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Working without my pants

The question I love to ask fellow remote workers is “What have you done with your new found time?”  I’m referring to the time previously spent commuting to and from work, which you can now use however you wish. It’s truly amazing to think about the personal growth I’ve been through over the last few years, and I find it interesting that I originally resisted the idea. I’ve become a huge supporter of the telecommuting movement. Of course, it introduces it’s own set of challenges. It requires the approval of the entire team, and certainly requires a lot of discipline, but for the right person it increases happiness and productivity. I’m going to share some of my personal experience working both in the offices and from my home, and I invite you to share feedback in my comments section.

I was still a relatively new employee when we had that team meeting with our manager at the time, and former VP of development, to discuss major changes in the software development cycle here at work. All of my team members were present and we discussed the change from a waterfall system to a new lean development system. This was all new to me, so I listened closely as he described the process based on a method used at Toyota in Japan. That process is called Kanban. At the time I thought it was a new fad that we would try and most likely phase out when people resisted.  However, I also reminded myself to keep an open mind, maybe this would set us apart from other software companies I’d worked for. Companies that are too stubborn to ever consider a change like this. I started to look at our manager with a new respect. He had a lot of balls to make a shift like that, and hundreds of employees would be adapting the new system so this was no 1small change. All of us would require training of Kanban methodologies. The good news for me was no more big meetings. With Kanban we have short daily meetings called “stand ups” where everyone answers 3 questions:

1. What did you do yesterday?

2. What are you doing today?

3. What’s keeping you from finishing your task?

This constant pinging of the status of the team was new and sounded exciting. It forced communication which makes problems more visible. It also makes you more accountable on a daily basis, where as before a problem might prevent a team from working for weeks and pass blame on others.

Towards the end of the meeting, he announced too that we would be the first team to work from home on a rotating schedule, and I immediately responded with a question. “What if we want to work in the office?”

To which he replied, “That’s totally up to you.”

Yes, it’s true. I enjoyed working in the office and the idea of working remote was a little unsettling. At the time, I though working remote would make you lazy. I also held the belief that if downsizing ever occurred, remote employees would be the first to go. The previous company I worked for stressed the importance of arriving and beginning the work day at a specific time (or earlier), and working until the end of your shift, regardless of progress or other external factors. That environment never really gave me incentive to push myself, but rather just produce enough value to keep my position. After the meeting we discussed the schedule and I would start with 2 days a week working from home.

I remember waking up in the morning during my first few weeks, realizing just how much time I spent getting ready and driving into the office. It’s about a 40 minute drive for me each morning. I’d wake up to a pot of coffee, which was a necessity, shower, get dressed and get in my car. I tried car pooling a few times but it never worked out, so for years I would make this drive alone. The person I tried carpooling in was a hug fantasy football person, so every day we listened to AM sports radio. Now don’t get me wrong, I love sports, but I could only take so many commercials targeted at middle-aged men, warning them of their decreased testosterone levels and balding heads and offering expensive “magic pill” solutions. It’s easy to pick up a phone and charge a credit card, rather than go to a gym consistently and push your body naturally.

A breakthrough occurred when I discovered audio books. For years I laughed at the idea of audio books, thinking that it was a cheap way to get out of reading. Meanwhile, I’m out of shape, smoking cigarettes and haven’t finished reading a book in years. So audio books revolutionized my commute. If my hands are on the steering wheel and my eyes on the road, at least I could use my hearing to learn. That was as good as it gets, or so I thought.

I began listening to streaming audio books on youtube before starting an electronic library of audio resources. I began with a few Chuck Palaniuk books, and I recall the first non-fiction audio book I finished was Richard Dawson’s the Selfish Gene. I began walking into the office with headphones on because I just couldn’t get enough. I was soaking up ideas like a sponge. Then I got into Steven Pressfield and a few of his books were very inspiring, about creativity and creating content. This lead me to one book that stands out in my memory, called the Artist’s Way. I admit, I gave up on that book about 2 chapters in. But in one of those chapters, I signed a contract to commit to writing what the author, Julia Cameron, calls “Morning pages.” Every day for 30 days, I wrote 3 pages of about anything I wanted. The point is to just get things out on paper. It’s not exactly a journal. In fact, you are never supposed to re-read anything you write in the morning pages. It’s sort of a brain dump. After that, you’re in a better writing mode, than if you just sat down and tried to force something.

So, with my new found time I was able to write and explore other areas of interest. I changed my eating habits as I had time to prepare better food at home, and I quit those horrible cigarettes I’d been smoking due to stress, and eventually found my way to a gym and signed up for a membership. I fixed up my old guitar that I hadn’t played in almost 10 years, and have been jamming on it ever since. One of my favourite things to do when working from home is to take a 10 minute break and sit there and play. And I think my neighbour’s cat liked it to, because she started visiting me every morning. I found my need for caffeine slowly diminishing. I still enjoy a cup, but it’s not like the pot I downed every morning just to function and get to work. Now I’m taking online courses studying Data Science and statistics and joined a writer’s critique group because these are areas I’d like to improve on.

Online blogs are a great resource for remote workers. I like to see what applications people are using, and I keep in contact with fellow remote employees heavily. There is a natural tendency to want to talk to people online a lot, to make sure they don’t forget I exist. It’s an urge I fight every day, but luckily I’m able to drive into Weston and go into the office to see everyone, if I feel lonely.

I continue to undergo lifestyle changes, and a lot of it has been due to my ability to work from home. Some people like to say working in your underwear, which is a funny way of looking at it. I force myself into the shower early to remind me of the old ritual.  Some days I dress up and go to the grocery store on my lunch break. And there is one more confession I have: I take naps. Every day. Well, almost every day. If I am not tired, I’ll meditate for 15 minutes. I’m pretty sure the employee handbook has rules against it, and I’m voicing my opinion to change this. People equate productivity with amount of time working, but that’s simply not true. were in technology like myself.

The key to working remote is environmental control. My apartment is usually quiet, but I can turn on ambient music (or blast some funk should the mood strike). Some days I’ll throw on the sounds of rain. It’s relaxing for me. Studies have shown the color blue is relaxing too, so I decorate my apartment with that color. A few plants add a splash of green. And at any time I can look out my front window and allow my eyes to refocus. Being able to see nature is important to me. That’s why I’ve always wanted an office with a view, which I now have.

I used to dream of having a solid cherry oak desk I could work on, or use to start writing my book.  After a few years of sitting I learned about the benefits of working while standing up.  My dreams of owning a large cherry oak power desk are long gone, and now I prefer and ergonomic approach.  I started working at a standing desk over a year ago. It’s amazing how working standing up can feel so draining at first. These days, I stand about 90%. I feel it’s improving my posture and makes me much more alert. It’s only after a big meal that I’ll lower it and take a seat.

In the future I see more and more people telecommuting as we become more digitally connected. It’s not for everyone, though. I know people that would not perform very well given the freedom, and there is also a resistance from people in the office who might think it to be unfair. The employee must be self-motivating and pro-active, especially with regards to communicating with the team.

I remember when I was 16 envisioning a future where I would earn money based on the software I produced, rather than on my physical presence. I also remember dreaming about working from a beach house. Both these dreams are becoming a reality. Now I just need to save up enough to buy some property and build a house.

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