On working from home

So it took a pandemic to force realisation on employers with corporate staff how their workforce could operate remotely. Believe it or not, at one of the companies that I worked for in the past, I did ask whether I could work from home ONE day a week and was denied that opportunity. There were people in my org who were working from home regularly once or twice in a week so I found it weird why I was denied. When I pointed and asked why can they do it? The unofficial answer was that they had kids and lived far away so it was ok for them. Ok, so I can work from home ONE day a week if I got married, had kids and lived in the middle of nowhere and I can’t now because I’m single and I live in the city? Smells like a bad deal to me 😂

Welp, here we are in the middle of a pandemic and now everyone is working from home. I wonder what the situation is like at that company. Are people forced to have kids so that it’s ok for them to work from home? I can only wonder.

Anyways, my current company has been pretty generous in allowing for such things. My manager (and the company in general) has a hands-off approach - as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter where I do it from. While I absolutely LOVE working in the office, working from home definitely has its perks.

🏢❤️ Reasons why I love working from the office

My company’s office is based in London. It’s a brand spanking new office on the 16th floor, managed by some of the best people I know. Incidentally, I live in London too, and not in the middle of nowhere. Yes, it is expensive to live in London but we’ll get to how I manage that in another post.

☕ The coffee machine

The coffee machine in my office is out of this world. I’ve been told its very expensive, costs several arms and legs but it is really worth the expense. It makes all the usual drinks, plus the best hot chocolate ever. However, just when you think its pretty good, it amazes you with its Bluetooth capabilities. It comes with an app that lets you create a custom drink. You can choose the level of foam, the intensity of the coffee shot, amount of milk etc. It also has a steamer that you can use to steam your mug before getting coffee in it so that it doesn’t cool down the coffee too much.

But this is not the only reason why I love the coffee machine. Its the conversations and the random collisions that happen around this wonderful machine. I work in Software Engineering, as a Software Engineer so I’m quite further away from the end-user of the product that I develop. But when I am at the coffee machine, I get a chance to meet some of the brightest minds who do work directly with the end-user of my product. They tell me things that I wouldn’t even know to ask. Things like what the customers are doing outside of what the product offers. Where the industry is going. What is going on in the customer success org. These are invaluable insights.

In addition to this, I am able to offer what it is that I am doing, where the Software Engineering org is going. Where the general tech is going. What is possible, what is not possible to do in the current product. How easy it is to implement something - this is surprisingly important because sometimes non-technical people think something is really hard to implement in the software but a lot of times its not, its just a simple code change that can unlock whole host of capabilities for our customers!

🥪 The lunches

I live on my own, and no this is not going to be a sad story with a slow violin 🎻 playing in the background while I harp about how difficult it is to live on your own in a big city. Actually it’s pretty great but again we’ll cover that in another post.

I love cooking because it gives me a good break from working, and when I think really hard about it, subconsciously it gives me a chance to be the computer, to simply follow instructions from a recipe book or memory than having to think too much about it. That aside, I also love to eat! For all the high-intensity workouts that I do, at a subconscious level, I do them so that I can enjoy food afterwards. Working at an office in Central London means that there are always some cool lunch spots around. Think of a cuisine and it’s most likely within 10 minutes walking distance. On my first month, I’m pretty sure I didn’t eat two same cuisines in the same week.

What’s better than the food are the lunch time conversations. These range from random non-work related conversations about Brexit or some new game that’s coming out in the week, to something specific that’s happening in a little country that no one has heard of. I can’t search on google for stuff like this. A lot of times during these lunch conversations I’d make a note to self in my head and then google the crap out of it on the weekends, going head first into a giant rabbit hole. Knowledge is awesome.

🏢👎 Downsides of working from the office

💸 Expensive

Yes, those sweet sweet Vietnamese curries that I devour for lunch add up over time. Are they worth it? 100% but when I do the math, they do add up. I’m eating in Central London, it is going to be expensive.

Also travelling to work is expensive too. Not too expensive compared to the normal London standards, I am definitely not taking a black cab to work every day, but expensive compared to what the travel costs might be if I was doing the same commute in a smaller city or town. The London underground is pretty efficient at getting people to work on time - on most days; however, the monthly subscription isn’t cheap. Now I don’t remember how much I used to pay, maybe £150-£200 a month? I switched from taking the tube to cycling to work almost two years ago but it was definitely an expense that I thought I could cut at the time.

🚃 Travel

Getting to work is fun. On some days I feel like a real grown-up with my laptop bag and headphones on, walking to my nearby train station. Hurr Durr look at me, I’m an adult going to work 😂

What is not fun is getting squished in London underground carriage under some giant 6 foot something person’s armpit when it’s already stuffy inside because it has been raining all morning. Also, the whole queuing to get into a carriage is pretty tiring. Watching the tube arrive, only to see it jam-packed with people already on it, hoping that group in the middle might get off at this stop so that I can find a 5”x5” space to stand.

While I did want to highlight the travel aspect, as not everyone cycles to work, I’ve not had such issues since I started cycling to work. In fact, these issues have turned into fuel for me to continue cycling to work. On days when I feel like not riding my bike, I just imagine that picture of me in the tube, cramped in a tiniest of spaces, and suddenly my legs don’t feel tired anymore.

👋 Interruptions

Now this is not the case all the time. My colleagues are pretty well disciplined in that I don’t get random taps on my shoulders all the time. The typical “hey I want your attention but don’t want to disturb you” is someone’s head coming up the horizon like a meercat, hoping I would notice. Occassionally someone would tap on my shoulder or wave in front of my eyes, but usually these methods are reserved for when my attention is really needed.

The issue with interruptions is that it breaks being in The Zone. When I am in The Zone, my mind is usually holding the context of what I am working on. The context of the application, the customer use case, the testing, the code framework that I am using, all the changes I need to make, in sequence, tracking errors and the mental list to fix them, and in what order. This is just scratching the surface. Ask any Software Engineer and they’ll tell you how important The Zone is in gettting stuff done. When someone taps on my shoulder, all this, the entire mental universe of things comes crashing down and vanishes.

Surpirisingly, this is fine and in the subsequent times I get interrupted, it gets easier to re-create the state of mind that is being in The Zone. However, it gets tiring and causes mental fatigue that builds up over the day, until at the point when one’s too tired to do anything.

🏡❤️ Reasons why I love working from home

I live in Greenwich, a borough pretty close to Central London. My neighbourhood is pretty quiet, mostly residential with a few shops and nice restaurants at a stone’s throw. I moved into my current place only last year so I am still pretty new to the area. Since it’s only been a year, I am still setting up my place. It’s sort of good that I was forced to work from home because it has made me rethink how I should organise my living space. Initially, when I set out planning the home furnishings, my priorities were different - they were designed around not being at home all the time. Now it’s different because I need my home to be able to support me if I have to work from it all the time.

🌌 The Zone

Working from home is completely different compared to working from the office. Sure I’m doing the same work but its the environment that makes it different. Living alone 🎻, my flat is very quiet. It makes it easy for me to slip into The Zone where hours go by like seconds and work gets done quicker than ever. It’s a mental state of absolute focus. I usually get into it when I have a clearly defined end goal. Like designing or implementing a feature from end to end. It is great to start my day, pick up a task, get in The Zone and then end the day having either done the task completely or made significant progress on it.

Interruptions that break being in The Zone when I am working from home just aren’t there. Occasional delivery guy delivering something or a neighbour needing a chat are things I can usually work around. And since they are not that frequent the mental fatigue build up over time is pretty small.

💰 Savings

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t true: working from home has saved me some money. Not as much as I thought it did, the main large expenses are still there but some of the medium to small ones have disappeared. For example, I don’t buy lunches anymore, I cook at home most of the time. So while my monthly grocery expense has gone up, the lunch expense going down has added a decent boost. Apart from that, there aren’t many savings that I have made. Also, the cost of not having to buy lunch is offset by me ordering food for delivery on few of the days. This has increased the cost because the food delivered is more expensive than the cost of me walking up to a place to buy lunch.

🛋 Comfort

Now this could vary depending on your setup - for me, it is more comfortable working from home. My chair, table, monitor, the whole setup is tailored to my liking. Sure it might not be objectively the best but I’ve designed it to be comfortable to my liking. Occassionally, if I get bored, I move over to the sofa with my work laptop and start working from there. Or work from the balcony during summer.

Having said that, the comfort of working from home came at a cost, both financially and physically. I have suffered from RSI in the past so it took me a while to adjust everything to my liking. While I did this, my RSI got triggered a bunch of times when I suffered from wrist pain, only to figure out that the source was the height of the chair or not having a separate keyboard to work.

🏡👎 Downsides of working from home

🤫/👋 Too quiet / too many interruptions

This one’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Since I live on my own, I find my surroundings to be too quiet. Maybe its because I grew up in a busy home but I like ambient sounds during the day. When I grew up, my dad conducted most of his business from home and my mum was a full-time housewife so while they ensured quiet surroundings when I was studying, there were always few ambient sounds of my mom cooking or my dad opening/folding newspaper to read etc. Here in my London flat, sometimes I find it to be too quiet. Not that I want to live in a noisy neighbourhood but maybe I’m now used to those ambient sounds of people being around me.

I know some people who are living with their families are finding it difficult to work from home. Partly due to interruptions from their kids who were at home all day when schools got closed and also from their partner / rest of the family members. It can be difficult if there isn’t a separation of space, between a dedicated working space and normal “living space”.

⚡️ Over working

While being in The Zone has it’s perks, this is one of the downsides. I’ve had days when I’ve forgotten to take both lunch and dinner. I’d get out of The Zone at 9pm only when I realise I’ve been struggling to see because the monitor is too bright and I’ve not turned on the lights. Also I am hungry, why am I so hungry?!

It’s not just being in The Zone. It’s also to do with not having to travel. When I am working in the office, having to get home is almost a driver for me to wrap things up and call it a day. That physical separation of 6 mile bike ride gives me good time to start unwinding. At home there is no such thing so it is easier to keep working. I sometimes find myself starting work at 8am and finishing at 10pm! It’s not a problem for me personally because I love what I do but it’s not good for the long term health and longevity. I know this sort of behaviour causes burnout and it’s not good for anyone.

🏃‍♂️ Workout discipline

Maybe this is just me that has this issue. Since I bought myself an indoor bike trainer, working out when working from home is a little more challenging than going out for a bike ride. Also since I have lost that morning and evening bike ride to/from work, I sort of feel extra pressure to step up my indoor bike workouts. Usually when I am working from the office, I’d get 40-ish minutes of free workout every day, just riding my bike to work. Then I’d go to a nearby gym and workout from there for an hour. That would make total of 8+ hour work week just working out. Pretty good!

Now that I am working from home, I’ve lost that ride to work workout time. Sure its not super intense but it still burns more calories than me walking within my flat. The indoor workout time is about 1 hour a day which would make it 5 hours spent working out during the work week. Nowhere close to the previous 8+ hours.

On top of this riding bike indoors is less fun. I use Zwift so its definitely more fun than staring at a blank wall but its not as much fun as riding outdoors. However, it is a whole another level of intensity. On London roads, I can never ride continuously for an hour with an average speed of 22 miles an hour on a bike. In Zwift, I can. It is very good for building fitness very quickly. However this step up in intensity and a step down in time spent working out during the work week is hard to put in numbers and therefore hard to compare to see whether I am doing enough.

Conclusion

So there you have it. My thoughts so far on working from home. It has its ups and downs. While I do wish the office would open sooner rather than later, I wouldn’t attend the office if the COVID restrictions are in place, limiting interactions, no access to kitchen etc. Because thats why I go to the office in the first place. I can do my work anywhere, I don’t need to be present in the office to do it. But it is the interactions and conversations that I value so much more than anything else.

If the restrictions were to open, I’d prefer a mixed appoach, where I work from home on days when I need to get certain things done, and go into the office for most of the other days. Although, not sure where I would draw the line of going and not going to the office. Maybe we’ll discuss that in another post.

What are your thoughts so far? How do you feel working from home? Would you rather be in office? What are your hacks to get more out of your work from home life? Please write a comment below. I’d love to hear about it.