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How to stay sane and productive when working from home
Productivity tips for working from home in tech
Dave Stokes is a MySQL Community Manager at Oracle and leads the North Texas MySQL User Group. He'll be speaking at SouthEast LinuxFest in Charlotte, NC this year (June 10-12, 2016) about Working From Home: Tips For Keeping Your Sanity, Productivity, and a Manatee.
Many of us in tech work from home occasionally (some daily). It's a bit of a new frontier, with it's own set of challenges and learning curves, so I'd say most of us are interested in a good tip or two on how to stay sane and productive. I reached out to Dave to ask some questions about his talk, and naturally I needed to know just what a manatee has to do with working from home.
What's your work from home set up like?
I just moved and had to re-establish my home office. My chair is an old wooden office chair, great for posture, not great for posterior. The previous owners of my house sold me this incredible oak desk that looks like something out of the Game of Thones. I have my work laptop and my personal desktop set up, plus some other test boxes of various operating systems. Nearby are some of my guitars and a leather office chair with an ottoman. Occasionally Jack, my beagle, will occupy the leather chair.
Your talk title mentions a manatee. Do you have a pet manatee?
My beagle is manatee shaped. But then so am I.
How often do you work from home? Is there a magic number of hours or days you should limit yourself to?
85% of MySQLers work from home, and I am in my home office when I am not on the road. I can go to either of the local Oracle offices if need be.
Hours can be tricky. I used to wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant programming idea and fire up the computers. I did a lot of great coding but the only trouble is 8-10 hours later your biological factors take over and it is only nine in the morning! The trick is to set core hours, say ten in the morning to four in the afternoon, and try to put in some time on either side of the core. You mentally get used to having a regular schedule but you can move things around to fit that morning call with your European colleagues or that late afternoon Silicon Valley Skype.
Have you worked with people who question your productivity?
I am more productive in a home office, and can show the output to match. In the past I would get interrupted for some crisis that was tangential to me but they wanted me in some meeting or someone would have a United Way charity organization call that would get interrupted when someone wondered what would really happen if they did a 'rm -r /' on their network attached storage.
What tips help your productivity?
The first is to get out of your home office for lunch a few days a week. Don't eat lunch or other meals regularly at your desk. It helps to get outside, go someplace where some people are, and get some fresh air in your lungs.
Exercise. Get away from your home office and do something physically strenuous. A few hours spread over a week at the gym or riding my motorcycle flush the metal cache, recharge the spirit, and make me much less grouchy.
Local user groups are great for keeping in touch with what peers are doing technically and you get to talk geek. Usually it is enough to give you a new perspective.
Also seek for yourself a "backup office" to have someplace to go if your Internet connection goes out, or your nextdoor neighbor starts a Tuvan Throat Singing festival, or you just need a change of scenery. Visit it once a month or so, even if it's just working from a Starbucks for half an hour. You need a backup plan.
What is better about working from home? What is more difficult?
The commute is much shorter, and I save a ton on gasoline. There are fewer interruptions, and I don't have to worry about someone in the next cube putting their phone on speaker to discuss the merits of some sports team I care nothing about. I work better and am more productive by myself.
More difficult? Well, Take Your Kid to Work Day is much less impressive for your children. Some people miss working in a vibrant office space but I fill that void with user groups and outside activities.
How do you organize a team around working from home? Is it ideal for everyone to work from home on the same days? Or can it be different days?
It helps to have some overlap which gets difficult if you are on the west coast and your coworkers are in central Europe, unless they start late and work late. Setting core hours when you know person X is available Z to Y (your time) is a necessity. You also need to have a core communication system that you all use frequently: email, chat, tweets, or whatever. And on a regular basis you need to get on the phone on a set schedule because not everything is communicated well in email.
Marten Mickos when he ran MySQL AB had a monthly all-hands call where he brought everyone up to speed on what was happening in the company, what he was doing (Marten was always extremely busy and made everyone feel like a slacker just because he was so busy), answer questions, and then he finished with a Swedish/Finnish drinking song. MySQL AB had a very vibrant esprit de corps that flowed from that man.
Currently the MySQL Community Team meets once a week and it amazing how much can be covered in a short call when four people work together.
How do you get your family to respect your office time and space?
You have to tell them that while you are at work it is just like you're gone off to some office. Tell them that minor problems are going to have to wait until you take a break, have lunch, or end your work day. And then stick to it.