There are millions of developers around the globe working remotely either as freelancers, regular contractors or even based on actual employment. But regardless of the nature their engagement is predicated upon (ignoring the 500+ employee, enterprise grade behemoths for minute), their most natural habitat is in fact the homeoffice.
That being said, devs are really used to it and the recent COVID-19 lockdown measures introduced by many governments around Europe and the U.S. won’t change a dime for them. But just because developers are ahead of the game when it comes to staying focused, organized, disciplined and productive at home, it doesn’t mean that there was no learning curve attached to it.
So how do you avoid drowning in chaos and distraction now that you have probably no choice but staying at home? Well it depends on what situation you are in and what level of distraction you are exposed to. Surprisingly, there is plenty of distraction at home and several scenarios to screw up, so let’s break them down!
You must set one! This is the single most important thing to do. Identify an area of comfort you can occupy, uphold and protect against intruders!
That’s really not easy but an absolute requirement. Depending on infrastructure, you need to set up an environment for yourself. It will be a lot more difficult to do this if you are living in a one room shack with your family as opposed to having a formidable room in Wayne manor. One way or the other, you need to make sure that you conquer a spot and retain it for yourself.
In all fairness, it took me years and a few apartments until I managed to deploy a huge 4×2 corner desk in a 20sqm room, featuring whiteboards, shelf’s, a full blown 4-monitor power user setup and a digital lock that would fend off family members from entering arbitrarily. In fact, hardly any employer could offer me a working experience that would closely compare to what I have at home, so with time and effort, you can get your own Batcave, just push for it!
There are a few common ones, 2 of which I will quickly circumscribe. At the end of each scenario you’ll find my advice on what to do to control mayhem.
Stuck with Family
Now this can be anything from your mother in law, to having 3 children and a wife sitting in the same room as you are. To make things worse, the moment children are involved you are screwed and clusterfuck is within. They don’t let you finish a single sentence, get bored, need entertainment, occasionally there is demand for food and there is a perpetual absence of silence.
You have no control, get used to it! There are bad days and then there are legendary bad days. But at no time anything will work according to plan in the short term. That is in fact very frustrating, making you think why on earth you’d want homeoffice other than being forced to.
It’s hard to argue on that but you can actually make it enjoyable over time. Due to the fear of contracting the Corona virus, many will soon find themselves having established routines at home, making the average day very predictable and that’s a good thing!
The faster you establish routines, the more likely you are to become productive. In this scenario, Time is your enemy and its working relentlessly against you by design. You are losing so much time and energy to manage the chaos around you that there is less focus on work.
Routines help you keep the entourage busy. Set rules, become a dictator, introduce reward systems, do the same thing at the same time every day (eat, go for a quick walk, take a bike ride with them, let them present you their achievements of the day, ….). It is much easier for kids to spend 30 minutes on constructing lego objects if they know that you’ll be there right after to take them out for a 20-minute bike ride. If on the other hand you’d just tell them that you are with them soon, they will come asking you every 2 minutes when is “soon”.
All by yourself
Isolation and social neglect are mid- and long-term problems of working at home all alone. Out of the 2 scenarios presented, for me, this is the lesser evil, but for many it inflicts everyday pain. Even if you have a partner that you can physically interact with in the evening, you are spending most of the time by yourself.
Although developers don’t tend to be the most social people on face value, they are not sociopath or misanthrope either, so contrary to public believe, it is my opinion that the majority would not enjoy the lack of human peers.
The key difference to the previous scenario is that you’d have all the time you need as there are no natural distractions. Scheduling your day ahead will help you get comfortable with what you are doing. Again, it is about routines, the earlier you adopt, the more efficient you become.
Get up, shower, dress, grab a coffer, do whatever you’d do as if you had to commute to work. Introduce breaks, take a short walk, come back, continue. The fact that you are actually leaving the house will make homeoffice feel less stationary, plus you are already dressed up in case someone requested a video call.
Wherever you are finding yourself, there are distractions in every corner of the house. I have put together some of those that will deteriorate your performance in work, your fitness and eventually your wellbeing.
When you are at home, you need less food, not more! Control your food intake and don’t let the opportunity fool you. If you eat too much your grow fat, then you become unhappy, depressed, divorced, …, well you get the gist. Establish routines!
Yes, the laundry is an issue that has to be taken care of, but not whilst you are focusing on work. If you are not at home, no one would do it either. You partner is assigning you tasks to be accomplished throughout the day, …, don’t do them, the quality of your work is at stake.
Just because no one is watching doesn’t mean that your social media accounts, personal amenities or Amazon wish lists should take precedence over what you are supposed to do. On the other hand, leaving it unattended will develop into an itch you can’t seem to scratch. Thus, introduce routines by scheduling time-slots throughout the day that are specifically dedicated to wasting time on the internet. When done, work distraction free!
Don’t f**k up your peers by not having the right equipment at the time you need it. You are using Linux as OS at home, fine! Unless you are a die-hard developer that is perfectly accustomed to it, go to Rome and do what the Romans do. If you have a Teamviewer screen share session scheduled with a colleague and then 2 minutes ahead of the call you realize that Teamviewer does not work on Linux, this is your f**king fault, not theirs. Don’t make others suffer because you are not prepared.
You have a Skype call and don’t find the headset to talk with, again, your fault! You are using Libre Office instead of Microsoft Office because its free, well, so are the features. It doesn’t support VBA, formatting is terrible, it lacks common features and functionality and it uses a different file format.
Don’t make it other people’s problem that you are working from home. If you can’t get even this sorted, don’t work from home!