Working from home

I’m lucky enough to be able to work anywhere I like, and since my small village on the outskirts of Bristol is rather light on hipster coffee shops with super-fast wifi, I usually work from home.

This still remains a fairly rare thing to do, so here’s a few words about it.

Daily routine

Our family is me, my wife and our two daughters, aged 1 and 5. My wife works three days a week, and on those days she takes our youngest to nursery when she leaves around 8am, and they both get back around 5:30pm. These days are closest to my “routine” days.

  • < 7:00: Steadfastly ignore any sounds coming from the kids bedroom.
  • 7:00: Breakfast and getting the kids ready. This consists mainly of repeating “TEETH!” “DRESSED!” “EAT!” at the oldest whilst engaging in a sort of reverse Benny Hill chase around the upstairs trying to dress the youngest. This usually gets my step count and active calories off to a great start.
  • 8:00: Once it’s just me and the oldest, she takes advantage of the quiet to do some maths and English workbooks while I get dressed. Then we walk to school together, often meeting up with some neighbouring families on the way. The children discuss weighty matters such as the relative size and smell of different animal excrement. The adults discuss the weather.
  • 9:00: I’m back home to start work. I work until around 12, usually having a fancy coffee and a snack about halfway through. I’ll usually keep my watch quiet by doing laundry in the morning, too. I have a standing desk but the watch’s “Stand” goal is more about moving around.
  • 12:00: In an ideal day I do some exercise before lunch. This is usually a run (5km, currently taking me about 25 minutes) or a few 7-minute workout cycles. The 7 minute workout is a fine idea, but if I wanted to spend seven minutes getting slightly out of breath, ending up with the feeling I should have put more effort in, there are more pleasant ways to do that. Doing multiple cycles makes it a much more useful workout.
  • 12:30: While I’m cooling down I have my lunch, at the moment I am obsessed with grilled cheese, jalapeño and ham sandwiches so it’s usually one of those. After lunch it’s a shower then back to work.

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  • 15:30: I walk back to school to collect my daughter. Depending on how our days have gone we might do something together or she’ll play while I carry on working. I then get dinner ready so we can all eat together.
  • 17:30: Dinner. A period of physical and emotional chaos then ensues until the kids are in bed.
  • 19:30: Depending on workload and deadline status I will then go back to work. I rarely work past 9pm.

My office set up

I have the smallest bedroom in the house as my dedicated home office. There’s an East-facing window with a view over the fields and river valley behind my house.

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The room is very small, and therefore very light on furniture:

  • A chest of drawers containing almost all of my clothes and a collection of random wires and plugs. The top of the drawers are used to put stuff on.
  • A large adjustable standing desk, which is permanently in standing mode
  • A whiteboard, which I don’t use as often as I thought I would.

I work on a 27″ Retina display iMac, and a single external monitor in portrait mode. Both of these are mounted on VESA arms so there is nothing on the desk surface except, well, all my other clutter. The arm has a 4-port powered USB hub which is used to charge almost everything in the house. I have a wired keyboard (I don’t see the point of a wireless one for a computer I never move) and a Magic Trackpad.

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I also have a 2011 13″ MacBook Pro (non-retina) which I use if I work anywhere other than the office, which isn’t very often. It’s probably due a replacement but I don’t think I use it often enough to justify the expense.

The office has two things vital for anyone who works from home with a family:

  • A door, that closes and cannot be burst through by a rampaging toddler
  • Some excellent headphones
  • Someone else who is responsible for the kids when I’m working. If you think you can work effectively from home whilst also looking after young kids, you’re doing your employer and your children a disservice

Challenges

It is sometimes a jarring transition from work mode to family mode. Previously I would have had a half hour bike or bus ride with nothing to think about, coupled with the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to do anything about work until the next day. Now, it’s harder to fully switch off and if I’ve been having a brain-heavy day I’m not immediately ready to deal with the kids, especially when they decide that dinner isn’t going to go well.

I have much less free time in the evenings. The time freed up by not commuting has been more than taken up with extra time with my family. This is a trade off I made willingly, but my various neglected hobbies and interests have become more so.

Benefits

I spend so much more time with the kids. Before, I’d leave about 8:00 – 8:30 and get back about 18:30, with just enough time to eat together before it was bath and bedtime. When my oldest started school my wife was on maternity leave, and we shudder to think how hard it would have been for her to go back to work with us both commuting.

The most family-friendly policy it is possible for an employer to have is: We don’t care when or where you do your work, we only care about the results. I’m very lucky to work at one of the few places enlightened enough to see this.

My schedule is entirely up to me. I don’t have a problem with focus or distractions because I recognise when I’m being productive and when I’m not, and don’t force myself to slog through just because I “ought” to be at my desk for that time. You need self-discipline to make it work, but that’s not a problem for me.

Don’t you miss X?

  • Chatting in the office? No. I’m in several slack rooms, which have the advantage that I can turn them off when I’m focused. When I worked in an office we did most of our chat on slack anyway (nerds).
  • Seeing people? No. Perhaps if I lived alone I would, but having the house all to myself is a real treat when it’s usually full of people and noise.
  • A pint after work on a Friday? Yes, OK, you can have that one.

Further reading

Lifehacker

Ray Wenderlich

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