KonMari The Home Office

I was all ready to hate this list of work-from-home tips from Marie Kondo, but actually it’s… not bad?

I mean, some of it is disgustingly twee — striking a tuning fork to signal the start of the working day? — but other parts make a lot of sense, like keeping your work stuff in a box that you can put away outside work hours.

There is a certain amount of work-from-home advice that is not exactly helpful going about, so at this point I am reflexively sceptical of new advice. There was the Washington Post advising people to sleep in their spare room and pretend they were on a trip, to which people quite rightly pointed out that not everyone has a spare room they can just casually go and sleep in. Even leaving aside issues of sudden economic anxiety due to the lockdown, many people made trade-offs to live in smaller homes in more expensive areas that were closer to schools, parks, restaurants, or transport options — precisely none of which they can take advantage of right now.

Another strand of unhelpful advice is when people forget that other people have children, or seemingly have never met a child in their entire lives.

I’m lucky enough that I was already set up with a pretty decent home office, and I spent the early part of this lockdown fitting it out to the nines, but in my own WFH advice I tried not to assume that everyone was in the same fortunate position. Even people who had the space might not have basics like a reasonably ergonomic desk and chair, and many don’t have the luxury of dedicated space. This is where Marie Kondo’s advice chimes with mine:

  • Keep your work stuff in one place. Work from the kitchen table, and move to the couch when you’re done.
  • Separate work time from personal time. Work from the laptop, then close the laptop when you’re done.

There’s one more piece of advice that I need to add, though:

  • Give yourself and others permission to be their whole selves. Some of us are juggling home-schooling kids with work, and so work happens around other stuff. Even when I’m in my home office, my kids regularly burst in to grab something from the printer, ask a question about homework, or sometimes just to give me a hug. People seem to find it charming more than anything else. This may well be because I’m a man, so I go out of my way to reassure female colleagues that it’s okay for their kids to do the same sort of thing.

Maybe you don’t have kids, maybe it’s your dog barking or your cat deciding to sit on you, or your room-mate coming out of the shower behind you. It’s fine, we’re all in the same boat.

And it could always be worse.

🖼️ Box photo by Bench Accounting1 on Unsplash, others from Stephanie Insley Hershinow and Adam Graham via Twitter

  1. How interesting, advertising by creating a profile on Unsplash! I hadn’t seen that one before — for a non-photography business, that is. Curious to know how it works for them. 

New WFH setup

Inspired by Eddie Jaoude, I made some updates to my home office setup. Just like everyone else, I have been on a ton of calls and a couple of podcasts too, so I kept myself entertained — and the economy moving — by upgrading my work environment.

In the foreground is my Røde NT-USB microphone, with shock mount, pop shield, and boom arm. That last is especially useful so I can swing the whole rig back out of the way when I’m done with it.

Behind that, you can see my Microsoft Natural keyboard; I get RSI if I type too long on straight keyboards, like my laptop’s for instance, so when I’m at my desk I use the Natural which lets me keep my wrists straight.

I use an Apple Magic Mouse, and I know some people hate it. It’s true that it’s not the most ergonomic thing ever, but I love the gestures on it, and I don’t actually use my mouse that much; it’s all about the keyboard shortcuts for me. This also means that I only have to deal with the silly recharging setup quite rarely.

The screen is an Iiyama 26". It’s only HD, not 4k, so it’s probably the next thing due an upgrade. I was hoping Apple would get around to releasing one of its lovely 5k screens without an entire iMac attached, but that is looking increasingly less likely. The LG 5k screen is just too ugly for words, especially for the price, so I’ll probably blow my next bonus on a nice 4k screen. What else am I going to spend money on right now, anyway?

On the walls are generic sound-absorbent foam panels. They really do make a surprisingly audible difference compared to bare paint — nearly as much as moving from the mike on the little headset that’s hanging beside the monitor to the big Røde!

Nestled under the monitor is one of my ancient Cambridge Soundworks speakers and its volume controller; you can just about see the subwoofer under the desk. It’s a four-speaker (plus sub) setup, but right now I don’t have the rear two wired up, waiting for a USB sound card with front+rear outputs that is on a very slow boat from China.

On top of the monitor, the bright ring of light is my Razer Kiyo webcam with built-in ring light. My office is in a half-basement, and the desk is in the darkest corner, so I need all the help I can get.

The computer itself is a MacBook Pro 13" with Touch Bar. Personally, I like the Touch Bar, although obviously I don’t use it much when the MBP is on its stand like this!

The keyboard under the stand belongs to the computer you can just about see above the monitor — yes, that’s a computer! The keyboard has blank keycaps for that William Gibson hacker look, while the computer is in a Skeleton "case" from Antec which is pretty much just an open frame to mount components in, plus a big slow fan to blow air over everything. It’s perfect for what is basically a parts-bin computer. It runs Debian and lets me mess around without the risk of doing something silly on my work computer.

The wicker boxes beside the Skeleton are all full of ancient tangled cables. Because of course they are.

Break Down

This is the other half of my home office, with a rowing machine set up in front of a TV with an Apple TV attached. This lets me stream webinars via AirPlay and watch them while I get a workout in. Good for a change of pace in between all the Zoom calls!

Emergency Spare Backup Office Location

Sometimes I also work from a secure alternative location outside my usual office, partly for the view and partly for the company.


When this lockdown started, all those branches were bare. Life goes on.

The Thing With Zoom

Zoom was having an excellent quarantine — until it wasn’t.

This morning’s news is from Bloomberg: Zoom Sued for Fraud Over Privacy, Security Flaws. But how did we get here?

Here is what’s interesting about the Thing with Zoom: it’s an excellent example of a company getting it mostly right for its stated aims and chosen target market — and still getting tripped up by changing conditions.

To recap, very quickly: with everybody suddenly stuck home and forbidden to go to the office, there was an equally sudden explosion in video calling — first for purely professional reasons, but quickly spreading to virtual happy hours, remote karaoke, video play dates, and the like. Zoom was the major beneficiary of this growth, with daily active users going from 10 million to over 200 million in 3 months.

One of the major factors that enabled this explosive growth in users is that Zoom has always placed a premium on ease of use — some would argue, at the expense of other important aspects, such as the security and privacy of its users.

There is almost always some tension between security and usability. Security features generally involve checking, validating, and confirming that a user is entitled to perform some action, and asking them for permission to take it. Zoom generally took the approach of not asking users questions which might confuse them, and removing as much friction as possible from the process of getting users into a video call — which is, after all, the goal of its enterprise customers.

Doing The Right Thing — Wrong

I cannot emphasise enough that this focus on ease of use is what made Zoom successful. I think I have used every alternative, from the big names like WebEx (even before its acquisition by Cisco!), to would-be contenders like whatever Google’s thing is called this week, to has-beens like Skype, to also-rans like BlueJeans. The key use case for me and for Zoom’s other corporate customers is, if I send one of my prospects a link to a video call, how quickly can they show up in my call so that I can start my demo? Zoom absolutely blew away the competition at this one crucial task.

Arguably, Zoom pushed their search for ease of use a bit too far. On macOS, if you click on a link to a Zoom chat, a Safari window will open and ask you whether you want to run Zoom. This one click is the only interaction that is needed, especially if you already have Zoom installed, but it was apparently still too much — so Zoom actually started bundling a hidden web server with their application, purely so that they could bypass this alert.

Sneaking a web server onto users’ systems was bad enough, but worse was to come. First of all, Zoom’s uninstall routine did not remove the web server, and it was capable of reinstalling the Zoom client without user interaction. But what got the headlines was the vulnerability that this combination enabled: a malicious website could join visitors to a Zoom conference, and since most people had their webcam on by default, active video would leak to the attacker.

This behaviour was so bad that Apple actually took the unprecedented step of issuing an operating system patch to shut Zoom down.

Problem solved?

This hidden-web-server saga was a preview run for what we are seeing now. Zoom had over-indexed on its customers, namely large corporations who were trying to reach their own customers. The issue with being forcibly and invisibly joined to a Zoom video conference simply by visiting a malicious web server did not affect those customers – but it did affect Zoom’s users.

The distinction is one that is crucial in the world of enterprise software procurement, where the person who signs the cheque is rarely the one who will be using the tool. Because of this disconnect, vendors by and large optimise for that economic buyer’s requirements first, and only later (if at all) on the actual users’ needs.

With everyone locked up at home, usage of Zoom exploded. People with corporate accounts used them in the evening to keep up with their social lives, and many more signed up for the newly-expanded free tier. This new attention brought new scrutiny, and from a different angle from what Zoom was used to or prepared for.

For instance, it came to light that the embedded code that let users log in to Zoom on iOS with their Facebook credentials was leaking data to Facebook even for users without a Facebook account. Arguably, Zoom had not done anything wrong here; as far as I can tell, the leakage was due to Facebook’s standard SDK grabbing more data than it was supposed to have, in a move that is depressingly predictable coming from Facebook.

In a normal circumstance, Zoom could have apologised, explained that they had moved too quickly to enable a consumer feature that was outside their usual comfort zone without understanding all the implications, and moved on. However, because of the earlier hidden-web-server debacle, there was no goodwill for this sort of move. Zoom did act quickly to remove the offending Facebook code, but worse was to come.

Less than a week later, another story broke, claiming that Zoom is Leaking Peoples' Email Addresses and Photos to Strangers. Here is where the story gets really instructive.

This "leak" is due to the sort of strategy tax that was almost inevitable in hindsight. Basically, Zoom added a convenience feature for its enterprise customers, called Company Directory, which assumes that anyone sharing the same domain in their email address works for the same company. In line with their guiding principle of building a simple and friction-free user experience, this assumption makes it easier to schedule meetings with one’s colleagues.

The problem only arose when people started joining en masse from their personal email accounts. Zoom had excluded the big email providers, so that people would not find themselves with millions of "colleagues" just because they had all signed up with Gmail accounts. However, they had not made an exhaustive list of all email providers, and so users found themselves with "colleagues" who simply happened to be customers of the same ISP or email provider. The story mentioned Dutch ISPs like xs4all.nl, dds.nl, and quicknet.nl, but the same issue would presumably apply to all small regional ISPs and niche email providers.

Ordinarily, this sort of "privacy leak" is a storm in a teacup; it’s no worse than a newsletter where all the names are in the To: line instead of being in Bcc:. However, by this point Zoom was in the full glare of public attention, and the story blew up even in the mainstream press, outside of the insular tech world.

Now What?

Zoom’s CEO, Eric Yuan, issued a pretty comprehensive apology. I will quote the key paragraphs below:

First, some background: our platform was built primarily for enterprise customers – large institutions with full IT support. These range from the world’s largest financial services companies to leading telecommunications providers, government agencies, universities, healthcare organizations, and telemedicine practices. Thousands of enterprises around the world have done exhaustive security reviews of our user, network, and data center layers and confidently selected Zoom for complete deployment.

However, we did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home. We now have a much broader set of users who are utilizing our product in a myriad of unexpected ways, presenting us with challenges we did not anticipate when the platform was conceived.

These new, mostly consumer use cases have helped us uncover unforeseen issues with our platform. Dedicated journalists and security researchers have also helped to identify pre-existing ones. We appreciate the scrutiny and questions we have been getting – about how the service works, about our infrastructure and capacity, and about our privacy and security policies. These are the questions that will make Zoom better, both as a company and for all its users.

We take them extremely seriously. We are looking into each and every one of them and addressing them as expeditiously as we can. We are committed to learning from them and doing better in the future.

It’s too early to say what the long-term consequences for Zoom will be, but this is a good apology, and a reasonable set of early moves by the company to repair its public image. To be clear, the company still has a long way to go, and to succeed, it will need to rebalance its exclusive focus on usability to be much more considerate of privacy and security.

For instance, there were a couple of zero-days bugs found in the macOS client (since patched in Version 4.6.9) which would have allowed for privilege escalation. These particular flaws cannot be remotely exploited, so they would require would-be attackers to have access to the operating system already, but it’s still far from ideal. In particular, one of these bugs took advantage of some shortcuts that Zoom had taken in its installer, once again in the name of ease-of-use.

Installers on macOS have the option of running a "preflight" check, where they verify all their prerequisites are met. After this step, they will request confirmation from the user before running the installer proper. Zoom’s installer actually completed all its work in this preflight step, including specifically running a script with root (administrator) privileges. This script could be replaced by an attacker, whose malicious script would then be run with those same elevated privileges.

Personally I hope that Zoom figures out a way to resolve this situation. The user experience is very pleasant (even after installation!), and given that I work from home all the time — not just in quarantine — Zoom is a key part of my work environment.

Lessons To Learn

1: Pivoting is hard

Regardless of the outcome for Zoom, though, this is a cautionary tale in corporate life and communications. Zoom was doing everything right for its previous situation, but this exclusive focus made it difficult to react to changes in that situation. The pivot from corporate enterprise users to much larger numbers of personal users is an opportunity for Zoom if they can monetise this vastly expanded user base, but it also exposes them to a much-changed environment. Corporate users are more predictable in their environments and routines, and in the way they interact with apps and services. Home users will do all sorts of unexpected things and come from unexpected places, exposing many more edge cases in developers’ assumptions.

Companies should not assume that they can easily "pivot" to a whole new user population, even one that is attractively larger and more promising of profits, without making corresponding changes to core assumptions about how they go to market.

2: A good reputation once lost is hard to regain

A big part of Zoom’s problem right now is that they had squandered their earlier goodwill with techies when they hid a web server on their machines. Without that earlier situation, they might have been able to point out that many of the current problems are on the level of tempests in teacups — bugs to be sure, which need to be fixed, but hardly existential PROBLEMS.

As it happened, though, the Internet hive mind was all primed to think the worst of Zoom, and indeed actively went looking for issues once Zoom was in the glare of the spotlight. In this situation, there is not much to be done in the short term, apart from what Zoom actually did: apologise profusely, promise not to do it again, and attempt to weather the storm.

One move I have not yet seen them make which would be very powerful would be to hire a well-known security expert with a reputation for impartiality. One part of their job would be to act as figurehead and lightning conductor for the company’s security efforts, but an equally important part would be as internal naysayer: the VP of Nope, someone able to say a firm NO to bad ideas. Hiding a web server? Bad idea. Shortcutting the installer? Bad idea. Assuming everyone with an email address not on a very short list of mega-providers is a colleague of everyone else with the same email domain? Bad idea.

UPDATE: Showing how amazingly prescient this recommendation was, shortly after I published this post, Alex Stamos announced that he was joining Zoom to help them "build up their security program":

Alex Stamos is of course the ex-CSO at Facebook, who since departing FB has made something of a name for himself by commenting publicly about security and privacy issues. As such, he’s pretty much the perfect hire: high public profile, known as an impartial expert, and deeply experienced specifically in end-user security issues, not just the sort of enterprise aspects which Zoom had previously been focusing on.

I will be watching his and Zoom’s next moves with interest.

3: Bottom line: build good products

Most companies need to review both security and usability — but it’s probably worth noting that a good product is the best way of saving yourself. Even in a post-debacle roundup of would-be alternatives to Zoom, Zoom still came out ahead, despite being penalised for its security woes. They still have the best product, and, yes, the one that is easiest to use.

But if you get the other two factors right, you, your good product, and your long-suffering comms team will all have an easier life.

🖼️ Photos by Allie Smith on Unsplash


Happy Friday!

(Birkenstocks: model’s own. These are taking the place of my normal spring sneakers purchase.)

Things That Happen When You're Working From Home

So this is me, talking to dozens of colleagues about a new project — when my daughter, I mean my coworker, decided she needed something off my desk Right Now.

My colleagues all thought she was cute, so there’s that.

Working From Home Is Good, Actually

It’s an obvious time for people to think and write about working from home. I did my own bit yesterday, and today Kevin Roose joined in with this article in the New York Times, with the clickbaity title "Sorry, but Working From Home Is Overrated".

Mr Roose used to be a fan:

I was a remote worker for two years a while back. For most of that time, I was a work-from-home evangelist who told everyone within earshot about the benefits of avoiding the office. No commute! No distracting co-workers! Home-cooked lunch! What’s not to love?

But he changed his tune:

I’ve now come to a very different conclusion: Most people should work in an office, or near other people, and avoid solitary work-from-home arrangements whenever possible.

What drove this change of heart?

[…] research also shows that what remote workers gain in productivity, they often miss in harder-to-measure benefits like creativity and innovative thinking. Studies have found that people working together in the same room tend to solve problems more quickly than remote collaborators, and that team cohesion suffersin remote work arrangements.

I don’t disagree! I’ve worked from home for fifteen years, but I’ve always spent big chunks of my time on the road, travelling and meeting people. Working in a distributed team, it’s key to meet in person on a regular basis, at least once a quarter. If I don’t leave my home office for a couple of weeks straight, I start to get cranky – so while I’m more prepared than most for remote working, not least because I have a home office that is fully set up, with big screen, ergonomic keyboard, and even a whiteboard, I am still affected by the coronavirus lockdown.

As with most things, the answer is not a simple binary:

[…] research has found that the ideal amount of work-from-home time is one and a half days per week — enough to participate in office culture, with some time reserved for deep, focused work.

Around The World

There is one more factor that I don’t often see considered, and it’s geographical coverage. I am part of a global team, and one of the things that I bring to the team is the perspective of someone who is not based in New York City or in Silicon Valley. If the whole global team sat around a long table, they would miss important perspectives and developments on the ground. But if all of us are dotted around the world, why would we go in to our various local offices? There, we would indeed sit at long tables, but with people working on very different projects. Distraction and disturbance are rife in that sort of environment (I speak from experience here).

It can still be worth taking that hit on deep work occasionally for the serendipitous conversations with other teams which can occur in that type of environment, but there’s not the same benefit to doing it long-term. The way I do it is to stop in at the local office wherever I am and sit with different teams in rotation, working to facilitate serendipity in different circumstances. That way I can take the temperature of the extended organisation and report back to the team, sharing perspectives with others who are doing the same thing.

There are also things that can be done to help cohesion of remote teams. The NYT article mentions "virtual coffee breaks", which I haven’t tried, but simple things like holding regular calls and turning on webcams during them will go a long way. Floating Slack conversations about non-work topics are also good – again, especially if they are a way to maintain bonds that are built in person and regularly strengthened that way.

Bottom line, it does not seem like the right time to be negative about remote work, right when many people and organisations are trying it for the first time. By all means warn them of pitfalls, but suggest fixes rather than just writing off the whole thing.

🖼️ Photos by Jacky Chiu and Helloquence on Unsplash

Tecniche di Sopravvivenza al Lavoro da Casa

Suggerimenti da uno che non va in ufficio da quindici anni

Oggi come oggi, la maggior parte di noi lavora nel famigerato "settore terziario", e quindi tipicamente in ufficio. In Europa come negli Stati Uniti, il settore dei servizi rappresenta circa 80% del PIL. Questa crescita del lavoro in ufficio è un fenomeno relativamente recente; fino a pochi decenni fa, la maggior parte della gente lavorava nell’agricoltura

Il lavoro in ufficio porta tutta una serie di vantaggi rispetto al lavoro nei campi. Tanto per cominciare, si sta al chiuso, seduti, in ambienti abbastanza confortevoli. Magari c’è anche la possibilità di bere un caffè o qualche altra bibita, ed i più fortunati hanno anche qualche collega simpatico con cui chiacchierare. Raramente c’è pericolo di farsi seriamente male, a condizione di stare attenti con le graffette.

Il problema è che i protocolli d’isolamento istituiti dal governo ci obbligano a lavorare da casa invece di andare in ufficio. In Italia in particolare molte persone e molte società si trovano per la prima volta a fronteggiare questa situazione. Per dare una piccola mano, volevo condividere alcune indicazioni basate sulla mia esperienza. Per trovare l’ultima volta in cui lavoravo nello stesso ufficio con i miei colleghi, dobbiamo andare a risalire al 2006. Da allora, ho sempre lavorato in team distribuiti, con capi e colleghi sparsi in vari paesi e fusi orari.

Ecco che cosa ho imparato.

Prenditi il tuo spazio

Una lato positivo del trasferirsi fisicamente da un’altra parte per lavorare è la separazione che si crea fra lavoro e non-lavoro. Se sei in ufficio, stai mediamente lavorando, pause caffè a parte – e se sei a casa, tipicamente non stai lavorando, a parte qualche occhiatina alla mail di straforo.

Quando lavori da casa, questa separazione si perde. Il rischio è che il lavoro ed il non-lavoro si confondano, portandoti a dimenticare di mangiare ed a lavorare fino a notte, oppure a distrarti continuamente con lavoretti e commissioni.

Dove possibile, la soluzione migliore è la separazione fisica. Non lavorare dal divano! Va bene per una mezz’oretta, ma se lo fai per giornate e settimane intere, la tua schiena vi maledirà – e ricordati che adesso come adesso non puoi neanche andare a fare fisioterapia… Trovati un posto specifico dove lavorare, e non andarci quando non stai lavorando. Io sono abbastanza fortunato da avere una tavernetta in cui ho allestito il mio ufficio, ma non tutti avranno questa possibilità. Se però lavori ad esempio al tavolo della cucina, quando hai finito chiudi il computer e spostati dal tavolo.

Può sembrare una cosa piccola, ma cerca di rispettare al massimo gli orari ed anche il vestiario da ufficio. Hai anni e anni di riflessi che ti ricordano inconsciamente che quando ti radi o ti trucchi, stai incominciando la giornata lavorativa. Continua ad utilizzare questi riflessi anche se non esci di casa.

Se ne hai la possibilità, prendi in considerazione anche una corsetta o un giro in bici nel tempo che altrimenti avresti passato da pendolare in macchina o in treno.

Proteggi i tuoi spazi

Se vivi con altre persone, sarà necessario negoziare questa separazione anche con loro. Se ti vedono in casa, avranno naturalmente l’istinto di chiederti una mano o di fare una chiacchiera. Cerca di istituire un segnale anche fisico: se la porta della cucina è chiusa, sto facendo un lavoro di concetto oppure sono al telefono con i colleghi, per cui non sono disponibile. Se la porta è aperta, posso fare una pausa caffè.

Costruisci una routine

Oltre all’organizzazione degli spazi, è importante anche quella dei tempi. Dividi la giornata in unità di tempo, ed assegna ciascuna unità ad un compito specifico. Io personalmente mi trovo bene con la tecnica del pomodoro, semplice e divertente. Fondamentalmente si tratta di utilizzare un timer da cucina per tracciare le attività ed i tempi necessari.

Il mio timer Pomodoro timer personale sulla scrivania

Comunicare, comunicare, comunicare

Lavorare a casa da soli può essere molto isolante, soprattutto per chi è abituato a lavorare a stretto contatto con i colleghi. Almeno finché siamo tutti isolati a casa propria, non sentiamo il pericolo di trovarci esclusi da conversazioni che avvengono in ufficio. Esistono vari modi per fare sì che il team rimanga tale anche senza vedersi di persona per qualche settimana o mese.

La base è una piattaforma di chat sera. Slack è una delle soluzioni più diffuse, con un livello gratis che è più che sufficiente per piccole realtà o per cominciare con questo strumento. L’alternativa più diffusa probabilmente è Microsoft Teams, ma ce ne sono molte altre.

Non cercare di usare WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, o simili per questo scopo. Per cominciare non hanno la nozione dei "canali", per cui tutte le conversazioni avvengono nei gruppi, né client desktop, né funzionalità serie di ricerca – tutte cose necessarie per poter lavorare.

L’altro motivo per lavorare con uno strumento dedicato al lavoro è per mantenere la separazione fra lavoro e non-lavoro. Se succede tutto nella stessa app, farai molta più fatica a distinguere i due mondi. Soprattutto se sei un manager, evita di utilizzare questi canali se non in situazioni di emergenza.

Troviamoci in video

La chat testuale è uno strumento fantastico, ma se ti senti solo ed isolato dai colleghi, accendi quella webcam! Siamo animali sociali, e vedere in faccia la gente aiuta a rinforzare i legami sociali. La crisi attuale sta portando ad un aumento enorme dell’adozione di strumenti di video conferenza, in particolare Zoom, che ha un’opzione gratis per video chiamate fino a quaranta minuti.

Un altro vantaggio delle video conferenze è che ti costringe a vestirti da persona seria invece di passare la giornata in pigiama e vestaglia, sempre per la questione della separazione casa/lavoro e dei relativi riflessi.

Traccia quello che fai

Infine, può darsi che tu faccia fatica a tirare le somme alla fine della giornata, e che tu ti senta di non aver concluso niente. La soluzione più semplice è di scriverti dei piccoli appunti durante la giornata, ad esempio come commenti agli intervalli di Pomodoro. Se fai un lavoro per il quale è necessaria questa tracciabilità, magari hai già strumenti più specializzati, ma anche se non hai queste esigenze, psicologicamente fa bene tirare le somme alla fine della giornata con dei risultati concreti.

Pianifica per il futuro

È importante pensare adesso a come lavorare da casa perché è estremamente probabilmente che molte persone ed aziende decidano di continuare con questa modalità di lavoro anche una volta rientrata la crisi. Il lavoro remoto ha enormi potenzialità, almeno come complemento occasionale al lavoro in ufficio. Cerca di non prendere brutte abitudini adesso; pensa al lungo termine, non solo alla giornata o alla settimana.

Se hai altri suggerimenti o commenti, di solito mi puoi trovare su Twitter.

🖼️ Foto di Dillon Shook, Harry Cunningham e Andrew Neel via Unsplash, trance il timer a pomodoro che è il mio.

How to Survive the Home Office

Some tips from someone who hasn’t worked in an office in fifteen years

In the twenty-first century, many of us work in offices. In the EU and the US, the service economy represents roughly 80% of GDP. This growth of service work is a relatively recent phenomenon, compared to the past when most employment was in agriculture.

Office work comes with a number of perks over farming. For a start, it’s done indoors, generally in fairly comfortable surroundings. There may be perks like free refreshments, and if you are lucky you may even have fun colleagues that you like to hang out with during coffee breaks. You’re also fairly unlikely to be in any sort of physical danger, as long as you are careful with the stapler.

The problem is that the self-isolation protocols that governments and companies are putting into place require, among other things, that people work from home instead of going to the office. This is a new development for many employers and employees. In the spirit of helping out, I wanted to share some tips based on over a decade of working from home. I last had an office-based job in which I worked elbow-to-elbow with my team-mates in 2006. Since then, my situation has mostly involved team-mates and managers spread around the world, across many different time zones. Here is what I learned.

Save your Space

One of the good things about travelling to a physical location is that it enforces separation between work and not-work. If you’re in the office, you’re generally expected to be working – and if you’re at home, generally speaking you’re not working, apart from perhaps checking email or whatever.

When you work from home, you lose that separation. The risk then is that work and home life bleed into each other. On the one hand, you may find yourself working through meal times and into the evening, but on the other you might also get distracted by housework or errands.

If you can arrange it, physical separation is best. Don’t work from the couch; apart from anything else, that’s an ergonomic nightmare if you’re doing it all day, every day. Go somewhere to do work, and don’t go there when you’re not working. I’m lucky enough to have a home office that is physically separate from the family home, which is ideal, but not everyone will have that option, or be able to set it up at short notice.

At the very least, work from your laptop at the table, and close the laptop when you’re done. Even if you do dip into work after hours, do it from your phone, not from the laptop.

It might seem silly, but try to stick to office hours and dress: get out of bed and get dressed as if you were going to work. You have years of reflex telling you that when you shave or put on makeup (delete as appropriate to your own personal morning routine), you are going into "work mode". Take advantage of those reflexes even if you aren’t leaving the home.

If you are able to do so safely, i.e. without close contact with others, you may also consider replacing your commute with a run or a bicycle ride, just to start your day off.

Protect your Space

If you live with other people, you may need to negotiate this separation with them. If they see you in the house, they may ask you for your help, or to join in some activity, or just ask you questions. A physical indicator that you are working can be useful here. Again, if you have a specific location that you work from, that can be simplest: "if I’m in the spare room with the door closed, please don’t bother me; if the door is open, I’m available for coffee or a quick chat".

Make your Routine

On top of physical routine, it’s good to break up your day into units of time, and dedicate each one to a specific task. The method I use is the Pomodoro Technique, which is simple and fun. Basically, get a kitchen timer, and use it to time your tasks and breaks.

My Pomodoro timer on my desk


It can be very isolating to work at home on your own, if you are used to working cheek-by-jowl with your team. At least if everyone is self-isolating in their own homes, you don’t feel that you are being left out of impromptu conversations that happen in the office. There are ways of helping the team continue to feel and work like a team even when they are remote.

The absolute bottom line is that you need a chat platform of some sort. Slack is fast becoming the default, and has a free plan that is enough for most organisations at least to get started. Probably the biggest alternative is Microsoft Teams, but there are many other options.

Do not try to use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or similar mobile-only, single-threaded tools for anything beyond the smallest groups and simplest needs. Slack and similar tools allow you to create many channels, each dedicated to specific topics, and within a channel you can split a discussion off into a thread without cluttering up the main channel.

Another benefit of dedicated work chat tools is to further that separation between work and personal time. Train yourself to stop looking at the work tool after hours. Managers, be sensitive and avoid abusing personal channels like SMS outside of actual emergencies.

Catch my Video

Text chat is great for many things, but if you’re feeling lonely and isolated away from your team, turn on that webcam! We are social animals, and seeing people face to face really helps strengthen those team bonds. The coronavirus crisis is driving a huge uptake in video chat tools, especially Zoom, which has a useful free tier.

Another benefit of video meetings is that it reinforces your work routines, if only because you have to be presentable and ready to be seen on camera.

Track and Assess

Finally, it can be hard at the end of the day to work out whether you "got anything done". There’s a simple fix for that too: track what you do during the day, and assess the results at the end of the day. You can do this as part of your Pomodoro Technique, jotting down a quick note about what you achieved during each Pomodoro interval. Depending on what type of work you are doing, this can also help you track your time, if that is a requirement. Even if you don’t have that kind of need, though, it can be good to close out the day by looking back on what you have achieved.

Plan for the Long Term

The final reason to think about this topic now is that I suspect that many organisations that were only forced into supporting remote work by this crisis will find that it’s actually a great option, at least as a complement to their ordinary setup. Don’t fall into any bad habits because you think this setup will only last for a few days or weeks. Remote working is going to be much more prevalent in the future, so it’s worth getting it right straight away.

Do share any other tips that you personally know of or that work for you. I can usually be found on Twitter.

🖼️ Photos by Dillon Shook, Harry Cunningham and Andrew Neel on Unsplash, except tomato timer – author’s own