This article has been translated to Spanish here.
I have been working as a Software Engineer at Gousto since 2017. Remote working full-time is not our general policy (although we have 1 or 2 days per week that we can work from home), however Gousto is cool enough to offer full time remote working and work abroad opportunities to committed employees.
We agreed recently to start planning my relocation to Spain in the second half of the year while still being a Gousto employee. We were ironing out the details when the Coronavirus Crisis happened.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gousto has followed the Government recommendations. The moment the government recommended to WFH to everyone that could, everyone in the London office did so as well as the workers that were non essential and not required to be present at our Spalding factory.
After 4 weeks, I can say I’m enjoying the work part (despite how terrible the situation is in general). I think this is, in part, because of the experience I have WFH 1-2 days / week as part of Gousto’s flexible working, so I’d like to share my experience. This is going to be a very personal and opinionated list. For better compilations on advice, there are plenty of articles.
A little disclaimer: I am going to promote some apps because I use them and they worked really well for me. This post is not sponsored.
A healthy mind
This is not an easy situation. Despite being in a developed country and relatively living life in “easy mode”, confinement can take its toll. We are social animals, and after some days without real human interaction we can start to suffer. That’s why is so critical to give mental health the importance it deserves, even if you are lucky like me and you live with someone that is WFH too; if you are not, you should take care of yourself even more.
Get into a routine, wake up at the same hour to start the working day and dress up with nice clothes as if you were going to go to the office. Have breakfast before start working and tune the indulgence level up from time to time to keep yourself happy.
Take your time to make your surroundings appealing. Yes, nobody is going to visit you. No, that’s not an excuse to stop cleaning. Tidy up, maybe get some flowers…
Disable your notifications. This should not be confinement-only advice… I don’t really get how it is possible to be productive with the phone buzzing every 10 minutes. Why not turn them off and be in control of when you want to check them? Also, don’t read about Coronavirus all the time, do it maybe once a day, it can be part of your routine.
Talk to your family, talk to your friends, keep social with your team mates (more on that later).
Some calls can involve so many people that is chaotic, but fun.
Headspace. For years I felt that meditation wasn’t worth doing but a lot of people recommended it to me. I decided to give it a shot after yet another person asked me to give it a go. I’m no longer sceptical on the benefits of meditation. It is the second thing that has helped me the most with my mental health (more about the thing that has helped me the most below). I like to use the Headspace app because it is the most naked, purest form of meditation I have found: a bit of philosophy, no music, no sounds, not spirituality; just a very soothing voice… But you use the type of meditation that better works for you.
In a healthy body
- Go to bed at a regular time (don’t go late because you can wake up late and work in pyjamas)
- Don’t do any work, calls, reading during the day in the bed
- Do physical exercise towards the end of the day
- Don’t consume content from screens during the last hour you are awake (an e-book reader is fine)
Do a lot of exercise regularly. This is not only for the body. It is so good for the mind to get exhausted, especially if you have problems going to sleep. This is the single thing in my life that has helped my mental health the most. Get exhausted if your physical condition allows you to do so, and I promise you that nothing else will matter.
I also have an app for that: Freeletics. It asks you how much you struggle and adapts the training sessions to your level. It will also adapt them if you are in a rush, have some parts of your body that are sore or need to train quietly. I signed up with this referral from a friend which gave me a 20% discount. It has a nutrition side as well, if you are interested.
Time to Work
The setup is very important. I have an office chair (nothing fancy, but comfortable), a desk that I only use for the computer, a second monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. That is the minimum.
The top of the screen should be to the level of your eyes. (that’s why you should not use the laptop keyboard and the laptop screen at the same time). Fortunately that’s very easy to fix: raise the screen(s) to the desired height with books, a box of shoes… anything goes. Remember the health of the mind, keep the space tidy and pleasant to work in.
Sitting down the whole day is not healthy, why don’t you use a stand up station too from time to time? You just need to move to the kitchen and use some books or a stand like the one I’m using here:
In addition, I find it useful to take notes in a real notepad… also to have some post-its that I can paste on the frame of the screen or in the wall.
One of the things that I miss most from co-located working is the whiteboard sessions, they were so useful and saved us so much time on coding, code reviews and bugs. That’s why our team is experimenting with virtual whiteboarding using drawing tablets. We’ll extend it to the rest of Engineering if it is a success 🤞
One thing we’ve noticed is that we’re over-communicating. In the office, somebody would come to our desks and grab the one or two people they needed to have a small discussion there and then. Now, they’ll have it in the team Slack channel, and everyone in that channel will receive notifications no matter how relevant is to them. The actual figures are that the number of Slack messages basically doubled in the first week of confinement, I thought it would adjust over time, but it has not gone down.
There are positive aspects too, of course, it’s easier to focus when you have long spans of time to work uninterrupted. On those times I’ve started to use The Pomodoro Technique. Here is a Pomodoro Timer.
However, the most important change I think the company and our team specifically has done to ensure success, are the talks and activities.
- Sometimes people have lunch together
- Once a week Timo, our CEO, and other colleagues give us a catch up talk with the most relevant news about the company situation and remind us that we are still a big group of people working all for the same great goal.
- Every Friday, Daisy (who normally would organise our Friday drinks and social events) has some new event going on, often involving a talent showcase. A touching ukulele mini-concert, a DJ battle and a Pub Quiz are the ones that have happened so far
I am not talking necessarily about software projects here. It could be painting minis, learning a new song with your instrument, writing something, reading that book you never found time for, learning to draw (or learning anything else, do you know how lucky we are to have YouTube?).
Watching TV and playing video games are entertaining activities and we should indulge and keep ourselves happy at these times. But the reward they give is short, and you might feel empty soon after. However, if you achieve something meaningful you’ll feel much better.
Are you having trouble being consistent? I’ve got apps for that too! I’ve been using these to keep track of my workouts, meditation, and my side project. Give yourself some gamification on your goals if that helps you:
Habit, Done (this one has better statistics, but you can only set 3 activities in the free version) in the App Store. There are similar apps for Android too.
I hope this was somehow useful, or at least entertaining. Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear which things have been working for you or what hasn’t. What are your particular challenges? Do you have any tips or questions? See you in the comments section!