a good point. So, we’re talking about these things as if we can just go to the store and buy them and money will appear magically. But I guess the reality is, there are a lot of people that are working from home now for the first time with employers that had never had to think about, Oh, what do we do if we have employees at home, and how are we going to support them in obtaining the necessary furniture or the necessary technology equipment.
So, Tess, what you’ve mentioned is the tech stipend that TEN7 has. So, what we do as a company is we provide $1500 dollars every year to every employee so that they can take care of whatever technology needs they have at home. Whether they are paying for internet access, or buying a new chair, or buying a computer every three, four, two years, whatever they want. It was our way of saying, Okay, we’re providing these tools and necessary equipment at the office when you’re in the space with us, why wouldn’t we provide that same benefit to you when you’re at home? So, it would behoove employees that are at home for the first time to talk to their employers about how their employers could support them. I think that from an employer’s standpoint this also has a lot to do about trusting employees. Trusting them that they’re going to spend the dollars in the way that benefits them the most. It gives them some sort of accountability as well. And at the end of the day it allows those employees to set themselves up for success.
Unfortunately for Chris and Dani, you guys are going to have to wait a little longer for your tech stipend to kick in, because you did have those big purchases of computers, but pretty soon you’ll be able to get that chair Chris, and Dani I don’t know what you’re going to be getting as a result. [laughing]
DANI: So, I’m not coding like Chris and Tess are, so I have a bit of a different working pattern in terms of how I’m using my hands and everything. I don’t have any specific equipment that I could speak to or recommend, but what I do have, and what is imperative is a daily yoga practice which I like to think counteracts all the computer work I’m doing every day.
IVAN: Tell us about that.
DANI: Yeah, so, pretty much at the end of every day I do some sort of yoga practice and I do a lot of work on my arms and wrists. There are a lot of different exercises you can do to counteract the repetitive stress and the hunching over. So the two best things are arm and wrist stretches, and then backbends actually to counteract the hunching over all day. There are tons of different things you can do, and that is the number one thing that helps me with any sort of pain or discomfort from sitting at a computer all day. And now i lost my train of thought.
IVAN: You were telling us about what tools you absolutely love, and I think that yoga practice is definitely a tool. I wish I was using it more myself.
DANI: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s really important especially if you’re not able to get all the equipment you need, or if you are having any discomfort. If I go two days without that practice, I feel it immediately, and I know that I need to get it in somehow. So, if you are able to do that, especially now there are tons of online yoga resources, all studios have classes online now, it’s pretty easy to find just some kind of basic practice.
IVAN: Which one do you use? You use your local yoga studio, or do you have some online resources that you can recommend and maybe we’ll put those in the show notes?
DANI: Yeah, I do use my local studio, she’s actually local to Austin, where I live, but she is a world famous YouTube yoga instructor. It’s called Yoga with Adriene. She’s amazing and she has a lot of videos where she really breaks things down. So, for people who have never practiced yoga before, she’s really great at explaining and breaking down poses for you and she has a ton of videos on YouTube for free. So, that is definitely something that I would recommend. Then some of my local studios, there’s a studio called Practice Yoga, and they’re just putting free videos on their Facebook page. So, tons of studios are doing things like that, are making it really, really affordable to have a membership. One studio is doing something, for $2s a month, you can have unlimited access to online videos, so, it’s very, very accessible right now.
IVAN: That’s awesome. We’ll put all those links in the show notes. Yoga with Adriene , I love it.
So, I wanted to just mention the one thing I absolutely love from the tool set that I have at home, and those are my headphones. There’s a lot of talk about which headphones to get, and usually the recommendation is, “get some good ones,” and then the additional recommendation is, “get some good ones with a boom mic that extends from the headset to your mouth”, so that it’s directional, so that you don’t get all of the noise that’s in the room itself. I actually have a pair of Bose QuietComfort II. They are so comfortable. They are just incredible from a noise cancelling perspective. I honestly don’t hear anything that’s going on in the house. Then I have a $50 stand and supposedly professional podcast mic that I got on Amazon that I absolutely love, and I think sounds pretty good. And those two work out really well for me. The thing I like about the headphones is the ability for it to be connected to more than one device at the same time. Sometimes it’s a pain, like when you’re recording a podcast and someone calls you on your phone, but most times it’s really useful. So that’s what I like.
We’ve talked a lot about tools and getting set up and going to work, and I want to talk about actually being in work and doing the work. Are there any things that you do when you’re stuck on some sort of work that you’re looking at? Something that just isn’t working out, that you can’t seem to crack. What do you do when you have those things? Any strategies that we can talk about? Or maybe when you’re not able to focus at home?
CHRIS: One of the things I do when I’m stuck with, sort of a logic problem in coding that—I can’t really switch to another task, like another coding project usually doesn’t help me to do that—sometimes I have to just walk around aimlessly up and down the stairs around the house, maybe go outside, just for like five, 10 minutes.
IVAN: Aimlessly. [laughing]
CHRIS: Right. Cause I think usually I get into a rut and I can’t let go of a way of thinking about the problem. And then by just going into neutral and not actively thinking about anything but just wandering, it usually clears up, and then I can come back to it. Which is probably true, even if I worked at an office, I used to do that at the school when I was trying to solve a problem with some projects that I worked on, internal programming projects that I did for them. And sometimes it helps just to switch projects. But getting up and walking around is a good idea no matter what. I think it’s easy when there aren’t distractions, like people coming by to ask you how your weekend was or whatever. I could forget to eat lunch and be at the desk for six hours straight, and then just get up and feel just terrible. So, it’s really important to get up and move around, and I think thinking is better when you’ve had some physical activity as well.
DANI: Yeah, I totally agree with that. I think just getting up and walking around can either clear your head or bring new ideas into your head. Just stepping away and not even trying to think about the thing you were working on, but just like even forgetting about it, sometimes ideas will come to you.
One other thing I think TEN7 does really well is reaching out to each other for help when we’re stuck with things. I think getting another perspective can be really helpful, and TEN7 does that better than almost anyone I’ve ever seen. We’re not afraid to reach out to each other for help when we need it, which I think is a really great quality.
TESS: So, I definitely have a lot of the same techniques that Chris does. Usually I do household chores. Small, short ones, like start a load of laundry, wash a few dishes like Dani has mentioned, sometimes those work. One extreme one that I have that I didn’t think would work but actually has come into be really handy in my toolbelt is, sometimes you have this task in front of you that you can’t put down. You have to actually finish it today, so you have to work through it. But for whatever reason your brain just doesn’t want to engage. You can’t focus, you can’t get yourself awake enough to actually work on it. The coffee doesn’t do anything for you. So, I came up with the weirdest strategy that I could, that only really works when you’re working from home, and only when you have a lot of trust in your workplace. And I call it “adrenaline leveraging.” How this works, at least for me, is I noticed for a long time, I’m very capable of concentrating on something else and having some piece of media on, provided that media is very familiar to me. So, like a movie like a Star Trek movie or Star Wars or I don’t know, the Hellraiser films, Event Horizon, weird things like that. These films have points in them that I enjoy, that make me excited, that make me more interested and promote a sense of focus.
And what I can do is, since I’m so familiar with these films already, I’m not really paying attention to them, but I’m paying just a slice of CPU time, enough attention to them, to get me into that mode where I’m getting excited, that I’m looking forward to the next bit, and that makes me more focused. And then I leverage that adrenaline and put it into work. I don’t have to do this very often, once maybe every three months probably. But it becomes really handy when you get into that situation where you just can’t put down a task and do something else, you have to keep going on it.
IVAN: Yeah, I find that standing up and going downstairs to get a snack or to play with my dog or to walk the dog really puts a different perspective on things, and maybe when I’m walking the dog, I come up with whatever solution I was trying to find, and then when I get back up the office to my desk, it just pours out.
I’ve never been the kind that has to spend time outside of the house, working as well, but there are people who do. There are people who have routines where you spend time in the morning, and you work from home and in the afternoon you go out to a coffee shop of course, unless you’re in the middle of a pandemic, that’s not possible. But I think location shifting makes a difference in solving problems as well.
I do want to wrap things up here, I think we’ve had a wonderful discussion amongst ourselves. Is there anything that you would like someone who is just starting to work from home to know or to remember from the things that you’ve learned over the last few years in your journey to working from home full time?
CHRIS: One of the things I’ve been telling people, friends who are now working from home, to help them, is talking with your workplace team to get onto some kind of platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams, whatever your infrastructure allows. And it has to be a requirement, you have to work with the organization, you have to get people to be on board with that. But there needs to be a way to have an organized conversation. Google Hangouts is not sufficient, because you can’t categorize your conversations by project or client or topic, and that’s really important. Without that, I think it would be very difficult to do the work, because you need to be able to communicate with people in a way that’s quick, that doesn’t give itself to long communication. Like in email, I tend to be a little too verbose—well I tend to be verbose generally. But, in email [laughing]...but in Slack it’s much easier, quick messages, get in contact with people, and I think that that’s really important, and it’s just getting people on board with it and making sure they’ve got it open on their computers at all times. And I think that’s essential.
IVAN: We would not have been able to have done this conversion from located into virtual without Slack. I think that was one of the main things for us that was absolutely essential. So, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Mattermost, whatever your stack is at the office, or whatever your platform is, talk to your employers and get some sort of real-time messaging in place.
DANI: Yeah, and to Chris’ point, the team needs to be unified on what those things are that you do, how you communicate. TEN7 does something that I really like that I thought was going to be annoying but is not.
IVAN: What is it?
DANI: Which is the attendance channel in Slack. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] Oh.
DANI: [laughing] And so, it seemed like Oh I’m going to have to remember to post in there every time I change course or go somewhere or do something else. But I think it’s really, really helpful in knowing where people are at. So, the attendance, for context, we post in the attendance channel when we’re, for example, stepping away from our computer, or when we’re back at our computer, or when we’re out for the day, so that the team knows if they’re waiting to hear from us on something they can check the attendance channel and see, Oh, that person stepped away for a little bit, or Oh, it’s the end of the day and I have to ask somebody something, but oh it looks like they’re out for the day. I personally think that has been really valuable.
IVAN: I really love the attendance channel as well, and people ask me why we have it because why don’t we just use the indicator, the circle with the green, and empty to note that if we’re there or not. And I explained that, Well, we have five separate states that we just use all the time. Everybody knows what they mean, and you could be at your desk in green, but you cannot be at your desk in a circle as well. You’re still working, you’re still in the office, you’re there. And, it is nice to know if someone stepped away, or if someone’s out for the day, you can just check the attendance channel. So, I agree with you. I’m glad you talked about how you thought it might be annoying and it actually isn’t, so maybe that’s something that other people can help too.
Tess, any thoughts before we close?
TESS: I think the most important thing that I have learned throughout my many, many years doing remote work is you really need to have a post-work ritual. Just like how you get in your car at the end of the workday, drive all the way home, then you either change into more comfortable clothes, or you make dinner or you take a shower or something. It’s a good idea to have that “banishing” ritual necessary for you to get out of the work headspace. Otherwise you’ll keep doing it. Especially, a lot of tech workers when they get into something, it’s going to be very difficult for them to pull themselves out. It’s very important to have that ritual. Mine, for example, on most days is, I usually exercise right after work. I can’t work out in the morning, it just never works for me. I could work out late at night, but it trashes my ability to do anything else. I found that if I work right after work, I have to change my outfit to my gym outfit, I set up my bike, I set up my pneumatic trainer so I can use my bike indoors. And then I just go at it watching whatever. Right now, I’m somewhere around episode 600 of the original Dark Shadow series.
IVAN: [laughing] I have no idea what that is.
TESS: [laughing] Other people will know. I blame PBS. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] Okay.
TESS: But afterwards then, it’s time to make dinner, and by the time I’m done with all of that stuff, I’m thoroughly out of the work headspace, and I don’t have a problem feeling like I need to get back into it, or that I need to pick a problem back up. It’s only under rare exceptional circumstances where something just really gets under my skin that I feel the need to go back to it, but that doesn’t happen very often.
IVAN: Or if there’s a server that goes down, that kind of does that to you as well. [laughing]
TESS: Oh, yes, that.
IVAN: Yeah. That’s a really good piece of advice to have a ritual after you’re done. Just like you’re going to work, you should be coming home too. It sounds like Dani does yoga, you have your ritual, and I find that it’s sufficient for me to be walking down the stairs and kind of just really leaving the computer upstairs. That’s my thing. I leave my laptop and I leave my desktop upstairs and that means that I’m done for the day. And I can walk down, and I can see the dog and take the dog for a walk, see the kids, Oh, yeah, kids are there we’re good, it’s done. Very good advice.
Guys, it’s been awesome talking to you. I can’t believe it’s already the end of the show here. It’s like we’re a little longer than usual but that’s totally fine. It’s been a blast.
CHRIS: Definitely. It’s been a good talk.
DANI: Yeah, thanks for having us.
IVAN: Thanks for being on. Thank you, Chris, thank you Dani, thank you Tess, for joining me today. It’s been awesome. You’ve been listening to a special episode of The TEN7 podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, please stay at home and wash your hands. This is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.