Some media has described this situation as the world's biggest work from home experiment given the number of employers advising employees to stay home. It's certainly true that this is the longest work from home experiment that I have experienced.
When I received the notification of the work from home two weeks ago, I had mixed feelings about it - while I was happy that we would be relatively safe from the coronavirus, I also had bad memories from my past work from home experiences. Surprisingly, the past two weeks have been quite pleasant! I realised that there were some key differences that I needed in my work from home experience to make it productive and desirable for myself.
Lone remote working does not work for me
In the past, whenever I have been the only person in my company working from home, I feel rather lonely. Knowing that all my colleagues and friends are at their workplaces while I am alone at home made me feel some kind of FOMO. I didn't think I was necessarily missing out on "fun" that they were having at work, but it made me feel odd to be at home when everyone else I knew was at work. With the coronavirus situation, it's become a norm to work from home - all my colleagues were working from home too, and so were many of our customers, and many of my friends. Given that we were all going through the same experience, there was no feeling of exclusion. More so, everyone working remotely leads to more tele-communication over chat, so our Teams chat was quite active throughout the day. One of the days, I met a friend for lunch, and another day I went swimming earlier in the evening than I normally would, because I knew other people near me also working from home.
It helps to have deadlines or targets
When one is part of a startup or running their own startup, the targets and deadlines are much looser than in corporates based on my experience. When I worked from home in the past for my own startup or other people's startups, there weren't fixed deadlines or targets I had to meet. I could afford to slack. Now that I'm at a bigger company that has a stronger culture of targets and deadlines, I can't afford to slack! So even if I'm working from home, I won't get up from my desk in the middle of the day to go do laundry or cook lunch, because I have tight deadlines I need to be at my desk for atleast 8 hours a day to meet.
Having fewer types of tasks helps
Switching between different types of tasks is always tricky for me. I feel the pain of transitions from meetings to focussed tasks to creative tasks to writing emails and so on. There is a certain discipline required to code switch effectively, which I am able to harness better at the office. My current job scope is relatively narrow compared to my past job scopes at startups. Most of my job involves making calls, setting up meetings, and writing notes from my meetings. So there isn't too much switching involved between different types of tasks, which makes it easier for me to focus through the day.
Time bound work day is sooo important
Much of my past work involved working with people in different time zones, so I would wake up to many emails, which I would reply to before I was even fully awake, and then I'd go eat breakfast, come back to my desk and so on. There wasn't really fixed duration that I would work and a fixed time when I could stop and go do other things. I often had night calls, which meant I would come back to my desk at some point after 8 PM. This made it extremely hard for me to work from home because I didn't always know when I should be working and when I shouldn't. With my current job, my hours are based on APAC time zones - which is largely from 7 am to 6 pm. So I would work from 8 am to 5 pm most days and then leave my desk to do other things like exercise, get dinner, read, netflix, etc.
I was surprised to find that this work from home experience was not only bearable, but also really nice in some ways! I liked that I didn't have travel time to work, didn't have to dress up too much and could control the temperature of my work environment (I am always cold in air conditioned environments, so I really appreciated being able to keep the air conditioning off).
Also, I am an introvert - so I need some alone time in between calls to recoup. It is much easier to get that alone time at home than when in office, as much as I enjoy interacting with my colleagues at work! The stress levels and interruptions were also lower, leaving me with more energy at the end of my work day to focus on personal things - like reading, exercising, or thinking about personal projects.
It makes me think about how remote working is an increasing trend across the world - at times, companies provide it as a way to give employees flexibility (to working parents for example). Other times, its a way for companies to cut down costs, in which case they may hire a workforce in a different country where salaries are lower. Other times, companies are fully remote and let employees work from wherever they want (like the ones in this list). Based on my short experiences so far working remotely, I think that environments that are fully remote are far easier to work in than those that are partial. Partial work environments where only some employees work remotely are really difficult for collaboration. Not to mention that remote employees may feel left out knowing that their colleagues in the office are seeing each other everyday and grabbing lunch together. Fully remote environments on the other hand level the playing field - everyone is equally connected or disconnected and communication + collaboration channels are set up to serve a remote work environment.
This experience working from home makes me more open to taking up remote jobs in the future and working with companies that aren't in my vicinity. It's exciting to discover that there are plausible ways that one can sustainably work from home and enjoy it, because it means I don't have to limit myself to projects and opportunities that are within a 50 mile radius, like I would have before!