The Changelog – Episode #391
Work from home SUPERCUT
conversations from JS Party, Go Time, & Brain Science
Today we’re featuring conversations from different perspectives on working from home from our JS Party, Go Time, and Brain Science podcasts here on Changelog.com. Because, hey…if you didn’t know we have 6 active podcasts in our portfolio of shows. Head to changelog.com/podcasts to collect them all!
- Jerod Santo – Mastodon, Twitter, GitHub, LinkedIn
- Suz Hinton – Twitter, GitHub, Website
- Nick Nisi – Twitter, GitHub, Website
- Kevin Ball – Twitter, GitHub, LinkedIn, Website
- Mat Ryer – Twitter, GitHub, LinkedIn, Website
- Mark Bates – Twitter, GitHub, Website
- Carmen Andoh – Twitter, GitHub
- Jon Calhoun – Twitter, GitHub, Website
- Adam Stacoviak – Mastodon, Twitter, GitHub, LinkedIn, Website
- Mireille Reece, PsyD – LinkedIn
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Notes & Links
Check out the following links for the show notes of each show featured:
Click here to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
What is up, party people? It’s your friends - it’s Jerod, it’s Suz, it’s Nick and it’s Kball. Say hi, friends!
We are calling in from a remote bunker, a.k.a. our houses… Which is new, and yet not new, because many of us do call in here from our houses… But mid-Coronavirus, or maybe beginning of Coronavirus; we don’t know how long this thing is gonna last, but… Many of us out there in the world either practicing social distancing by choice, or being told to do so by local authorities and our works, we thought it would be timely to talk about working from home. Because while many of us work from home, these days pretty much all of us are working from home, and that presents all kinds of challenges, and benefits, and there’s lots of ins, lots of outs… And we thought “Hey, let’s do a show all about it.”
I should mention, our sister podcast, our rivals, those gophers over there at Go Time also did a Work From Home episode this week; we’ll cross-link that. If you just can’t get enough of this stuff, you can go listen to Go Time… But don’t stay. It’s not very nice over there. [laughter] JS Party is where you wanna be.
Or you could just get both in the Master feed.
Ooooh… I like your style, Kball. I’ll give you your five bucks after the show, for saying that. [laughter]
Ironically, I’ve been writing more Go recently, so I feel like I should be over there, rather than over here today…
Oooh… Well, the water is warm on both sides of the fence. No, I’m mixing my metaphors…
[03:54] Let’s get into the content before I say more ridiculous sentences, and talk about working from home. We should also mention, there’s another aspect to this particular time, in that we’re not all just working from home, we’re also in more stressful circumstances than ever. So as far as the panel here goes, and our lives, and how we do our work, maybe we just go around real quick and share what our normal day is like, and what we’re up to now. I’ll start…
I’ve been working from home for my entire career, so I have a lot of experience at this. I’m thankful that my life right now doesn’t feel all that different than it usually does, so I’m probably the least affected from the isolation, because I’m so used to it… But I know I’m a little rare in that way. How about you, Suz - are you really a worker-from-homer?
I think Kball is actually in the same bucket as me. I did remote work at my last job for quite a bit, from both New York and from Seattle. Then I quit that job and got a new job. That job is in an office, so I’ve spent the last six months commuting into an office, and trying to rearrange my lifestyle around actually commuting in, and trying to optimize that commute, and things like that. I kind of really settled in. I have a plan on my desk, and everything… And then I’m back to remote. So that’s been my situation.
It hasn’t been enough time for me to really forget what it’s like, and because I’m naturally very introverted, it hasn’t really been a huge social toll on me. In fact, I’ve been trying to see the silver lining of it, given that it has given me a lot more time, sort of alone and quiet situation.
Yeah, so I worked from home for quite a while. I’ve been remote in different settings for different times of my career. I have been for the last almost five months now working at a company where I go in on-site; it’s a short commute, it’s a ten-minute bike ride, so it’s been lovely. I haven’t had to deal with the commute issue as much, so… I mean, that is one, as we get into pros and cons - one benefit for many folks of the work-from-home is dropping the commute.
So yeah, in a lot of ways the same habits and setup that I had I’ve been able to just reapply. Because of that juxtaposition, I have a very strong visual into why this is very different from typical work from home… Particularly because our schools are canceled, childcare is canceled, I’ve been dealing with health issues on my parents, and various other things… So there’s a lot of stuff that’s different this time around, and that’s very visible… But yeah, luckily on the work front I had kind of a routine I could fall back into.
Nick, I know you’ve been a remote worker for a while, but you are under extreme stress these days. Do you wanna share?
Sure. Yeah, I’ve been working since 2011 from home, and I really like it. I don’t wanna go back to an office, at least right now… But I don’t know, maybe that’s changed in the last three days.
Yeah, you kind of want to also, don’t you?
Yeah… I typically get my kids ready for daycare, and I take them, so I have a little bit of a commute to start my day off. Then I come back home and I get to work. I typically work until five, when they come home, and then I’m done working from there.
But with all of this, it’s kind of changed quite dramatically, because we’re in the same situation as Kball, with not childcare right now. My parents are around, but we don’t want them to watch them, because you know, older populations and such, with Coronavirus.
My wife is now also working from home. We have a one-year-old who kind of needs 24-hour attention. When he’s awake, he needs attention and needs to be watched, so he doesn’t do anything crazy… So it’s been tough.
I have switched my schedule now to starting at 4 AM and getting off around noon, 12:30(ish), and then helping with the kids in the evenings, when my wife takes the afternoons and evenings to work. So it’s been quite the change, from that regard. It’s basically two full-time jobs now, for each of us… And it’s been tough.
So you’re off work.
New shift, next shift
Next shift, you’re going to start off the daytime shift… So one thing that’s nice at least is we’re not completely talking out of the air. All of us have extensive experience working from home, and have dealt with a lot of the challenges. There are benefits, there are drawbacks; as with anything in the world of software, it depends… So we thought we would talk a little bit about where we work, and then how we work, and then how we not work, and maybe some of the pros and cons, giving tips and tricks along the way, or sharing our experiences…
I should also mention, a JS Party panelist that couldn’t make it today, but also has extensive experience and has written about it is Chris Hiller. He has a great post which we’ll put in the show notes called “Pro tips for devs working from home”, which he spoke about as I think a pro tip on an episode of JS Party called “You don’t have to dress up, but you do have to get dressed” I think is what it’s called… Which, Kball, you were on that episode…
I was, yeah.
So I’ll also link that up. Chris has a lot of good points, and I think we’ll probably echo some of those here today. But the first thing I wanna talk about is just the ware. I think this is one of the keys to success, to get your ware right… Because the ware is you’re at home, but the challenge is your home is your home, so it’s hard to make it your workplace. So I wanna turn to some tips on how to go about doing that.
Absolutely. I’ll jump in with the first really big one, which is just make sure you separate space, if you at all possibly can. I know for some people, if you’re stuck in a tiny apartment or something, this is not possible… But even if you can have the corner of the room, that is “This is the work corner” and you don’t go there where you’re not doing work, and you do when you’re working, it makes a huge difference for your mental ability to turn on and off, which is one of the big challenges with working from home - your boundaries can really blur.
So number one, any way you can possibly create this for yourself - separate out some workspace that is not the same as all the rest of space in your home.
I would agree with that. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to build a new house… So I’ve been working from home, like I said, my entire career, and the first part of that entire is a bit much, like 95% of my career… And the first part of that I was in the basement, which at least has separation… But I also have many children, as you all know. Back then I had four children in that house; I have six children now in this house… But a non-tip is don’t be underneath children… [laughter]
So I had separation. I could go downstairs, and downstairs was I was working. I come upstairs, and upstairs I am living. And I think that’s so necessary. And a huge mistake to make is to just - I think Chris wrote about it in his post - roll over in the morning from your bed and get your laptop out and get to work… Because it’s just not sustainable.
But in the basement it was hellish. It was actually harder probably on my wife than myself, because her role in this endeavor was to keep the kids from not running around, especially during podcasts… But all the time there was just noise, there was distraction… So I was able to actually design a separate space. Now I’m in an office above the garage. It was a great opportunity to say “Okay, I’m gonna have a workspace. What should it be like? Where should it be? How much separation do I need?” and I’ll tell you, with six children, I can lock every door and nobody can get in. And that’s necessary, because it’s hard enough for me to separate work from life…
But for the kids, for them to understand - which we all just waved at Nick’s daughter as she walked through the room - they don’t get it. They just see their parent and they’re like “Hi!”, and it’s like “Well, you’ve just ruined my flow. It’s gonna take me 20 minutes to get back where I was. Thanks… But you’re cute, so I’ll forgive you.”
[11:54] Yeah, that is a challenge. If you hear kids in the background, it’s because I have no choice right now. They can’t go anywhere, I can’t go anywhere… [laughter] But we’re all having fun together. I’m wearing Spiderman pajamas, she’s wearing Spiderman pajamas, so… You know, we’re having fun.
Yeah. And once again, many folks who are being thrust right now into working from home, at the last minute, no ability to prepare or do anything like that… I’ve seen some pretty inventive setups. I saw somebody set up a standing desk where they had a cardboard area supported by La Croix or something like that, and various other things… Like, you can be inventive; circumstances are less than ideal.
If you’re working from home because of an emergency like this, you can’t go and build yourself a new room, like Jerod did, but you can think about how do you create that space, and at least a little bit of mental separation as much as possible.
Totally. And I think one thing that can go a long ways is a decent pair of headphones. With noise-canceling maybe. Being able to tune out what’s going on around you a little bit - that’ can really help. Even if you’re just playing white noise.
For sure. There’s a – like, I’ll listen to Spotify, but for some things I can’t have lyrics on. There’s a great service that I’ve used called Focus at Will, that plays music without lyrics, a variety of different things, where they’ve done a lot of tuning to try to set it up in such a way that it helps you focus, rather than interferes with your focus… I like that better than white noise. I think it is a paid service at this point, but there may be a free trial.
That sounds. I actually really despise white noise. I don’t know why; it’s just that my brain and my ears just absolutely hate it. And anytime anyone recommends it to me, it reminds me of how comforting it is to most people… But I can’t even stand the sound of a fan, or things like that. So music to me - it has to be variable enough, otherwise my brains just starts getting really annoyed. It’s very irritating to me.
So music has been so comforting… And I’m actually gonna check that one out. Even though lyrics are not as bad for me, as long as I’m familiar with the song already… But I do wanna check out that service. Thanks, Kball.
There is a website called MusicForProgramming.net, which I’ve been listening to for years, and tried to get the person that created it onto our shows, and never quite succeeded, because they’re very shy… But that’s another great one. It’s all ambient-style; the kind of music you wanna listen to when you’re programming, basically.
There’s also an app called Noizio, which is for macOS, and it goes up into your menu bar… And it’s kind of cool. You can toggle it on. Suz, you would hate it, because it’s basically all the kinds of white noise you might want. So you can have the coffee shop sounds, you can have rushing water, you can have lightning, frogs croaking… Basically everything. And then you can also turn on multiple at the same time. So you can be like “I’m at a coffee shop, but somehow there’s frogs in here.”
[laughs] It’s like a rainforest cafe, or something.
Yeah, exactly. But if you’re into that kind of thing, it’s a nice – it was free when I used it. I think it’s a free app for white noise.
I mean, I like nature sounds. It’s just like the manufactured white noise, I don’t like. Along these same veins, FreeCodeCamp’s online vibes are really good, too. They have a YouTube live, a channel that they play. And that music - it’s kind of just like downtempo hip hop beats, but I really like that a lot, too. It’s kind of like lounge music, I guess. Lounge music is definitely underrated as far as being able to chill and program.
One other thing that I remember noticing a lot the most recent time, prior to this - when I switched from in-the-office to work-from-home - was lighting. I was going from being in an office that was brightly-lit all the time, into my home office, which was not… And it took me a while to realize that my mood was substantially lower, because I was just in a less well-lit space for a long period of time…
[15:55] And I invested in getting some better lighting, and even just deliberately – I still don’t have great ambient lighting, but I’ve got one of those little stand lights, and I would even just like shine it on me, and it would make such a difference in terms of my mood through the day, of just having more light around.
I totally agree with that… And that’s not something that you would really think about too much. Or at least I didn’t.
It took me a season to figure it out. I was like “Why am I so much less happy through the day? Oh, shoot. It’s this lighting.”
Yeah. I moved my office to the basement when my second kid was born, because he got the good room with all of the lighting in it… And it took me a long time to realize that maybe it was some lighting that’s missing from my life, that really would make me happier during workdays. So I did get one of those seasonal-affective light that’s supposed to simulate sunshine, and I’d just shine it on me occasionally.
I’m very sensitive to lighting, and I always have been. It’s just how I am, noise and lighting. So for me, I always get so upset immediately, and I’ll notice if the lighting is off. That’s almost like a gift in this particular scenario… Because the first thing I do – when I first moved into this apartment that I’m currently in, I changed out every single light bulb to be the exact same temperature, and not to be “bad temperature”, and tried to put full-spectrum lighting. You don’t necessarily have to have those happy lights, because sometimes they’re a bit expensive, but if you buy a full-spectrum light, that can actually produce something very similar to sunlight, which is very therapeutic for humans.
So for me, I already become miserable just because I’m sort of tuned into spotting bad lighting situations. When I see apartments at night have that kind of greenish tinged, fluorescent light, I just wanna knock on their door and be like “How can you live with this?”, but I realize that different people are sensitive to different things, so… I’m a huge fan of tuning lighting to make yourself just feel so much better. But it’s so hard to notice if you haven’t played with that kind of thing before, so I’m really glad you brought that up.
Elaine in the chat says they hear that wearing shoes helps. I’m not sure if that helps at a standing desk…? Maybe there was some context that I missed there, but - yes, we do watch the chat. If you’re listening live, head to the JS Party channel in our team Slack. If you’re not, and you would like to participate, we love to have live listeners. Changelog.com/live, or Changelog.com/community. Hop into our Slack and participate.
I will say that I’m a big fan and advocate for “treating yourself” when it comes to the location of your work. So whether that’s your desk, your monitor, your speakers, wearing some nice shoes, or having a good throw rug, the lighting, the ambiance… I don’t understand feng-shui, I’m not feng-shui, but if that’s your thing, go ahead and take time and take effort and take money - hopefully you can take your company’s money, if they’re making you work from home - and spend it on the things that you’re going to use and be surrounded by on a day-to-day basis… Because you are going to be there, at that desk, hopefully, at a sustained pace, for a sustained amount of time, and it needs to be an enjoyable and habitable living space. It shouldn’t be a place you dread to be.
Anybody have any specific pics, or hardware, or anything in their space?
I think my favorite thing that I have, that I don’t have when I go into an office, is I have a space heater. [laughter]
Yeah. I just got one of those, and it’s made such a difference.
It’s amazing. I’m a warm weather type person, so I tend to like being very warm… But even things like “Okay, take your shoes off, wear socks, and stick your feet in front of the space heater…” - it’s like luxury, it’s amazing. It’s so much better.
I love that.
[20:02] For me, I like to warm up a space aesthetically… And expanding on that, what I mean is just having things that doesn’t make it look like your room is very clinical. Because you’re in your own space, you can actually be a bit more creative than perhaps you’re allowed to be in an office… So even just things like a cork board - is that what you call it in America? Like a pinboard… And I put little knick-knacks and Polaroid photos and things up there, as well as the cheatsheet for OpenSCAD and things like that, that I constantly refer to. That makes me really happy.
And as far as being able to just cover walls with things, especially if you’re in a rental - I have a giant tapestry, which is just like a piece of cotton with a printed design on it that I got from Society6. It’s pinned with two thumbtacks. Sorry, I’m trying to internationalize how I’m describing these items…
[laughs] You can localize them, no big deal…
So I use thumbtacks, because they’re so small and they’re so high up on the wall; they’re so close to the ceiling you would never notice those little walls… So I’ve been able to hang a tapestry that has just immediately brightened the room without actually damaging the walls, since I’m in a rental… Just little things like that.
If you have the budget to spend $100, you can do a lot to just make the space not feel like some really boring wall… And that’s been very helpful to me. And plants too, sorry. Plants - very important. I really like having plants around my space. So if you’re someone who doesn’t get anxious about the idea of caring for very easy to care for plants, that can really lift your mood as well.
I will echo that. Bring some green into the inside world. For those of you who can see my Zoom…
That’s a little bonsai.
I have behind me a little bonsai. I like to take care of that. And I also have access to a place where I can see outside, which is nice as well.
Any other furniture, decor…? I see in the notes standing desk - I’m an advocate for standing desks as well. It’s nice to have somewhere where you can sit down if you’re a stander… Because all day long can get to be long. Nick or Kball, any other–
It’s probably a longer-term investment, but having a good office chair makes a huge difference, at least for me, in terms of not having my back messed up at the end of the day, and things like that. When I was working from home for a longer period it was a must investment. Depending on where you are right now, you may be looking at shorter or longer periods of quarantine and isolation, and it may or may not be worth that investment… So if you can get your company to pay for it - because they are rather expensive if you get a good one - yes, it’s a very valuable investment.
If you’re thinking about working from home for the long-term, or you have been working from home and you have not invested in a good office chair, it will pay your body back so much.
Yeah, I would echo that as well. For standers, a good standing mat would be a good thing, as well. The one that I have has little bumps in it, to force you to move around a little bit and squirm, just to not stand in a bad posture all day. You kind of have to move around… Which I really like. And then I’ll just be completely crazy and hold up this thing… This is an under-desk elliptical.
Oh, my goodness…
It’s amazing for incredibly boring, incredibly long meetings that I sometimes have to take… [laughter]
Okay, so real quick, Nick - hold that up high. We’re gonna put into our show notes a picture of Nick with his Spiderman outfit, holding up his whatever that thing is. Underdesk elliptical. So you’re not missing out, you’ll find it in the show notes, and you definitely want to go to there.
One of the things that when I first started it took me ages to figure it out, and then I started talking to people more and more about, is when you got to an office you don’t get eight hours of uninterrupted work. You don’t. You get four, maybe. That’s on a good meeting day… No, I’m serious. Between people coming to your desk in interruption, you go to get a cup of coffee and you’re there for ten minutes, somebody in the hall, that hallway meeting… You’d be surprised how when you add those up over the course of the day, those add up to hours in a day.
So if you’re at home, don’t beat yourself up because you decided you’re gonna take the dog for a walk in the afternoon for 20 minutes to stretch your leg. You would have done that to go to the coffee machine, and talked to Joe in accounting about his stupid March Madness that isn’t happening, and you’re like “I don’t care, Joe. I just want a cup of coffee”, and you’re there for 20 minutes… [laughter]
Those things are there, and especially now, where we do have to make time for family, they’re no different than the time we’d have to make for our co-workers, socially, in the office, and the other things that just kind of come along with being in the office.
So I don’t worry anymore about taking breaks, I don’t worry anymore about making bread in the afternoon, or something like that. I’m thinking, I’m doing work in my head, I’m just away from my desk, and that’s okay. I try to do those things when I need that shift of thinking in the way of my keys, I’ll make the bread, I’ll take the dog for the walk, I’ll go to the grocery store, whatever. So I try to work those tasks into those spaces, too.
Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think it’s a very naive view, and people think that you have to just be working solid amounts; like, you have to work eight hours a day, solid, uninterrupted. I’ve worked in situations where it’s office-based, and sometimes the people around you don’t necessarily understand the job in the same way, and they might not be as technical, or just have a different perspective completely…
[27:49] I’ve had some experiences where they really value the amount of time you sat looking at the screen. And if you measure that as a way of deciding how productive you’re being or how good an employee somebody is, it’s really a mistake, I think. Focusing on actually what gets delivered - that’s the important thing. That shift - and especially if you work in a trusted team - can make all the difference.
So things like what time you got started, or how long you spent on your little break, or whatever - that becomes kind of background noise really, because it isn’t that important.
I think there’s also probably a correlation between – like, we’ve all worked in a place where people check things like Reddit, or do other random things as little breaks… But I think the amount of time you spend doing stuff like that changes drastically, depending on whether you’re in a job where they count the amount of time you’re in front of a screen, versus just be as productive as you can be.
Because when I sit down, if I have three hours just to get something done, I don’t check Reddit or do all these other things; I sit down and I do what I need to do. But if I’m gonna be in an office for eight hours and I know I’m stuck there for eight hours, then it’s like “Okay, I can just throw this in, check this thing, check Twitter”, do whatever. It’s a lot easier just to slip all that stuff in and allow yourself to get distracted.
Yeah. So speaking about the commute then… Carmen, you do both - you go to an office every third week, and you also work at home, so you can compare really those two things… What do you do with your commute? How long is your commute? When you work from home, do you think of ring-fencing that commute time to put to some dedicated use? Or is it just blending into the rest of your day?
It’s for exercise. My commute is kind of considered my exercise during my New York weeks. Depending on the subway schedule, it could be - if I catch all the trains right - about 35 minutes; if I don’t, it’ll be closer to an hour, or if I’m off-peak… So when I’m home, I use that time to schedule – it’s just a completely different schedule. I have a different work schedule when I’m home versus when I’m in the office.
Someone in the channel asked if anyone plans to offset their work schedule to accommodate for the family being home, and my answer is 100% yes. I love to get up very, very early, and start my deep work at about five…
In the morning?
In the morning… Because I’m already an early bird.
Which timezone at that?
Right… Well, this started when my team was based in Berlin, and I was the only one in the New York timezone, and I agreed that in order to collaborate more we needed to have more chunks of hours when we all were together… And I already really liked – so nobody in my house likes to wake up early; I’m the only one, and I already do it to get some space.
This doesn’t work for everyone, if you’re not an early bird… But I would work from five, and then end my workday at one. That was perfect in my old job.
I also manage expectations with my team now, and say “Listen, my hours are gonna be a bit blotchy”, but I want some of that deep work. Now that none of the kids are going to school, they don’t wanna wake up till eight… So for me, five to eight is great, deep worktime; I just hit it out of the park. I don’t check emails, I don’t go to social media… Whatever I had set up as my big rock thing to do from the day previous gets done during that time, and it really sets the tone for the rest of my day.
So yeah, to answer, Mat, that is exactly how I ring around that… And I just have internalized very differently what a workday looks like when I’m here at the house, versus what a workday looks like when I’m in the Google offices in New York City.
My brother has three children, and he would walk two of them to the bus… He did something very similar to what you did, where he would get up every morning at 5 or so, he would get basically one big thing he wanted to get done for that day, he’d start working on it then. Then as soon as the kids were getting ready for school, he’d walk them down to the bus and do that… Which would interrupt his day, but – the way he communicated it to me was basically that it allowed him to make sure that he got the most important thing done for the day, and then the rest of the day, if there were distractions, it didn’t matter quite as much.
[32:02] My wife would take and drop one of our kids off, and then go into Boston… Then in the afternoon we’d go take a dog for a huge walk, like an hour-long walk, even though school is like six minutes away… But just get a nice, big walk in in the afternoon. That was nicely scheduled around picking him up. Those things are gone now, for a lot of people.
For me, I’m still trying to keep that timeframe, if I can, and still keep trying to take him out in the afternoon… Although I’ve found that now that my wife’s home, we’re trying to see if we can coordinate a little bit more time in the afternoon for her and I to maybe go for a walk. You know, just a little break in the afternoon, which is quite nice. So if you have a spouse, or a partner, or somebody like that, you can schedule a nice walk in the afternoon, take a break, with kids, whatever…
…walk the dog… Those are all good things. I know she’s turned her morning commute into running. She runs half-marathons, so she gets up ever day, and instead of getting up at 5:30 in the morning to go running, she can get up at 6:30 in the morning and go running instead. That’s her big like “This is wonderful! I can get a nice, big run in every morning.”
Mark, let me ask you this, mate…
What do you wear for bed? [laughter]
Well, you’re gonna have to qualify that for why you’re asking in the context of a free show…
Yes…! I’m not sure I’m gonna answer that. [laughter] I’m sure there’s a code of conduct violation just waiting on the other side of that question…
Just answer the question…
It’s entrapment, is what it is…
[laughs] Okay, fine.
Well, one of the bits of advice you hear a lot is that you should have different clothes to work in. Have you heard this? We didn’t talk about this already, did we?
No. No, we didn’t.
By different clothes you mean like I don’t have to get up, put on a suit, and work at my desk all day, and then change into jeans in the evening, right?
Well, that depends. Some people do actually do that.
My brother does that, actually.
Right. So he presumably doesn’t sleep in a suit…
Well, then he’s not doing that, is he? [laughs]
He’s very conservative…
Then he’s working in his pajamas, which is what they say you shouldn’t do… [laughter] And I don’t know how I feel about this one. Jon, what do you think?
I think it depends on the person. Figure out what works for you… I mean, I said this before we got on air, but – I don’t sleep in pajamas. But I own a bunch of pajamas that when I wake up in the morning, I put them on, because it’s cold in my house… And I will go out and I’ll make my coffee, I’ll go downstairs, I’ll get on my computer and I’ll answer work emails and I’ll do a couple things like that… And I don’t shower for the first couple hours of the day, because I tend to go out and exercise in the afternoon. Somewhere around lunchtime is when I like to go out and exercise.
So a lot of people think that’s weird, because if I hop on a video call or something, they’re like “You clearly woke up and didn’t shower…” [laughter] And I try to limit those calls to just people that are okay with that.
I got that this morning, as a matter of fact…
But to me, that’s just part of my routine that works. It’s kind of like Mark said, I like to get straight to emails and straight to doing that stuff… I like to do these things, and then eventually when I work out – well, I don’t wanna shower twice in a day; I don’t wanna shower in the morning, and then work out, get sweaty, and then not shower, or shower a second time… So it just makes more sense to do this.
Then after I do that, I can put on whatever clothes I want for the rest of the day, and do whatever. I can even link the rest of my day around that, where like if I’m gonna go to the grocery store or do that sort of things, it tends to happen after I’ve showered and put on some normal clothes, not when I’m sitting around in my pajamas.
But that also allows me to sort of – it’s almost like my pajamas are my deep thinking work clothes, because… You know, I’m clearly not leaving the house at this point, I’m not doing that stuff as much… I say “clearly”, but I’ve definitely left the house in my pajamas and my wife yelled at me, but… [laughter] But most of the time.
Yeah… Really, it’s about that mental preparation, whatever habit that you need to get into. It could be that you wear your blue pajamas to bed, and the green pajamas to work… It’s just the point meaning that you’re preparing your mind for a work mindset. And it’s the same trick as I sit in this spot of the small dining table for work, and this spot to eat meals.
Again, it’s boundaries, separating the psychic space of “This is the home, where I try to relax and unwind from work, but also where I now have to work.”
[36:15] The one thing I will say is slippers are 100% allowed.
Oh, yes…! I’m so happy.
And highly encouraged.
Yeah. I totally love that these are what I wear all the time. I’m showing it…
I’ve got some UGG slippers that are just – I got them a couple Christmases ago and they’re just amazing.
Yeah, cozy house slippers are definitely probably top five perks of working from home. [laughs]
Invest in some nice, quality slippers.
That will be like all the links for this show, is just referral links for slippers… [laughter]
“What brand do you use…?” [laughs]
You know what - let’s actually talk about comfort, because that is important. Office chair.
If you can, if you have the space and you have the ability to get a nice office chair, you absolutely should. I’ve gone through a couple different chairs now, and I have a Steelcase chair now, which I absolutely love. I got a Herman Miller maybe 6-7 years ago…
It was like a low-end Herman Miller… But it was the first nice chair I had ever actually splurged on, and didn’t just go to staples and buy the $100 “executive model.” This is a nice chair… And I remember saying to my wife, I was like “Oh, I can’t believe how much I spent on that Herman Miller…” and she’s like “Mark, you sit in it 40 hours a week. That’s a justifiable purchase. Of all the random junk you buy, a nice chair and a good desk are okay things to purchase.”
Yeah, all the Easter Island heads that you bought… [laughter]
I have the full collection, by the way including the one that was just broken but my heart goes out to them…
This is one of those things people are probably asking “Should I make that kind of investments with an unclear amount of time that I’m gonna be at home before returning to the office?” I don’t know if that’s the answer, but this is gonna be more than 5-6 weeks. Your back will thank you if you have the means and the space to invest in a chair.
I use this GT racing chair - I’m showing people in the Zoom chat, but… Gamer chairs are made for this kind of stuff; they’re made for people who are in it looking at the screen for a very long time… I got a racing chair for Christmas as a gift, and it was the best.
You code with one of the steering wheels as well, which I think is amazing.
It also has multiple cupholders, which is amazing.
So I have a Herman Miller at my desk, for work… So I’ve definitely spent money on a more expensive one, because I use it so much… But upstairs at our dining room table we actually have – Costco sells an office chair that’s like $150 (in that ballpark), and it’s not quite as nice as the Herman Miller, but it probably gets you 90% of the way there with ergonomics, and everything… And I would highly suggest, if you’re looking for a cheaper option, to go look there. Where all the Herman Millers and those ones can be $600+, that one will be like $150 or something… And it’s a decent option to check.
And even as far as space goes - my wife and I keep an office chair at our dining room table. It’s just one of the chairs there. And while we both don’t like to work at the dining room table all the time, there are times where I need to go up and watch my daughter while my wife goes and does something, and I can sit there and work… And again, that separation is still slightly there, even though I’m slightly in dad mode.
Yeah, one of the things about being in an office is you tend to get up and walk around a lot more than when you’re working at home… So I think that has to be a bit of a conscious thing you do as well, even if you do have a Herman chair. So excuses to kind of get up and walk about I think are also probably quite important.
Get a glass of water every hour.
Or get a dog.
A dog will definitely help.
Dogs are awesome for this.
For the first time I got my very first dog just over a year ago, and it has changed my life. I can’t believe I’ve worked from home all this time without a dog.
[40:10] My dog will literally – if I’m in my office too long, he’ll come over and start nudging me with his nose…
Even if he just has to go to the bathroom or something, it makes me get up. But then on top of that, every day I’m like “I can’t skip the walk today, because he needs a walk, too.”
Yeah, he needs to go outside. That’s great.
They’re great excuses for walks, for entertainment… I talk to my dog; he’s my rubber duck. I’ll talk to him about code…
Is that another one of your pets, Mark?
Take him for his little swim, in the back.
So I have this watch, that – you know, if you can’t have pets in your building or your house, if it’s not allowable, I just have a watch and I just set it to… If it detects no motion for 60 minutes, it beeps. And I hate it sometimes, especially when you’re in deep work.
And it doesn’t have a setting where you can say “Only notify me between these hours of the day”; just any motions… So I sometimes turn it off. But it’s a nice way to – or maybe you use a browser, a Chrome add-on that can say “Get up now.” That’s also an option to get you up and out and walking around.
If you have an Apple watch, they do that. They ping you, to try to get your stand goals…
I know that’s one of the things my wife and I – we now always see who gets their rings first. So the rings on our watches help us make sure we get enough activity, movement and standing during the day. That’s really nice, and you can see that, and it encourages you, it pings you during the day…
I’m sure Android watches do similar things. If you don’t have those things enabled, definitely enable them. They’ll ping you, they encourage you, they want you to do things. It’s quite nice.
You can also do the pomodoro technique, and all those things. I know lots of other people use those too, and use them effectively. It’s just not what I personally use.
Yeah, I need something a little less manual… And that’s one of the things I like about the Apple watch. It’s all automatic; it just yells at you, and you’re like “Fine, I’ll stand up. I’ll go get a glass of water now.” Like, “I’ve finished this water, I’ll go get another one.”
Oh, and related to that - don’t get a really big glass of water. I used to get this really big mug to bring down, so I wouldn’t have to go refill it… And I’ve basically found that having a smaller glass that forces me to go refill it is useful.
This is a brilliant episode. Don’t have a big glass of water.
It sounds crazy, but…
I mean it. I love it.
But you’re supposed to drink a lot of water, generally; it gets you up, and then it also gets you to the bathroom, which is another thing that gets you out of your desk. These things sound silly, but when you’ve been doing this for a long time, these are tricks that you do learn. Jon is speaking the truth, I know what he is talking about. I switched to a smaller glass years ago too, for the same reason.
I just can’t wait for them to take that clip and put it on the Twitter as the promo for this show, though…
[laughs] Drink a glass of water.
Don’t have it too big.
People are gonna imagine this with like these tiny, Winn-Dixie plastic cups that you get just to rinse your mouth out, or something…
[laughs] The little dentist rinse-and-spit, yeah…
Well, actually, standing up for calls and walking around while you’re on calls, if you can… You know, if you’re not demo-ing, or anything like that…
Little excuses like that to be active I think is important. It’s definitely something that I try and do consciously.
Yeah, pace around your room.
Yeah, I personally find also that’s quite a good way to think as well, if you’ve got a particular problem that you wanna work on in your brain.
I’m gonna stand up right now…
So now I know why I pace every time I’m on the phone, and my wife yells at me for it… [laughter]
Yells at you for what? Tiny glasses of water?
I walk, or I pace, anytime I’m on the phone… And I think it comes from sitting around, so when I get a chance to do it, I do it… And whenever I’m on my phone, my wife will be like “You can sit down.” I’m like, “No, I’m fine. I sit all day.” I also have to tell people this all the time when I go places, when they’re like “Sit down”, and I’m like “You know, I sit a lot through the day. I’m fine standing.”
[44:12] Yeah. It’s rude almost, isn’t it? I was at an elderly relative’s house, and they were like “Oh, sit down”, because it’s rude for them to not invite you to sit down… But then it got flipped on its head and just became I was the rude one for not wanting to sit down… So I just sat.
Yeah, but that doesn’t surprise anybody…
What, that I’m the rude one?
Well, you did ask me what I wore to bed, so… I think I’m justified in my criticism today, Matthew.
I don’t know about you, but my whole entire spectrum of everything right now is colored by Coronavirus. Everything that’s happening, all the change that’s taking place… My bubble, and everyone that I speak with - it’s the only topic on mind. What about you?
Yeah, most certainly. I feel as though it is simply this perpetual change that’s just all-encompassing. It’s been quite the whirlwind with making adjustments, both at home and with my kids out of school, and work, and being in the helping profession and interfacing with people… Especially with what is going on in terms of people’s physical health, it is apt to produce other issues in terms of mental health, too.
Yeah. What’s even more interesting to me is that for so many the new normal is working from home… But not for everybody. There’s been a large population that has already been working from home. I’m one of them. So for me, aside from a few things, not much has changed in terms of work, and life, and balancing all that.
Obviously, my wife and my kids are at home with me all day. I work from home, I have a home studio… The thing that’s really changed is they don’t leave. My son used to go to pre-school; they would go and do activities… So they were home like 70% of the time, versus 100%. And that’s the difference, is just that they don’t leave, and we don’t leave to go do things. We’d go out to eat, or go do fun things on the weekends… So this last week has been colored by just the fact that they never leave, and neither do I.
Right?! Well, I think we can’t help but look at the way in which this experience with Coronavirus is changing how we interface with one another… And yeah, we’ve had a number of different shifts. I was mainly live, face-to-face with patients, and kids in school, and husband working, which all of that entire apple cart has been upset… I’m trying to make accommodations, and it affects all people. As of within the last 24 hours, I am now going to be full-time working from home as well.
[48:13] Which is way different for someone like you.
It is. So with that, it’s involved a steep learning curve over “How do I function within the constraints of state and federal laws?” Because I care about people, and of all times that I think people need support, this is one of them.
Yeah, for sure.
But I am beyond grateful for these changes, because there have been a number of different constraints for years, which has made it more challenging for people to receive psychological services from remote locations. So the fact that this whole experience has opened up that door and that I’m still able to see clients through a different medium, I am beyond grateful to be able to help people in that way.
And one of the biggest challenges there for you and them is this missing data component. We’ve talked about this before. This idea that if you’re not face-to-face, you can’t see body language etc. You’re missing some data, just to sort of have a full picture of someone’s state. So this is a new normal for you and a new normal for them, but still you’ve got this missing data component.
Yeah. And we’ve talked about the value and importance of resiliency, with figuring out how to get back up and how to continue to navigate things when obstacles emerge… So one of the things that I think is incredibly important is looking at “How do we simply make modifications around the way in which we communicate and interface?” So even though I don’t have the full face-to-face with somebody live in my office, there’s opportunities to see more of their face, and discrepancies between either what they’re saying or how they’re saying a thing and their facial expressions…
But it’s interesting, because technology isn’t all the same in terms of its stability. If somebody’s live in front of you, you don’t have hiccups in terms of Wi-Fi signals, or delayed with words… So it just creates other nuances to some of those social exchanges, which is interesting.
Yeah. So we have a lot of people going to work, but not going to work… Right?
You’ve got this mandatory stay-home, this term “social distancing”, which I’ve actually heard it be said – I forget what it was called… Matt Mullenweg said it, and I’ll have to check out his blog while we’re talking, to confirm… But it wasn’t social distancing, it was just on this idea that we still have a relationship and it’s not about socially distancing, it’s about physically distancing. That’s what it was - physical distancing, versus socially.
I like that nuance.
Because we’re still humans, you know?
Yeah. And I think this is really important as we talk about remote work experiences… I think for a lot of people it’s involved a sort of learning curve of going “What works for me, and how do I create that work-life blend/balance, wherein I still get to see people?” This is why in my area in the North-West here there are more and more pop-ups with remote locations where people from all different kinds of work arenas can come to the same place and pay even for a spot. One day a week, two days a week or more, to be able to interface with other people.
[51:59] Because there are just these sort of idiosyncratic experiences when we are face-to-face with people – or maybe even a better word is haphazard; they just happen, without planning… Like watercooler chat. Or somebody was walking down the hall past your office and they tripped on accident. We lose those sort of social experiences when we’re not face to face. And yet, they’re very necessary and very helpful to being human and doing our lives.
Yeah, Matt says “I’ve really had enough of this term social distancing. That is not all we are looking for, is it? We should be looking for physical distancing. In these times of rampant loneliness, disconnection, and lack of empathy and compassion, we need the opposite. We need social connecting.”
Yes, I couldn’t have said it better. Because I think about it with some of the issues that we’re now trying to navigate, in terms of what people have all gone out out of fear and purchased, to make sure they don’t run out. However, I was having a conversation recently with a friend who said how they needed something for their family, and they just put a message out there to people, like “I don’t have this. If you see it, can you drop it by?” And they ended up with like ten gallons of water, or something like that, because they needed this special kind of water…
That’s part of community, and recognizing there’s resources in other people. But how do we do this when we need to keep physical proximity…?
Yeah, a friend of mine said “I’m talking to a lot of people these days via the phone.” That whole social connecting - he finds himself talking to friends more on the phone that generally with Instagram, or text, or some sort of digital connection… And a physical phone call to people, maybe in this way, like putting a line out to your friend group, “Hey, if you’re going out, we’re low on water. Pick us up some if you can and then drop it off at the front door.”
“You don’t have to come in and say hello, or knock, or feel obligated”, but this idea of still connecting in ways where we were just not - it’s so weird. It’s just so weird to even talk about this. It’s surreal.
Sure, and I think that it’s important as we have this conversation around remote work, that this has a whole different sort of qualitative feel to it. Remember how we talked about our choice as being incredibly valuable? …that it feels different. Part of my decision to work remotely wasn’t wholly my decision. Out of the safety, there was an executive decision made, and I have tremendous respect, and I think it was probably the wisest choice. But it’s different if you already work from home and that was a choice you would have already made, because the working from home facilitated other aspects of the life that you wanted to have.
Yeah. I joked about Contagion, the movie, the last time we had this conversation. We’ve actually had one episode come before this one, on memory, which was recorded prior to Coronavirus being a thing… I guess it was actually while it was happening, but not so much on the restrictions here in the United States. And it’s funny that I went back and watched this movie not as entertainment, although it can be entertainment… More so as bootcamp, and potentially what could happen.
[55:51] Obviously, the viruses in the movie versus this one is different in terms of its effect on humankind, but similar in nature, in the way it spreads and all the things that happen. And they actually said the phrase “social distancing” in the movie.
I don’t know how old that movie is, eight or ten years old, but social distancing was a phrase in that movie. Ain’t that crazy?
Wow… That’s crazy. That’s crazy.
And it was a Coronavirus.
They said the word Coronavirus. They said R0, they talked about – I mean, so much of the movie is just so accurate in terms of what you would really deal with in a pandemic.
It’s just so interesting. Could we not have just watched that movie and prepared better? It’s almost like “What happened here?!”
It’s interesting, even in talking about this and going – I think humor is so valuable, and it doesn’t mean people can’t be offended by things that others find humorous… However, it’s a really functional way to navigate stress. Making light of it, and going – and not in any way am I making light of this as a serious issue… However, to be able to still go on and manage yourself and your family, loved ones etc. while this is upsetting the sort of normalcy to which all of us had been accustomed for quite some time.
I heard it said that just this is so significant, this is going to be in our history books in the years to come because of the way in which it’s changed our lives. And I think that for anybody who’s been allowed to or had the opportunity to work remotely, that there’s benefits to it. But like all things, there’s different challenges associated with it. So how do people figure out ways to navigate it as best they can given the constraints that we’re all having to deal with at this point in time.
I know that most of the research when it comes to remote work has said it’s generally better in the sense of enhancing productivity, but they can’t say why. Why would it be that if I let you work from home, that productivity goes up? And I don’t know – have you ever heard of Daniel Pink? He wrote a book called Drive, which gets at motivation as a factor.
It’s on my list to read.
Well, he talks about this in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. There’s things internally or intrinsically that drive us, and then there’s things outside of us that are motivating… Like, you know, money. So these are critical factors when it comes to however we set up our life. But what he highlights is that extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in a specific activity to earn a specific reward, or avoid a punishment. And I don’t think any of us want to only feel like work is a reward, or avoiding other punishment. I mean, do you?
Yeah, I don’t think so… That would be unfortunate if it was.
Right?! So this is really at the heart of learning, and I would say life. Because life involves learning and adapting. That’s what we’re all doing right now. So he talks about motivation with having a few different critical aspects. They are autonomy, there is purpose, and then there’s mastery.
What he’s talking about in terms of autonomy is that we all have this inherent drive to create. There’s people who have talked about this with different companies in technology, wherein as far as I understand, they’ve been allotted a certain amount of time to work on their own creative endeavors, and that there’s a portion of your time that it’s like “I don’t care what you do, we just want you to then share it”, because this is intrinsic in all of us. All of us are made in a way to create and be creative.
So if I’m like “Here are the keys. You can have far more flexibility and autonomy to pick when you work, how you work… All of those things, so that you can accommodate other things in your life” - wouldn’t it make sense that productivity would go up?
Yes and no.
The yes is because that seems to be a good recipe. The no is not everybody is wired that way.
Not everybody has the necessary self-discipline… And maybe even it’s just experience. Because I think after a while you can get into a rhythm of remote working and self-discipline… But abrupt change, where you didn’t participate in the choice, might be harder to immediately be more productive.
You’re gonna hit some challenges in this change.
Most certainly. But part of that comes down to really “Know thyself”, and going “When do you work best?” I think it’s Michael Breus who is a sleep researcher, who I think I’ve alluded to in the past, who talks about our sleep cycles and having a genetic component around timetables… So there is sort of early birds, and then there’s – he assigns an animal to these different sleep types, but it basically gets at how we all work better as based on our sleep rhythm or style… And that is one thing that remote work offers.
If you were a night owl, wherein it’s like “After 9, 10 o’clock at night, that’s when the juices are flowing. Let’s create, let’s go!”, that’s gonna be hard to get up to be in an office at 8 or 9 in the morning if you’re up until 2 o’clock in the morning.
Yeah. Your most effective hours are in an environment where you’re not as effective.
Right. So that’s just one thing. And then other subsequent dominos would look like “Well, then who else is awake in terms of co-workers if you get stuck or you need other feedback at those times of day?” So there’s this asynchronous aspect to doing the remote work.
Yeah, I think that’s the key - they synchronization of others. You can do things asynchronously, and not be blocked by someone else, and let that become a pattern for work rather than – now, not all work is that way though. Some work you can’t do asynchronously. Try building a car asynchronously. I guess you could probably do some of that if it’s an assembly line; some parts could get built and then you add the components after somebody else has done the thing, so that’s asynchronously; you don’t have to do it together, so to speak… But the next person can’t do the thing until the one thing is done, so it doesn’t really compute the same for everyone.
Not all work.
This is why I think it’s helpful when we have these conversations, like - helping people build a different framework; a mental sort of grid for how they can make sense of this. I think of this like a rhythm, in all we do… Whether you’re at the job, but also especially remotely, to say “Is there a rhythm that you can work within, wherein you can come together and work with people and meet up, like people will do? …and then sort of move away and go asynchronous to not be present at the same place, at the same time, doing the same thing.” All of us have some sort of hybrid of that, and that’s what helps us all work better, both with ourselves and with others.
[01:04:16.04] I mentioned the isolation or the missing component there… A lot of what’s happening or has the opportunity to creep in in remote working is isolation, obviously, probably some anxiety because of that, and if disconnected long enough, potentially some depression.
Yeah. So what I would offer is that part of what you lose is actually feedback. Part of how we build relationships is over time really imagine you’re constructing a sort of 3D model of a person based on repeated interactions. I mean, you have a sense that’s based on when you interface with someone, when you text them, or email them, or call them, how they’re gonna respond. Do they answer? If so, in what timeframe? Because that’s part of collecting the data. And in the same way, people might respond very short, which could come across incredibly curt, or sort of cold in a digital format… Whereas face to face, that isn’t the same presentation that they provide.
When I am more isolated and I don’t have the interaction with co-workers, I sort of forfeit that additional information. Not to mention if I flip the lens back at myself, when I’m looking at feedback I get, like performance, I don’t necessarily have to take in the feedback that my supervisor or peers are giving me, because - how do they know what I’m doing? I might not be meeting my own expectations, but they don’t know that. So they can say “You’re doing awesome”, but I might then be like “Well, they don’t really know…” So it’s super-easy to minimize that feedback, which then changes how I perform, what I give, how much I’m going to offer up.
It’s really a fascinating dynamic, I think, because there’s no way that we’re gonna opt out of relationships with other people. We need other people, just like you’re talking about, to get jobs done.
It takes some self-discipline, that’s for sure. You have to be strong-minded person. I don’t wanna say strong-willed, because I think it doesn’t give it enough depth. I think strong-minded – and that’s like an emotional intelligence kind of thing. It’s potentially even a professional – I don’t know how to describe it really well, but someone who has good intentions… It really takes a lot of intention to do it well.
Yeah. You have to be purposeful, right?
Yeah. That brings up a good point too, because because of the variant setting that people will be in, whether they’re meeting or not meeting, you can have a lot of distractions come into play, you’ve got interruptions… Potentially, a lot of things that can frustrate you, that did not previously frustrate you. And this change is gonna bring that kind of change too, where you kind of just have to get thicker-skinned or just be more aware that, you know, if you’re working from home and you have children, it’s likely that one of them might come in, even if you tell them not to. And that’s okay, too. That doesn’t mean it’s okay – you’re not gonna yell at your kid, or do something not nice, or have a negative response, because…
[01:07:54.21] I don’t know, I’m just thinking about me in particular, because when my son comes in, I try to always make sure that my environment is welcoming to him, that he’s not – I don’t say “Hey, come in and bother me during a podcast” or something, but there is limitations to that, some constraints to it. But I don’t want him to feel like “Dad’s in here working” and be a mean person, I suppose. I try to be flexible, so that he always feels welcomed into my world. This is my office, this is my world, so that’s how it works, but… You’re almost planning for (I guess) interruption, frustrating things that can happen and take place, that didn’t take place before.
Sure. And I think especially now with the changes, talking about this in terms of decision fatigue, or cognitive load…
A fair amount of work from home or remote options for work involve a degree of cognitive demand. So if I’m using this decision-making and that living like Garmin, of going “Recalculating… Recalculating…”, your brain might be like “And I’m done. I can’t handle more distractions, or upsetting the apple cart in another way…” But the way that we navigate that is recognizing the value of flexibility, and going “You know what - things are going to just have to be a little chaotic, until we can make it work.”
That’s very much what it’s looked like with my schedule, and kids, and going “Okay, I have to be responsible, and help them get work done for school”, and have some semblance of structure for them, while I still need to do my work responsibilities… And going “You know what - it didn’t look like it usually does. That’s okay.” We just sort of recalculate, recalibrate, and do what we can, when we can.
I think when people realize that there’s other ways of doing things that might not have been the way that they’ve always been done, but that they could work if they’re willing to go explore, it can allow them to discover more about themselves and their lives, and how they want to function within the world. Because look, every single person, every single one of us is unique, and I believe whole-heartedly that we all have a specific design to fulfill a different role within the broader context within the world. So when we have a sense of respect around that and when we seek to do work that speaks to us from the inside out, it has far more reaching effects, not just for ourselves, but our entire community. And that’s really when the work becomes fun, much more process-based, and you wanna do it just because you can’t help yourself. It’s really for the love.
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