Homework on the beach

It’s been one year since I started a partial remote working routing. I already had some experience with working remotely, but doing it every week needs a completely different setup as it needs to become a habit.

At Botify, people who work remotely do it on Tuesday and Thursday. I believe it to be the best setup since we meet each other every two days. Partial remote working gets lots of management issues out of the way, the biggest one being your colleagues slowly acting as contractors and not feeling like team members anymore.

That said, I know lots of companies work perfectly with full remote working, but at the price of more constraining habits and routines, and some self discipline everybody is no capable of.

Looking for the perfect setup

Working remotely does not necessarily mean working from home. It just means working… remotely. This year, I’ve been working from home, from the hospital to stay with one of my kids, from my holiday house by the sea, from many Starbuck’s and even from a tennis club club house as my son was playing his championships. I never watch him playing, it’s more stressful than recovering a backup less, replication less MySQL corruption.

But I’m generally working from home. The WIFI is much better and I’ve setup a few things to ensure it goes smoothly.

First, you need a room to work from. Forget about working in your lounge from the couch, with a tennis game playing on your flat screen, it only works a few days a year, and you end with back issues.

If you can dedicate a room as your office, it’s great. I can’t so I’m working from my bedroom. It has a large desk, convenient light, and it’s at the end of a closed corridor so it’s silent enough to keep me focus when the kids are home. I’ve bought a nice chair and a 27 inches secondary flat screen. The secondary screen was a little bit expensive, but it’s really worth the comfort it brings.

Speaking about the kids – and my wife – we’ve established two simple but critical rules:

  • When I’m working, it’s like I’m in my actual office so I can’t take care of the kids. Not even a minute.
  • If I leave the corridor open, people can come and go if they need something in the bedroom, just like in an open space. If I need to focus, I close the door.

When it’s sunny and warm enough, I move to my terrace, where the same rules apply.

Working with these rules have been working quite well so far. I sometimes need to remember my wife that I’m working, not at home, but not too often.

Time management

My time management is different from the days I work at our office. Most of the times, my Tuesday and Thursday are exactly the same from one week to another, so they really become a routine.

My work day starts about 7:30 AM instead of 09:30 when I’m at our office with email reading and the most urgent (usually client related) tasks, logs reading, temporary files cleaning etc. Unless things really got wrong during the night, it doesn’t take past 08:30 AM. Then, I start my first 1 hour run.

I’ve already wrote about how I’m using Pomodoro (in French, sorry). When I’m working from home, I’m trying to do 1 hour runs instead of 25 minutes. This is made possible by the lack of disturbance, and the fact that we both use asynchronous communication tools and work on long runs.

At 10, we do a quick Hangout meeting to tell each other what we’re working on, and what difficulties we’re meeting. It’s less than 10 minutes, but for me it’s the most important time of the day since it’s the time we remember we’re a team.

Then, I try to do 2 other runs until lunch break. As my morning is quite long, I take long lunch breaks. I play tennis every Tuesday and every Thursday, I offer myself a long nap or walk in the park. I take those break very seriously, as they allow me to regenerate my concentration pool.

I offer myself a second, 15 minutes break about 4:00PM, when my elder son gets home from school. We have a 15 minutes snack break, and I get sure he starts his homework before going to his tennis training. This break is very important to me, as partial remote working allows me to give my family much more time since I save 2:30 in commuting each day. Then, I’m back for 2 other runs.

I usually stop around 6:30PM, sometimes 7:00PM to spend some time with the kids until they go to bed. Then, if needed, I’m back to work around 08:30 or 9:00PM for a last hour.

Communicating with the team

The biggest problem with working remotely is communicating. I’m happy we’re all working from France so we don’t need to manage timezones.

Working remotely means you’re not 100% dedicated to reacting to your colleagues sollicitation. This means using asynchronous communication tools.

At Botify, we’re using Slack, an enterprise chat solution. It offers a great integration with many services we’re using (starting with Github), and a fairly decent IRC gateway for old school people like me.

As I want to focus without getting disturbed, I’ve deactivated every Slack notification so I only get the information when I need it. On the other hand, as my IRC window is in a terminal, which is also my main work area, I can see at a glance if people have been mentioning me and decide if I can afford having a look or not. If something really gets wrong, they can just give me a phone call.

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