Over the years, we’ve written a lot about disaster planning and recovery, the need for backing up systems and business continuity.
While many large organizations have their data in redundant locations — either their own data centers or cloud-provided regions around the world, smaller organizations have looked at disaster recovery in the same way they looked at their mother when she said to eat their vegetables or brush their teeth. He’ll do it when she’s looking, but the second she turns her head, the dog gets the broccoli.
This is why many companies have been caught with their proverbial pants down during this pandemic. And, although many also have gone all-in for the cloud, there are other things to consider when it comes to remote work — things I wish I had thought of in advance of all this.
As I head into the second week of working from home, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I’d like to share, but may come too late for those of you now established at home workspaces.
First, where you set up your workstation is critical. I have an office in the basement of my house that abuts my boiler room. Critical problem No. 1 — the cell service in my basement sucks. When I receive calls, I have to walk away from my computer and climb a flight of stairs to have a conversation. So, you’re probably thinking, if the WiFi is good, just use Slack or Zoom or Teams or Meet to have conversations. That leads to problem No. 2, which is something I can’t really do anything about now. Due to the adjacency of the boiler to my workspace, the oil burner is as likely as not to kick in during an interview, making hearing the other person really hard. Another problem with that is I do recordings for our “What the Dev?” podcast, and have had to pause the conversation for two minutes or more while the burner is on. (When SD Times was starting up 20 years ago, and our offices were next to a firehouse, I had a similar problem with sirens. Weird.)
If you’re using VPN to connect to your office, you might find horrible response times. The natural inclination is to contact the tech guys and blame latency on VPN overload. My tech guy ran a speed test on my computer and found inbound and outbound packets were being delivered very slowly. It’s not the VPN, he said, it’s your internet. He asked if I am the only person on it while connected to the office. I thought for a second, and realized I have two children at home who are streaming class sessions, and doing Zoom meetings of their own with friends and colleagues.
In this time of novel coronavirus, you can’t take away internet use from the kids, or they will really have nothing to do. You could reach out to your ISP and upgrade your service for the duration, but that cost can quickly escalate. If you have to live with the service you have, try the best you can to perhaps limit the hours during the day that they can stream. Give them lunch time, and maybe an afternoon break around 3 or 3:30 for a half-hour or so. There literally is NOTHING as maddening as having to wait, and wait, for a process to complete because of a slow connection. Work you could finish in 15 minutes in your office now takes 45 minutes to an hour.
Experts will tell you that when you work at home, you should try to stick closely to the schedule you’re on when you’re going to an office. That’s good in theory. After a week of not shaving, and putting on clothes twice, it’s clear that it’s simply too tempting NOT to stick closely to the schedule you’re on when you’re going to an office. There are simply too many distractions at home.
It’s funny… When I’m in the office, I complain about all the distractions that keep me from doing my actual work. There are the phone and email interruptions, people in the office who need you at the second to help solve a problem. There’s the coffee maker and office snacks. All kinds of solicitors coming in from the local fire department, phone service providers, water suppliers, and more.
I guess the best takeaway I have learned from working at home for a couple weeks is that you really need to be disciplined to do it effectively. You have to keep your head down and just grind.
If your company’s plan is to return to an office when this passes, grinding is how we get through it. If, though, the company sees how much happier employees are, how much they can save on an office and all that goes with that, and decides to allow its workers to be home, there’s still time to avoid the pitfalls that have befallen me for not being properly prepared.