Working from the office29 April 2021
Last week I broke my run of a little over six months without setting foot into the office once, and today marks only the 11th time I have gone in to my supposed place of business within the last nine months. While being in the office in itself was nice I feel that having adapted to remote working I have minimal desire to go back to the old ways of working.
The commuteLast time I went in to the office was on the bus that had more people in it than it should and I suspect I caught a mild cough that my body was able to see off after a day, but today I was the only other person on a recently reinstated shuttle service that due to lack of traffic was even faster than usual and was a lot more pleasant. However it was in the back of my mind that the 20-minute ride in the morning and the 40-minute all in trip back in the late-afternoon were unusually fast, and I have known both to sometimes individually take the best part of an hour. This is not something I have any real desire to go back to doing, especially since the route the commute took raked over memories I really wanted to keep buried.
A secondary problem is that the business park itself from the outset was a bit of a grim area, and the general life-style of the area is one that I also want to get away from. The sort of lunch available from the local plaza works out at €10 or so a day and is the type of food that should really be avoided; there is a better food place a slightly longer walk away but that place is a real graveyard of memories. One way or another going to and from the office is something I do not like doing.
Work-life separationUnlike the commute being in the office itself actually has a lot in its favour. Working at my dedicated desk with all the equipment I could possibly need and the space to spread it out came with a certain joy and motivation that I have not properly felt any time recently. With an up-time of 422 days my workstation still had some windows open on long-completed pieces of work and even my Firefox tabs were a bit of a history lesson. This is the environment for maximum productivity, in part because I spent a lot of time configuring it all exactly the way I wanted, but mainly due to the ability to simply walk away from it all and then come back to exactly the point I left things off. With work-from-home I normally left my work laptop connected up during the week, so I never had quite the same work-life separation. A significant amount of time was wasted each day puttings things away and getting them out again.
A messy startGoing over to de-facto full-time remote working was a far from smooth process at a bad time, and although I did not have any complaints from the company in my view it was a productivity disaster. Before Covid-19 working remotely was something my company had minimal provision for, as the assumption was people would be in the office working on the rather beefy dual-screen workstations they provided as standard to everyone. Having VPN access seemed to be an exception rather than the rule previously, with remote access having to be hastily rolled out to everyone — initially the idea was for everyone to use remote desktop logins but later on the company managed to order in a load of laptops, which of course also required a significant amount of time to replicate development environments on.
The first few weeks of lockdown coincided with my rush to move into my “temporary” flat which in itself was a huge strain, and looking back at this time last year I am honestly not sure what work I actually got done. Yes I was working on a very open-ended and ill-defined task related to maintenance of the internal QA testing infrastructure that needed a lot of effort just to get operating at all, and this was while being placed on a chaotically-organised four-day week, but even then there is little I can find to show for whatever I was doing at the time. I suspect the ten or so days I went into the office in June accounted for most of my actual productivity during the entire quarter.
Making things workIt was only when I finally snapped and went over to the UK last summer that I felt properly motivated. This was partly helped by making some major breakthroughs in June so that much of the work that needed doing in July was relatively simple code-base cleanup, but since I was no longer constantly tripping over myself I was working with motivation rather than against it. An important thing because what I have spent about the last five months on was a monumentally difficult task that involved a large portion of reverse engineering, and had I not been able to set it aside and give my mind rests by working on personal electronics projects, I probably would have just given up completely. Subconsciously I suspect this is that happened to be last year because my mind had decided to simply shut everything out, and one day when I spent about half an hour blankly staring at my screen was the point where I was on the edge if not already over it.
For work from home to be effective it needs a dedicated space set aside purely for the purpose of professional use, and ideally this ought to be its own room and using equipment that does not moonlight for personal use. Anything less than this precludes the ability of separating out work and life which has been a major bane of my recent life. After a year of lockdowns and with no real end in sight it was clear that I had a choice between living in the limbo that has already wrecked my life, or make moves to implement things that I know would be a massive improvement. I am still not actually sure if work from home is actually the thing for my long-term future but having had that choice made for me and adapting as a result, there are plenty of things with the old way of life that I am happy to do without. An undesirable commute is the big one