11 Lessons I’ve Learned While Working from Home

Guy Ligertwood
Sep 8, 2020 · 12 min read

Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.

To be honest, when I started working from home due to Coronavirus, I wasn’t sure how it’d work out. For myself and many designers out there, the disruption to our everyday lives has meant a big change to the way we work.

Reflecting on the past twelve weeks working from home, I’ve learnt a lot about how I work and found several things that have improved my workflow. I encourage you to grab what was good working from home and keep going with it.

Illustration by Matthew Carlson.

Here are a few things that have surprised me while working from home with my wife, two teenage daughters, and Enzo (the puppy).

1. I love saving 480 hours

The daily activity that contributes most to happiness is having dinner with friends. The daily activity that detracts most from happiness is commuting. Eat more. Commute less.

David Brooks

Studies have shown that each extra travel minute correlates with an increase in health problems. It was noted that long-distance commuters (over 45 minutes) suffer from psychosomatic disorders at much larger rate than those who have short trips to work. Physical symptoms can result in headaches, back aches and high blood pressure. Mental issues can include bad sleep, fatigue and concentration problems. If you drive these issues can be even worse.

To be honest, my commute is not too bad. I’m lucky enough to take the ferry from Manly Beach, Australia into Sydney. I commute two hours a day, which works out to be four hundred and eighty hours over a year. This equates to twenty whole days in a year sitting on public transport. That seems like a heck of a lot of time.

I’d never considered how much time I was traveling back and forth to work, but this doesn’t seem like the best use of three weeks of my year.

Now, during the Coronavirus pandemic, I have all these extra hours, which means more of the good stuff; extra sleep, more exercise and the added time with family.

What are you doing with your extra time?

2. I love communicating with video messages

I’ve tried a tonne of ways to share updates like these, but nothing works quite so well as video — people can hear uncertainty in my voice, they can see my expressions, they can watch the chaos of the creative process, and most importantly they get to understand that design is a journey not just a finished piece of work.

Buzz Usborne

Me chatting through some designs using Loom.

As designers we need to communicate back and forth with other designers, developers, product managers, researchers etc.

When I’m at work, and I need some feedback or have a question, I usually swing round to someone’s desk or I set up a meeting. Now that I’m at home, it’s become a bit tougher to swing round to their desk and I don’t want to create endless meetings.

I then found a way to communicate easily by video. Using Loom I can talk through my designs while recording my face and voice. When I’m done, I can send a link to the person. They can then watch it at their leisure and get back to me.

I’ve even started adding videos to my JIRA tickets alongside my designs. It’s great to give a quick bit of context on what I’ve designed.

In the last twelve weeks I’ve done 110 video’s and it’s been a real game changer for me. This is something that I plan on using even when I go back to work, I love it.

3. I love that it’s easier to get unstuck

The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.

Julia Cameron

Taking a walk with Inty and Enzo.

As designers we’re always pushing to solve problems, this is what fills our days. When I’m working in the office in the city, and I get stuck on a design, I either take a break or work on something different.

At home, I can step outside into the fresh air and quickly take my mind away from what I’m doing. Since working from home, it’s been so easy rejig my brain when I hit a roadblock. I just get out and take a walk with Enzo (the dog), or just sit outside and relax for ten minutes.

This seems small, but it’s so important to be able to take your mind off your work for a bit to get clarity on things.

When we go back to the office I plan on heading to the nearest park to get some fresh air when I hit a deadend.

You need to be present to create space in your mind to see connections that you didn’t see before

Ian Spalter, the Abstract TV series

4. I love that my daughters are helping me design

Inty, Luna, and me grabbing some breakfast before school.

Everyone so often Luna (my youngest) works next to me at home doing her schoolwork.

Sometimes I swing around and ask Luna her opinion on my designs. She likes to be asked and thinks differently to most in the family so I know she’ll have something to say.

I’m currently working on a payment piece at work. This was Luna’s feedback:

“Dad, people just want to pay for what they got. They want to know that their money is safe and that it’s not too difficult.”

I almost spat out my coffee, she was bang on. I settled myself with the fact that she must have got this wise mind from her father. It’s a surprise benefit having my daughters seeing how my work week is and adding a helping hand every so often.

5. I love the quiet (less distractions)

Go find a quiet spot and write a story about the problem you are trying to solve…the interfaces are just a conversation the user is having with our product.

Amber Cartwright , Netflix Experiences Manager

Serious and focused.

I love the above quote from Amber Cartwright. Since working from home, I’ve really enjoyed the peace in my quiet spot. It’s meant I’ve been able to really focus on what I’m doing and I’ve been more efficient with my time.

When I need to solve a design problem, I need to dig around. I need to find out what came before, why something is like it is, how it fits into what we have today, and how it may affect things in the future. All these things are done more efficiently if I have a good amount of peace and quiet.

Having the peace has made it easier for my brain to feel through a problem. Sounds weird but I can really get under the skin of what I’m trying to solve.

Don’t get me wrong, my homelife is not always peaceful and there’ve been a few moments that I’ve been in a team meeting (not on mute) and my wife and kids have been fighting in the background. Or the dog is barking at me for a treat while I’m giving a design presentation.

6. I love more sleep

Sleep is the best meditation.

Dalia Lama

Caught getting my beauty sleep.

As you sleep you go through a few different stages. These stages are rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM (NREM) sleep. Like the body using it’s lymphatic system to drain out the body’s toxins the brain can only get rid of the bad stuff when you sleep.

During REM our brain cells get smaller to allow the cerebrospinal fluid to flow faster. When sleeping this fluid flows 10X faster than when we’re awake. Essentially this gets rid of our brains toxins which leads to improved concentration, better creativity and problem-solving and overall health.

More sleep is one thing all my family has benefited from over the past three months. I average an extra seven hours of sleep a week working from home.

When I commute, I’m generally exhausted by the end of the week. Now I’m less tired, less stressed, and noticeably less cranky (my wife will contest this).

When I head back to work I plan on making a concerted effort to try and get a bit more sleep each night. The better rested I am the better decisions I make and the calmer I feel.

The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.

Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

7. I love fewer decisions

Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs, or illicit sex.

Roy F. Baumeister, a psychologist and a co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Me dressing up for the work “St. Paddy’s Day” competition.

Psychologists call it decision fatigue when you have constant daily decisions to make. Working from home I have fewer of these daily decisions.

Pre pandemic when I get up and commute to work, I have lots of things I need to remember to do. I need to choose what I need to wear, I need to take my laptop, my mobile phone, my wallet, etc. I might also make my lunch. I then need to get out of the house at a specific time, to get a particular ferry etc.

On the clothes front for the past eight weeks, I’ve pretty much worn the same work uniform every day. Jeans, black t-shirt, and a black shirt (I have several of each). I’ve avoided the “wearing pyjamas to work” as I feel that that would be a slippery slope.

In essence now that I’m working from home, there are fewer decisions in my day which is making my life easier. I have less stress, less thinking, and effectively more doing of what’s essential.

When we go back to work I plan on being more organised so I have less decisions to think through each day. We’ll see how it goes.

8. I love extra family time

Invest in your work-life balance. Time with friends and family is as important as times at work. Getting that out of balance is a path towards unhappiness.

Stephen Gillett

My family: myself, Luna, Inty, and Sandrita.

I’m married to Sandrita and we have two teenage daughters, Inty (14) and Luna (13). Our home life is healthy, we love and fight like ordinary families, and this extra time together has been gold. Even though we may be starting to get on each other’s nerves if it goes on too long.

When I was young, I lived on a farm in Scotland. My dad used to come home for lunch and we’d all spend time together. My mother always told me how beautiful farm life was for family time. I never appreciated this until now and will miss this the most when I go back to work.

Typically my teenage girls would be off with friends when they have the time. Now that time is spent at home. We go for dog walks, watch movies together and have lunches as a family.

Not sure that the kids are so enthused at hanging out all the time with their parents, but when I head back to the office I plan on making time each week to hang out with Sandrita, Inty and Luna one by one during the week.

9. I love slowing down

Sometimes you need to slow down to go fast.

Jeff Olson

Just a middle aged man in shorts with a tote bag, slowing down.

Pre pandemic I used to struggle to slow down. Now that it’s been forced I feel well-rested and less stressed, I have more clarity and make better decisions (I think). I feel more at peace, and this seems to lead to an all-round better work week for my me and the family.

We find that if these top teams slow down, they eventually go deeper and faster into achieving their objectives. They deal more effectively with increased complexity and challenges — and they use less energy.

Mckinsey & Company article, Slowing down to speed up

Post pandemic I plan on slowing down when things get too busy. Not easy but it’s super useful.

10. I love the level playing field

It works, as we’re all in the same position, we’re all working from home.

My lovely Invoice2go team looking very orange.

Half of my work team is based in San Francisco and half in Sydney, with a handful working remotely elsewhere. The fact that we’re all working from home, has made the whole process so much better. We’re all in the same situation, which has brought a kind of peace to it.

If you’re the only one working at home, you might miss out on stuff, and you might notice the different dynamic. If everyone’s in the same boat, you can all appreciate each other’s position. It feels like a healthy democratic way of working and I’m surprised how well it’s working.

Going forward I’d love it if we did a few days a week all working from home.

11. I love my home desk (and my 3 metre commute)

If you love your work space you’ll love your work a little more.

Cynthia Rowley

My home desk.

I never thought that my home workspace would be a factor in my enjoyment of working from home, but it has made a real difference. I’ve also enjoyed my three metre commute.

There’s something great about having my workspace so close, all set up and ready to go each day. I’ve become really used to it and I’d like to be at this desk at least a few days a week when things go back to normal.

When I go back to work I plan on putting some love into setting up my work space.

Final Thoughts: What have I learnt about all being stuck at home

Employees who are most engaged, work remotely 60–80% of the time.

Weird times.

To sum it all up, this is what I’ve learnt working from home:

  1. I’ve learned that you don’t need to be in the office to be productive. I’d always read about people raving about full time working from home, but I thought it’d be tough to do. Turns out it can be great. I’d love to do at least a few days a week at home in the future.
  2. I’ve learned that one on one time with the kids as they grow up is so important. This may seem obvious but going back and forth to work can dig into that time. Not sure if my teenage kids want to see more of me, but when I go back to work I plan on making an effort to have more time with them.
  3. I’ve learned you can communicate just as effectively in different ways to stay in touch, even if you’re not physically together. I’ll keep doing my videos.
  4. I’ve also learned that life can get too quiet and I need to communicate more with people on the days that I’m struggling a bit.
  5. I’ve learned that making time to get my head out of my work makes me more productive in my work. I’ll keep getting outside for a stroll when I can.
  6. I’ve learned that we need a balance of work, family and your own time. When this is not in balance life becomes a bit tougher as one area cuts quality time from another.

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