Logistics is the management of the details of an operation. Many Appfluence staff members work from home for most of the year. Over time, we have developed a playbook to make this a successful experience. If your organization is starting to work from home on a regular basis, this guide might be useful. In this final part of a three-part series, we discuss the logistics our team has in place to make things run smoothly.
In the previous installment of this three-part series, we discussed the business process that we follow at Appfluence to make remote working successful. In this final installment, we will go over the routines, habits and best practices that allow us to be successful and retain our sanity. The logistics.
Logistics: Hit the floor running
The first step to a happy remote working life is setting up a productive work environment at home, both physically and in terms of timing, routines, and relationships. A correctly setup environment can make your work from home experience total bliss, while a hastily put together one can make the most determined telecommuter hate every second of it.
A dedicated place to work and focus
When you prepare to work from home, perhaps the most impactful decision you have to make is the physical location of your desk. You don’t have to always work from the same exact spot (in fact, it’s probably good to move around every once in a while to clear your mind and reset), but it is a good idea to have a designated spot where you can retreat to focus. Here are some important factors to consider:
- Noise level: The ideal location for focused work would be a quiet spot devoid of much conversation noise, especially the kind that we are wired to pay attention to. You may have noticed that it’s easy to ignore and even enjoy some sounds, ranging from nature to traffic. The one thing that is really hard NOT to pay attention to is human conversation. Let alone children screams. We have evolved to focus on those, so it is essential to shut them out if you can. If it’s not feasible to find a location that blocks out chatter, you need to mitigate with headphones, background music or a super nanny.
- Natural light: Several studies have shown the positive impact of natural sunlight in mood, cognitive performance and overall health. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder in which people with otherwise normal mental health exhibit depressive symptoms during the darker months of the year. If you don’t get outside and work only with artificial light, you might notice yourself getting more irritable, even depressed. In other words, look for a nice bright window and set yourself up nearby.
- Line of sight: When you prepare your desk, consider if you are able to periodically look up and focus your sight somewhere distant. Several hours of staring at a computer screen (and barely blinking) will strain your eyesight and even give you a headache. Some people recommend the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Simple to remember!
- Physical comfort: Some of us have found that standing desks are great for posture and overall energy, while others prefer a comfortable office chair. Whatever you prefer, be mindful of good ergonomics and if you do only one thing in this regard, try to keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows at the same height as your desk when typing. Trust us on this.
- Temptations: Finally, the elements everyone thinks about but are harder to correct. Do you find yourself taking a dozen trips to the kitchen in a given morning? Do you lay down on your couch after lunch and have trouble getting back up? Do you find yourself paying attention to the latest news from the TV in the room next door? These are all hard to avoid temptations, so keep that in mind when you choose your spot for work.
With that in mind, and being cognizant that no two situations are identical, here are some stereotypical options:
- The good: A dedicated desk in a separate home office room, away from children, media and other distractions. Nicely done!
- The bad: A shared table in a dining or living room with people passing by every once in a while. Hopefully you have some good headphones…
- The ugly: A couch in a living room with other people who are not also working, or (horror!) your bedroom. Good luck getting anything done!
No matter your place of work, it is important to create a routine that gets you in a state of flow so you can do your best. This is perhaps the most personal section in this guide, because we are all different and what makes some of us focus would send others to the nuthouse. Nevertheless here are some tips that we find helpful. Take them or leave them.
Dress for success
You know you are not going anywhere, but you can still trick your body into thinking like you’re onto something important. So wash your face, get rid of those pajamas and save the sweatpants for a lazy weekend. You don’t have to get a jacket and tie, although if that’s what you like, by all means. Maybe a pair of jeans or work trousers and a buttoned shirt instead of a ragged t-shirt will do the trick. The point is to avoid being too comfortable, so that it’s easier to feel when you are “on the clock”.
Enjoy your commute
When you commute to the office, you are not only physically moving yourself to your place of work. You are also preparing your mind for a different setting. If you wake up, have breakfast and start working without skipping a beat, it’s harder to create that separation. Because of that, some of us have tricks like going on a short bike ride, walking around the block or just getting outside to smell the fresh air for a couple of minutes, before going back to the home office to start cranking out those TPS reports.
Keep your hours
A lot of people say they want to work from home to get away from a 9-to-5 job, only to find themselves naturally falling into that precise schedule. Some others find that they work better late at night, and they prefer to get up late or take long lunch breaks and a short therapeutic siesta. Whatever your preference, try to make a routine out of it. Let your circadian rhythm guide your high performance hours, and rest when it makes sense to you. But try to be persistent, repetitive if you will. Otherwise you may crash and burn after a work marathon, and definitely will not find your optimal pace.
Break it out
When you are sharply focused on something, it’s easy to fall in a low productivity trap, when you are not making real progress but you also don’t want to take a break to keep trying. Or you might be doing work, but not realize that it’s not the work you should actually be doing. Think of this like an open water swimmer: If you don’t raise your head every few strokes, you may end up disoriented, swimming around in circles. So take short breaks every so often to get out of the rut.
A fairly popular technique sometimes known as the pomodoro method consists of setting a kitchen timer (the original one was tomato-shaped, and pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian) to ring after about 20 minutes, and then you take a short break, maybe two minutes. Stand up, look around, drink some water, and then start over. Adjust the interval to whatever works for you, but don’t make the breaks too infrequent. Over time, you might notice that work nicely breaks itself into pomodoro-sized chunks, and you will get more work done with less stress.
In his book Hooked, author Nir Eyal proposes a model to describe how some technology exploits our natural inclination to respond to specific triggers, creating a habit that brings us back time and time again, like dopamine junkies. The same principles, however, can be used for your own good. A lot has been written about this in the field of behavioral psychology, but the first step to control and redirect your habits is to know and understand your triggers. What causes you to be distracted? What helps you get in the flow? Is there a song that gets you in the mood to get started? What’s the amount of coffee that makes you alert but not jittery?
Pro tip: At the end of the day, or just before going on a break, leave a sentence (or a line of code, or whatever you work with) half way finished and then close your computer. That way when you start again the following day, you will jump straight into the same line of thinking, without wasting time trying to remember.
Kids in the hall
If you are working from home due to a school closure, a child being sick or a statewide shelter-in-place mandate, you maybe have to deal with having kids home all day with not much to do and a whole lot of pent up energy. Entire libraries have been written on the topic of child rearing, homeschooling and developmental stages, so we will not try to overstep our experience, but here are some useful tips to consider.
- Keep a schedule for the children, but don’t be too rigid. Post it on the fridge or somewhere prominent. Set rough guidelines for when they are expected to do something productive, and when they can goof off. Use timers and visual cues so they are aware of what they are supposed to be doing (or not doing!) at what moment.
- Have the kids help at home. Preparing food does not have to be your job alone. Children at a young age are surprisingly able to help with chores such as peeling eggs, even chopping soft food. They will get a kick out of it! As they graduate to become master chefs, you will be thankful.
- Don’t fret the screen time. It’s laudable to try limiting screen time to a reasonably low amount. After all, you probably want to raise bright, playful, alert kids, not little zombies. But under certain circumstances you may have to make exceptions, so relax a little and let the little ones watch one more Sesame Street if that’s what will keep them happy until you are done preparing that presentation.
- Take a break and just go play with them if you have a chance. They’re not going to be children forever, so make the most of it while you can!
First things first
We want to close this brief guide with what should arguably be the first thing to consider. Think again about the actual reason you’re working from home. Is it to spend more time with your family? To avoid a stressful commute? Or are you temporarily confined due to health reasons? Either way, consider the benefits that your new setup can confer, and don’t let the minutiae take away from your goal. Sometimes, distractions are welcome. Take one more trip to the kitchen if you really want. Go play with your kids if they are restless. Open the window and peoplewatch for a moment.
Thank you for your time
We really hope you have enjoyed this three-part series. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for improvement, you can message @appfluence on Twitter, or send us a line via our “contact us” page.
Here’s to a brave new work-from-home world!