Studio Zenkai

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How I Remote Work

In Canada, as well as many countries, Covid-19 infections is exponentially decreasing.

We are on the verge of getting our old life back, from going to restaurants or to the cinemas, and why not have a celebratory drink with friends.

Before moving on, I would like to share how I remote work, one of the main traits of the Covid-19 pandemic. I hope this helps other remote workers, and encourage developers and companies to adopt it on a permanent basis.

I am not by all means the most productive person. To the contrary. In February 2021, when it got grim, I spent much of my time watching Netflix and eating snacks, and got nothing done. That was not pretty. However during the pandemic, I also learnt Python and setup data pipelines that serves AI models in 21 countries. I learnt Kubernetes and how to scale it on GCP. I designed & developed a complete CI/CD system with automated E2E tests and healthchecks. I consulted as a Ruby Senior engineer with various companies. In parallel, I closed a real estate deal as a short term rental business, and learnt how to deliver a 5 star customer service. All this within a busy personal & family life where nothing was sacrificed. So I consider myself organized & productive as a remote worker.

One of the main dangers of remote working is being in an environment made for relaxing and enjoying hobbies. You might have a living room designed to enjoy the latest digital entertainment. Your kitchen can have the latest tasty treats 🤤. Nice books and toys are around, waiting for you. You could have kids, family or roommates asking for your attention.

Another danger is the lack of coworkers or direct superiors around. Certain people thrive on live social inputs, either negative or positive. They focus on work when they have someone around discussing work. Or they get motivation when the big boss is around. If nobody is around to care, how do you make things go forward?

One less visible danger is sedentarity. Going to a physical office forces you to one way or another to move. Office lunch will have you moving around, as well as meetings & breaks. If the office is downtown or a commercial zone, it is easy to go around shopping or go to the pub. Not anymore when the office is a desk at home.

Sedentarity leads to worse physical well-being, weight gain, as well as other ailments such as pre-diabetes. Add this to the lack of social environment and you have depression lurking.

How do you work around these dangers? How do you stay productive? I share my “recipe” below.

First, it is important to know what you want. It can be a job promotion. It can be to gather enough savings to afford a car or a house. It can be financial independence. Or it can be just as simple as learning a skill. In any case, fulfilling tasks or checking boxes assigned by another person is not enough. Having a goal will make sense of things and will keep you going when things go dark. So take some time to find this inner long-term motivation. It is OK to work on daily tasks set by others or by you, but make sure you also have in mind the “end goal”.

I find it is also key to have a rhythm that works for you. Every day, I prepare and dress as if I would go to the office (yes, no sweat pants). Every morning, I walk a kilometer and get my dose of sunshine. If the desk is dirty, I will clean up before working. Then I sit down and list 5 to 10 tasks I should do today. I use MacOs’s free Notes software and I put first tasks that are dead easy so I can get the ball rolling. I can finish with one or two tasks on self-improvement, from reading technical articles to reviewing or learning something. Then it’s a matter of adding a bold OK in front of every task as the day passes by. Usually I have a couple of tasks I can’t finish. I don’t make a big deal though. I’ll do them the next day, or I will break them into simpler tasks. Finally, at the end of the day, I’ll go out, walk or bike to the park.

What’s important here is making a difference between work and life. I work from 8:30am till 5:30pm. I don’t think about leisure during those times. Nor do I work on evenings. Of course, there are exceptions but the most important is to have a single-minded focus when you do something.

Because of the lack of social connections, I find having a hobby or your own “business” avoids having negative thoughts fill your mind. This year, I had to take care of a “chalet” and also make it available as a vacation home rental. I started screwing doors, glue cabinets, repair furniture, paint decks, learn about spa chemistry and so on. It’s a thousand little things that I knew nothing about and it is more than enough to get my mind busy during the pandemic. I know others who got into woodworking, writing, building an autonomous RC car. Pick what you like and run with it, otherwise you will get lost soon on Netflix, or start wondering about the meaning of life.

During the pandemic, more than ever, I was connected to the family, high school groups, and dear friends. It seems as though the lack of physical social connections made me more connected online, more than ever. WhatsApp groups & Facebook made it possible through daily messages and regular video calls. Why is this important?

In a city or a university campus, being around a tight knit group will give you frequent social cues on what the group considers “good” or “bad”. For example, this is how you decide to work on a job promotion because you’ll make everyone around you jealous or try to get a convertible roadster. Good or not, these social cues makes us move mountains. Having a strong network online, on Facebook groups or on WhatApp is similar to this idea, so you can get frequent social cues to move your b*tt and get things going

What about the actual desk setup?

Many mention having dual screens, and a wide array of hardware and software for efficient remote work. I find if I have an uncluttered desk, a “good enough” seat, acceptable noise level, and acceptable Internet then I am good to go. It is easy to get lost in having the latest gadget or the latest noise cancelling headphones. One important thing though : your setup might not be important but interruptions are. So if you have noisy kids or roommates, find a way to manage those.

Happy remote working! If you find this article interesting, add a comment below or hit me up on twitter