The Circuit

When you work from home, where you live matters more.

When I used to work in Alpharetta [a nice suburb of Atlanta] I knew all the good bike trails, sushi restaurants, and gas stations that carried Sour Skittles. After all, I would spend a good 10+ hours there most days, with the end of the day being spent in Woodstock where I actually lived. Since I worked in Alpharetta we would sometimes head that direction on the weekend and have our kids play in parks or attend church.

When I started working from home I learned more about Woodstock itself and our lives shifted back here. It turns out that there are plenty of places here that sell all Skittles varieties (even Brightside), and the trail system here is pretty spectacular. I feel very lucky that the following things are within 5 miles of our home:

Coworking vs. The Coffeshop vs. Coping

Add to that list a new co-working and incubation space in The Circuit. Co-working fills the gap where you wouldn’t mind going somewhere other than home, but you don’t want some of the awkward decisions of a coffeeshop nomad:

  • Will my laptop get stolen if I have to go to the bathroom?
  • Will the smell of overcooked Starbucks ever come out of this bookbag?
  • I wonder if the laws of physics allow for the Usher song that is playing to be any louder or more noticeable as background noise to my conference call?
  • Did that woman at the table next to me really say she is thinking of switching to hot yoga over room temperature yoga, and did her friend really try to talk her out of it for twenty minutes?

Coworking has some added benefits over a coffeeshop as well: no kids, more professionalism, and the chance to cross-pollinate. Because the people at a coworking spot are there to get stuff done, and not just to have coffee or conversations there is a greater focus and a more upbeat energy. Working together in this way also groups you with like-minded people – after all those without traditional offices tend to be the single-person companies, the startups, the craftsman, the troublemakers.

If you work from home and occasionally get the “I have to get out of here” itch, I’d recommend Coworking over Coffeeshop.

The Circuit has great promise as a coworking spot because they have spent some time and effort in the design details and they are backed up by the Cherokee County Office of Economic Development who also manage Fresh Start Cherokee. Here is a picture of one of their private offices:

Standing desk for the win. It isn’t in the standing configuration, but you can use your imagination, geez.

And a few of the open spaces (these were all taken at 7:30 AM when I had the place to myself):

Fancy couch.
For the young folks, or pillow fights.
Chair from the future, and the past.
Timeout spot.

Details

They are open this month in a soft launch phase, with memberships starting soon. Everything is essentially free right now, with coffee and memberships happening near the end of March 2017.

And, of course, the wifi speed:

Check it out – and please ignore the man working from one of the desks surrounded by empty Skittles bags.

 

Recent Items In Other Places

A few quick notes on recent activity outside of this blog that I’ve been involved in:

Vetting People for Remote Work

I wrote this article about some approaches for effectively determining if someone will mesh well with your existing remote team over at the Buy Sell Ads publication. They have an entire Remote Life series that is worth reading through.

Ground Rules for Working with Tech Recruiters

I was interviewed for a piece discussing how you should treat recruiters [in summary: follow the golden rule]; this post ended up being a bit controversial as many tech workers think that recruiters are wasting their time, proving my point. If this is interesting to you also see The Three Laws of Robotics (for tech recruiters) and How to deal with robots and get your poodle a job .

Remote vs. in-office software teams: Which is better?

This is a great summary article about the pros and cons of allowing distributed work; my upcoming book is mentioned as a partial solution to some of the problems. If you are new to thinking through this issue many of the surveys and books mentioned are great starting points on the options and challenges you will face.

I Hate This Image of Remote Work

 

I know it is probably intended to be funny, like the Oatmeal’s, but I’ve seen it used on Twitter pejoratively (like most things on Twitter). It seems to be making fun of people who work from home.

The making fun comes from two angles:

The crazy remote worker

  • Unwashed
  • Uniform (is sweatpants)
  • Same Shirt 3 days in a row
  • Coworkers (are cats)

This view says that remote workers don’t do anything but watch Jerry Springer and grow hair; they act like they are unemployed. This myth is dangerous because it takes a bunch of things that do not matter to actual work and use them as weapons to paint the subject as a loser.

The incompetent remote worker

  • Uniform is sweatpants (again)
  • Starts working well past noon
  • Forgot how to talk to humans

This is the traditional attack – remote workers are not effective.

What type of worker starts work in the afternoon? Most of the day is gone by then! Well, maybe. If you work to your energy then the time doesn’t matter does it?

If I could change this image I would add another little blurb: “Might have done more real work than you today”.

I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.

Remote Work is Not A Perk

Allowing your employees to work from where they wish is not a perk, it is a part of your company’s genetic makeup or it is nothing.

Many big companies think that allowing their people to work from home on Fridays is similar to matching 401k – simply a cost absorbed by the company to attract and keep people. Remote work is not a ping-pong table or free lunch on Thursdays.

Remote work, if properly supported, is a powerful testament to the respect that you have for your people and their lives. You are saying that you trust and expect them to perform, and you trust your ability to tell if they are or aren’t. It show a results-focused attitude that speaks to a core value of your company: do you follow tradition blindly or do you support what works best?

I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.

We Can’t Let People Work From Home Because _______.

We can’t let our people work from home, they might not work.

Sounds like you hire clowns.

I mean how would I know if they were slacking off?

You don’t have any way to tell if people are making progress?

If I can’t see them to make sure they are working, then I can’t manage them.

Sounds like you need to level up as a manager.

But we can’t let our people not see each other, they won’t communicate well.

Sounds like you hire people that can’t adjust.

If we let people work from home they might leave the company.

Sounds like if they want to and you don’t let them, they will leave to one of the many companies that let them. I hope none of them are your competitors.

I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.

Why I Hate All These Morning Productivity Blog Posts

I really don’t like blog posts that tell you to get up early, or go for a run in the morning, or get up even earlier, or focus on your morning. I even wrote some satire to try to get it out of my system, but it didn’t work because I’m writing this now.

I think these posts have some truth in them, but they also make a large group of people feel like crap and provide them a false belief about something.

These posts “work” because:

  • Momentum does matter, starting out well lets you keep going well.
  • For many people their diet makes them sleepy in the afternoon, so working before they eat enough bread to choke a horse allows them to work when their energy is highest.
  • For many people who have trouble with “haters” (internal or external), getting up early allows you to work before the inner critic wakes up enough to speak. Once you are going well, you can’t hear them over the humming of your internal engines.
  • For those that have a problem with social media addiction, their mornings are emotional rollercoasters, so telling them to not check their email and not check social media is a much more stable manner of working.
The advice in these posts works accidentally for some, and in a very limited way.

I don’t mean to demean the audience for these posts, and I have described a person who eats badly, is addicted to social media, and is not positive in their thinking. I don’t hate these people; we are all these people – the default settings of culture are pushing us in this direction. I get why these posts are popular.

What else is wrong with these posts?

  • Most people can’t get up any earlier than they do now. For many who work and have either kids or a hellscape commute (or both) reading these posts is like “yeah, right – I wish,” so they just make them feel bad. The stories of people who get up at 5 AM to write or jog are even harder for those that are already up at 5 AM. “Should I get up at 4 AM then?” The blog posts seem to indicate yes, of course, you loser. That works for them, so if you can’t get up earlier, I guess you don’t want it that much.
  • These articles never talk about the rest of the day. Do they stop work at 3 PM? They better to have any credibility. If you are looking to pile on to the “just work harder” category, I’m afraid it has reached its maximum occupancy.
  • People are wired differently, and working at night offers many of the same benefits of morning work regarding lower blood pressure and infrequent distractions.

I am, honestly, more annoyed by how limited these articles are, and by how they don’t tackle the large and more interesting problem of how to manage your energy for the entire day. Maintaining your motivation, inspiration, discipline, and focus is a large problem that plays into your systems, your mindset, your personality, and your environment. You can’t just say: “start earlier, work harder” – this is pure foolishness.

Where is my solution then? If you are interested in real productivity advice, I go over:

If you are interested in real productivity advice, I go over:

  • Global Truths about Super Productivity
  • How to Track Your Productivity
  • Guerrilla Tips on Staying Productive
  • Working to Your Energy, Not Your Time
  • and many other topics related to getting massive amounts of stuff done….

In my upcoming book, signup to hear about it here.

Remote Work Terminology

Jobs in which you don’t have to show up at an office have a large number of terms that are applied to them. The terms have shifted and will continue to change for a few reasons:

  • This concept, although very large and growing, is a new one to many people, so we adjust our language to fit the reality.
  • There is a generational shift with the popularity in working this way – many people graduating from college are used to working / studying with their laptop from all over and get jobs that work this way. Because generations shift the language, there are clear age differences in the terms.
  • Remote work had some early negativity on it, and it still fights some bad stereotypes – negative terms change more quickly than positive ones.

Here is a partial list of terms associated with remote work:

Telecommuting

  • This is an old term that isn’t used as much anymore, probably because the “tele-” part feels very old. We have dropped the tele- from telephone already. Also the second part is “commute”, eww.

Virtual Teams / Virtual Work

  • An early term for a team that was across geographic lines. Not used that often anymore because virtual feels pejorative here – we are a real team, not virtually one. The rise of the term virtual reality also killed this term, as VR is clearly not close to real life (yet).

Work from Home

  • WFH is a general term for those that are able to work from their home.
  • Many part-time clerical jobs fall into this category as well as digital professionals.
  • Googling “work from home” typically finds you lower-paying jobs (and many scams) than googling “remote jobs”, and “remote” typically means full-time while WFH can mean part-time.

Remote

  • General term for people that work from wherever they want, typically digital “knowledge workers” – writers, programmers, analysts, etc..
  • Over time this term has been starting to be replaced by distributed, as “remote” feels negative to some people (they mean remote minority, which we describe below) – and because you can’t say that you have a “remote” team without people thinking you mean an entire team somewhere else, you have to say “remote friendly” or “remote first”, which is longer.

Remote Minority

  • A term that I use to describe a scenario in which a few people work from offsite, but the majority of the staff are co-located at a headquarters. This is not an easy situation to manage, extra steps need to be taken to make this work.

Remote First

  • A term you apply to a company which means that pretty much everyone works from where they wish, and that the founders worked this way very early and have kept it up. These companies typically have strong support for remote work and processes which support distributed teams well.
  • Remote-first essentially means “remote-only” – there might not be any form of office space anywhere.
  • You might have to get on a plane to visit a coworker at a remote-first company.

Remote Friendly

  • This term carries little consistent meaning and ranges from “you can work from home on Fridays” to “we have entire teams that are remote-first”. Be careful applying for jobs that list this with clarifying what they mean. They also might not know what they mean.
  • You might be able to visit a coworker at a remote-friendly company, and they may want you to do it a few days a week.

Distributed

  • A nice term that describes quickly a team with remote and/or onsite workers, or a fully “remote” team – they are distributed all over the place. “Distributed worker” does not sound right though, this sounds like some sort a medical emergency.

Nomad, Digital Nomad, Nomading

  • A person that has a remote job on a distributed team that typically does not work from a “home base”, but instead travels from place to place while continuing to work from wherever they are. Think young people traveling across Europe but working from hotels or a family traveling across the U.S. while the mom works during the day from the hotel.
I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.

Help with the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is a rare productivity tool: simple, powerful, and popular.

Years ago when I first started working by myself, I used the technique to train my mind to focus for longer periods of time; my previous job had so many interruptions I was wired for only ten minute periods of actual work. I organized my day into Pomodoros of longer and longer length to increase my endurance. It was not fun, but it worked.

While I don’t use it every day anymore, I do find myself using it to kickstart myself when things get hard. Typically, when I return from lunch I’ll set a timer to warm everything back up.

Even though the technique is dead-simple it does have some common problems for practical use at work; here is what I hear from people who have tried to use it:

I get interrupted too much at work; I can’t exactly ignore the phone.

Please don’t use Pomodoro if you are a 911 operator.

Otherwise, if you have a job where you have to respond to interruptions with great urgency then you may have to lower the “robustness” of your use of the technique, but it can still help you make the most of the time you aren’t interrupted. In this case, it might make sense to try to lower the Pomodoro time (to less than 20 minutes) so you feel yourself completing them.

For the rest of us we probably just think we have to respond when we don’t. We have been trained to respond to instant messages immediately much like we have all been trained to answer a ringing phone even if someone is right in front of us. These tasks might feel urgent, but are not typically important. If the message isn’t an emergency then ignore it or tell them “I’ll get back to you in 12 minutes”. Once you do this enough you will establish a reputation for being attentive when you do speak with someone.

To help with this you can of course simply communicate that you are using the Pomodoro Technique to get stuff done and therefore might be a bit delayed in responding to IMs. There are also ways to integrate popular messaging tools with Pomodoro tools so you can passively communicate “Do not Disturb” semantics.

If you really never have time for deep work sessions, I’d recommend just creating yourself one time for it, and to use Pomodoro only in that time:  This will keep your endurance up and allow you to keep your ‘focus muscles’ ready for those rare times when you get a few hours to work.

The 5-minute breaks are so dumb. I just check my email or look at the web – what a waste. (Or – the 5 minute breaks aren’t long enough to get a cup of coffee)

You might not be taking effective short breaks, or effective long breaks.

It is tricky because 5 minutes is hardly any time at all to some deep thinkers and too much time for the NADD among us. This will need to be closely managed at a personal level. The idea is to clear your head during the work enough that you are essentially catching your breath a bit but not getting fully out of work mode (that is what the longer breaks are for). Think “stop pedaling during a bike race as you round a large corner” rather than “get a cup of coffee and a doughnut” or “go walk the dog”. I typically stand up, squat, look out the window, take some big deep breaths then freestyle rap for a bit (you know the standard combination) and then sort of let my mind be blank and suddenly the 5 minutes is up and I sit back down.

I don’t want to stop every 25 minutes, once I get going I want to keep going.

Pomodoro doesn’t force 25 minutes as the timeframe – it is just a wise default amount of time. You can increase, as I did and many do, the amount of time for each block of work as it better fits the type of work that you do and your ability to focus. I increased from 25 minutes to 45 minutes with longer breaks; make sure these stay in a sane proportion or you will miss out of some of the benefits of the technique. You control the joystick – if you feel like you can keep going then the timer going off can simply be a reminder to stand up or rest your eyes or some other simple break. The point is long-term endurance rather than exact compliance to a technique.

This puts too much structure in my day man, I need to just ‘feel it’. I’m not a robot; I work when inspiration strikes.

This is true you are a unique snowflake – everyone knows it. Pomodoro works for multiple reasons:

  • It makes you stay in your chair.
  • Because it forces you to catalog all your interruptions it makes you focus on how much you interrupt yourself.
  • It is a form of mental interval training which is a great way to improve your focus and mental endurance.

I agree that doing it as prescribed all day is sort of nuts; I certainly don’t do this. This said, sometimes you have to turn into a robot for awhile to gain the advantages above. And to return to the objection about inspiration – let’s agree that the “work when you feel it” is clear bullshit. All people who have accomplished large works have done it by having a worker mentality that to you might look like a robot. I can’t say it better than Pablo:

La inspiración existe, pero tiene que encontrarte trabajando.

Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.

– pablo picasso

I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.

Work from Home: An Anniversary

In honor of Halloween (the absolute best day of the year to work from home) and it being roughly the 7th anniversary of my working this way I’d like to present a few snippets of the last seven years of my work-from-where-I-wish life:

  • Being involved at my kid’s school so much that when we are out kids randomly wave to me while I stare blankly back at them.
  • Getting to see the train go by (which only happens during the day).
  • The lack of sunshine this time of year not really affecting me.
  • Getting to eat lunch with my wife x100 more than the average husband.
  • Being snowed in for 10 days during a very bad snow/ice storm, and having work continue without fail
  • Setting up a stationary bike in my office and training for a 150 mile bike ride without it affecting the family schedule at all.
  • Working from a coffee shop near my house so often that my kids thought that I worked there as a barista and asked why I didn’t know how to make the drinks.
  • Working from a Dunkin Donuts, and eating many donuts.
  • Working from a Sweet Tomatoes, and not eating any salad.
  • Muting a conference call because I was standing on a railroad track in a quiet place, when suddenly a train came by
  • Working from my hometown, at the dining room table that I ate on as a child
  • Working at night on Friday and Saturday nights while watching Jason Statham movies on a second monitor without any sound
  • Listening in on a training webinar while holding / changing / rocking / talking-to / enjoying a 3-month newborn.
  • Conducting a phone interview from the hallway outside the Neonatal intensive care unit of Atlanta Medical Center
  • Not meeting any new people in my field in meatspace for an entire year before realizing I need to attend more conferences and industry events. And also develop a personality, etc.
  • Realizing through a few small talk sessions that the parents of the other kids where my twins go to preschool think I’m serially unemployed.
  • Wearing shorts 90% of my life.
  • Gaining 10 lbs, and then not losing it, and then gaining 30 more lbs.
  • Riding my bike up Kennesaw Mountain, which is closed to bikes on Fridays and the weekend, at least 25 times over multiple long lunch breaks.
  • Going for walks. So many walks. Pretty much 0 runs, but many walks. Learning things on the walks like where the geese land during migration every year, and the best place to see deer (behind the bowling alley, at dusk).
  • Working from a coworking place, only to have it shut down, and then another only to have it shut down. Driving an hour to work from another coworking spot which I loved.
  • Working from a restaurant for five hours and only ordering breadsticks, and not being able to remember the restaurant.
  • Learning that most places use their phone number as the wifi password.
  • Working four hours in the morning, then four hours after the sun went down, and having every afternoon off for a few months before I almost dropped dead from exhaustion.
  • Working from a sandwich shop a mile from my house and literally being their first customer ever (and later, one of their last)
  • Moving from working quietly and without human interaction at my local coffee shop to now seeing people I know there every time I go.
  • Converting a room into a nice office with standing desk, sitting desk, and then invisible desk.
  • Turning that room into a play room and using the top of a bookshelf in the corner of our bedroom as an office
  • Writing some code to show my daughter what I do and to help her with her math homework.
  • Signing for many UPS packages, monitoring many cable installers, plumbers, and Jehovah Witnesses.
I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.

Finding Balance

Every one of us has learned how to send emails on Sunday night. But how many of us know how to go a movie on Monday afternoon. You’ve unbalanced your life without balancing it with someone else

Ricardo Semler 28 Sep 2007

One of the greatest benefits of a work-from-home ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) is that it allows you to have the tools to balance the other way.  For example, let’s say you want to eat lunch with your kids a few times a month at their school.  If you live 30 minutes from the office this means that one day a week you need to spend either an extra hour in the car or a few hours away from work (working from home for just that morning).  Eventually, this means that everyone would know that “David eats with his daughters at school on Wednesday and isn’t around” which, depending on your company culture, might turn into a Big Deal.

When you work from home chances are good that you live very close to the school and can pop in easily on days where your schedule allows it.  This same logic holds for doctor’s appointments, lunch with friends, and any other child activities.

Outside of a strict ROWE environment, this arrangement also gives you tools that you can use to better manage heavy workloads.  I have worked with startups in the past where I was working the type of hours that made everyone around me worried about me.  But when I do this in a remote situation nobody does because I can work very late at night and on Saturday/Sunday for a half a day each without truly affecting my family and social life.  This is a superpower that can only be given to you through a flexible work environment.