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The First World Problem of Working From Home

My experience of three weeks lockdown and counting
cat on a laptop

The First World Problem of Working From Home

So this post is going to be a rather more personal one.

Like most of the rest of the hi-tech world around the globe these days, I’ve been working from home for the past three weeks. Before I talk about what I’m experiencing, let me just say that I’m ever grateful for my home and everyone that’s in it and that the most important thing is that we’re all healthy. Also, we both still have our jobs, which isn’t trivial either. And with that note, please let me have my little rant, okay?

I think I’ve been switching rapidly between the different stages of the Kubler-Ross model since the whole thing started. I was grieving my old life, which was flawless. Everything was perfect just a minute ago: the perfect family, the perfect job, and the perfect balance between the two.

Then the coronavirus changed the rules of the game, forcing us all to stay locked together, except mandatory activities such as buying groceries. Now our days look like this: one of us works for an hour or two while the other one is parenting the kid (which is just about the most intense age), then switch. And repeat. Switch. And repeat. Until she goes to sleep and we both collapse dead on the couch, not even having the energy to properly panic about the pandemic and our futures because we’re too busy acting normal.

 

work with kids

Photo by  Charles Deluvio

 

We live in a small urban apartment, and the minimalistic work area is a part of the shared area. So the work intervals aren’t at all isolated from the rest of the activities happening around. As a result, the already short interval in which I need to concentrate and write some code also includes a lot of me entertaining the kid simultaneously (every now and then she’d insist on it) or having to split my attention or worse, just abandon what I was just doing altogether and attend to some different random matter. Of course, this whole “method” doesn’t work great unless your purpose is to lose your mind, and indeed I’ve been barely keeping it together, but let me break it to what I think are the biggest problems in it:

Context Switching

What I just described makes it nearly humanly impossible to deliver anything on time and bug-free. Even back in the normal office days, I would find it extremely costly of mental resources to switch to a new task before having a full closure on the previous one. The same goes for multiple meetings scheduled throughout the day. The farther distance your mind drifts from a task, the longer it takes you to get back on track, and moreover, the more cognitive resources you have to use in order to do so. Now imagine having to switch like that ten times a (good) day.

More contexts equal more work. Except it’s less work done.

How Can You Tell Your Private Time From Work Time?

I can’t really.

And I think that’s the most urgent issue. I mean, it sure was clear enough when I was either at the office or at home. Now, however, as I am working on this very post draft on my quiet weekend, some calendar event invitation literally just came from the team director. And why wouldn’t it? We’re all at home anyway, might as well not ignore the rest of our tasks waiting and the meeting invitations sent. What would it matter if the guy waited until the end of the weekend to send it?

But it matters. It matters because the exhausting endless attempt of multitasking from home makes your 50% to 100% employment a 300%. These days I won’t decline a meeting scheduled at 16:30 even though that would normally be out of my scope. But what IS my scope now? I really don’t know anymore. If you judge by the weird times I pushed code lately or by the weekends lost to work, you’ll probably find the entire concept of boundaries is gone out the window now, and that I live in a total nightmare of constant diffusion of the two worlds.

So Here’s what I’m going to start trying, and I suggest you do as well:

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Turn Slack notifications off sometimes. Yes, I had to get the slack pun out of the system but really it’s not about that. Be kind to yourself. Because when this is all over, you’d still want to come out of the other side a person. Set boundaries. Decide on your work hours. Be it at standard office times or at night time if you’re that type, but don’t make yourself available 24/7. Your family is more important, and above all, you are. Respect your own time.

Of course when I say “you” I really mean “I”. I’ve not been functioning ideally lately and it has a lot to do with me just learning the boundaries thing for the first time. Never had to before.

 

slack off

Photo by  Pankaj Patel

Communicate Your Struggles

They’re everyone’s now.

You might feel like all your friends and coworkers are crushing it at work right now, finishing online courses, taking up piano lessons and keeping fit. That’s probably not true.

Don’t just stay there alone with your fear of disappointing everyone and your strive for impossible perfection in the weirdest of times. Communicate. Even set a video meeting just to talk about it with the team. And don’t just talk. Leave with action items. Such as predefined work schedules and times of availability. Summarize it on a shared document. Create a method that is applicable to times of chaos and works for your team. The important thing is that everything is on the table. But there’s a big added value: you’re not alone anymore. You’ll find that a lot of people are struggling with the same things, and guess what? You just helped them.

Well, at least I hope I did.

 

(This was also posted in Medium)

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