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Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.
What are your tips for folks who are working from home for the first time?
Ellen Shapiro: Apollo is all remote. We have a bunch of people in San Francisco, but then the majority of the company, particularly of the engineers, are remote. Obviously right this second everyone’s remote. But that was something that helped us as a company deal with this. It is something where, one thing I wound up sharing with my fiancee, that has been really helpful for us as a company. We have this policy of a low barrier entry of starting a quick video chat. Because there's so much stuff where you can spend 20 minutes arguing about it on Slack and then have a three minute video conversation and be done with it.
And I think many of the reasons that a video is better than texts, you're able to look at people, you're able to see their body language, you're able to hear their voice. And there's a lot of meaning and context that gets lost when you're just writing things over text.
“I think many of the reasons that a video is better than texts, you're able to look at people, you're able to see their body language, you're able to hear their voice.”
That's really hard. And I think that for her, she has a lab that she goes to every day, they have meetings several times a week. And for her, it's been like, okay, I want to have this discussion with this other person in my lab, but I don't know if I have time to bother them. Just drop the barrier to what it takes to have a quick video call, because it will save you so much time in the end.
Paul Hudson: That's a really big tip for folks who are working from home, who are doing it for the first time right now, enforced: talk, face to face, chat. Don't just type away on Slack. Do something physically face to face if you can, obviously not possible right now, therefore Skype or FaceTime or something else – see them.
Ellen Shapiro: Yeah. And that's definitely something that's big. I live in Wisconsin. Now there's another guy who works for my company in Madison. But until about a week ago, my closest coworker, I think, lived in Montreal. It's definitely something where understanding all that stuff. If everybody's in the same time zone, it makes a bunch of stuff a lot easier. Because then you don't have to worry about time zones. Especially right now where it's that fun time between where the US goes on daylight savings and Europe does on daylight savings. All of the times that you think are correct are completely wrong. It's definitely one of those things where being able to still have that face to face communication, even if it's over video is really critical.
I have to admit I'm not good at working from home. I am someone who just started paying for a coworking space a couple of months ago. Because I realized that working all by myself at home is maddening. I am a huge extrovert. I need to be around people. And it's been really rough on me going back to being at home all the time. I think my fiancee and I have made the best of it in terms of figuring out our respective work configurations and all that kind of stuff. But it's definitely something where I'm used to working from anywhere because I travel so much. And so it's been really excruciating to not only not be able to go to my coworking space, now I don't think I have anything on my travel schedule until October, which is really rare for me. It's something where I don't even know if that's going to happen at this point.
If you are a person who thrives off of other people, this is a really rough time. Do not feel alone that you're having a hard time. There's all sorts of tips that people try to give about like, well have a separate space for your work stuff. I live in a two bedroom apartment, that's about 800 square feet. Having a separate space for my work stuff from my fiancee space for her work stuff, that basically means I'm working at the dining room table and she's working in the second bedroom. It is something where she uses dictation software all day. I can't also work in that second room because otherwise I'm listening to her talk all day. Some of the advice around, like use a separate space, that’s awesome advice if you have the space.
And that was ultimately why I wound up cracking and getting a coworking space. I had to ride my bike or jump on the bus for 15 minutes. And what I found was that was a really helpful thing for me to go, I am at home mode, to I am at work mode. And I know some of my workers have packed this by being like, okay, I'm going to walk around the block as my commute. And that seems like it's helpful for some people. It was not helpful for me. I need to actually physically go somewhere like a commute.
Paul Hudson: Okay, there's a question here from Uliwitness. Do you have any rituals that help you get into the work from home mindset? Things that you found out to help you with staying distracted?
Ellen Shapiro: Getting a coworking space? This has been what I've been battling with the last few weeks. I gave a shot to working from home when we first moved here. And I quickly turned into Jack Nicholson from The Shining. But it's definitely something the biggest tip is try to have some place where you draw the line between working and not working.
Whether it's like, “okay, that's 7pm I'm going to close my computer. And if anybody has problems after that, I'll deal with them tomorrow.” If you're in a position to be able to do that, that's really helpful. If you've got some kind of on-call rotation, that's not really doable. But it is something where being able to say here's where work starts, and here's where work ends. Having that separation of we're going to watch an episode of RuPaul's drag race and then go back to working for three hours. Having that separation is really critical in my opinion, because otherwise it just feels like work never ends.
Paul Hudson: Right. You want to say it's 7pm now I'm going to sashay away. It sounds like you were working from home previously and you found it hard because you're extrovert. You want to talk and mingle with folks. But you're doing that, you're aware of what a regular work from home environment does for you. Now it's an enforced work from home because of the global pandemic taking place right now. So many folks are doing it for the first time and they are finding the extra stress of the world adds to the current work from home stress in the world. This is a particularly hard time – it's a real trial by fire for folks thrown into the work from home environment. How are you handling that?
“I think somebody referred to being constantly hooked on Twitter and looking at the news as a horror scrolling, which I liked that phrase. Because I've been doing a lot of horror scrolling.”
Ellen Shapiro: Yeah, I feel like I'm handling it at least marginally better because I did try it before and I'm just like, okay, I'm going to really try to have the separation now. But I have to be honest, I have not been productive the last couple of weeks. It has been all I could do to keep what little of my sanity still have. And just managed to do stuff like go grocery shopping and just deal with the world as it is.
There was a good article that was going around, I think somebody referred to being constantly hooked on Twitter and looking at the news as “horror scrolling,” which I liked that phrase. Because I've been doing a lot of horror scrolling. One thing that came up when I was reading that, there was an article, I'll try and send out a tweet with it, but it was in Harvard business review of all things, but it was talking to an expert on grief. And they were sort of talking about the feeling that you're feeling right now is grief for the way that life was.
It's okay to feel that. It's okay to go through the five stages of grief, like denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Apparently there's a sixth one, which is meaning. It's definitely one of those things where that gave an interesting frame to the way that I've been feeling lately. And it's definitely like everything has been turned upside down. Like I was saying at the beginning, you don't have to be the world's most productive person you just have to get through. And that's what I'm trying to do at this point. Another thing that I saw on Twitter that I thought was helpful, was somebody saying, anytime someone is being a complete jerk, I was just in my mind picturing them saying under their breath “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. I'm so scared.” And get that perspective of, okay, this person might be being a jerk, but they're probably being a jerk because they're terrified.
That's something where I think it's worth trying to have compassion for people about all of this stuff is really critical. Honestly I've seen a lot of people saying, Oh yeah, my work still expects me to do everything that I was supposed to do before. And I'm like “run!” It's something where it's hard. And I know you got two kids, you must be going up the wall trying to keep them wrangled, but well, you do have two herding dogs, so that helps.
It's definitely something where hopefully this won't last super long. It does seem like in the US it's going to be a while because we are going into what appears to be a really bad phase of this. But it is something where I think it's important to remember that this isn't forever. I said to my fiancee the other day, you know I hope one day soon this will all just the memory. And she was like, I don't think it's going to be anytime soon. And I'm like, well I didn't mean next week. I meant more like December. In the great scheme of things, the last three weeks have felt like about five years. So the idea of looking at December is like, “oh my God, that's so far away.” In the grand scheme of things, no, it's not.
Paul Hudson: In terms of the development or progress of a junior developer, should they work remotely or not?
Ellen Shapiro: That's a good question. I think that if you are at a company that is all remote that's a good place to be a junior developer. Because being a junior developer and being remote, those can both be things that are hard. But if you have everyone in the same boat, then it becomes much easier to understand what it takes to mentor junior developers remotely. It's, it's something where I personally did not go remote until more recently.
“Being a junior developer and being remote, those can both be things that are hard. But if you have everyone in the same boat, then it becomes much easier to understand what it takes to mentor junior developers remotely.”
I think a big piece of the reason that I'm remote is just circumstantial. I looked for a job that I could do anywhere in the US and I got one, yay. And it happened to be not in the city that my company had offices. If I lived in San Francisco, I'd have been going into the office every day, rather than renting a coworking space. But it's something where I don't live in San Francisco.
It is something where if you're the only person who's remote and you're junior, that can be really hard. Because one of the things that's helpful about being in a physical space, when you're a junior developer, is you get to overhear a lot of things. You get to go and ask people stuff on a regular basis in a way that feels less interruptive than just slacking somebody at random. But if you're at an all remote company, everybody's in the same boat.
This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.
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