Sorry, Dolly – 9 to 5 it ain’t now.

The lines between home hours and work hours have been blurred significantly during the pandemic with remote work.  Even when going to the office was still the norm, the 40-hour workweek has been non-existent for a couple of decades for most people here in Silicon Valley.  I usually worked an average of around 50 to 60 hours each week.  And that is considered normal. A lot of others, especially ones at start-ups, often put in more hours. 

The concept of working 9-to-5 is no longer defensible. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to a typical 9-to-5 work routine. As I had said in the previous sentence, that concept had sailed away years ago here in Silicon Valley, and more so when we started having distributed teams. I remember taking calls with my collaborators in India – a 12 ½ hour difference with my Pacific time zone at one point in my career. One of us either had to wake up really early, or the other had to stay up really late.

With the pandemic, fully remote work has accelerated the loss of a typical 9-to-5 job for many industries, especially in tech. A routine still is necessary, but the thought of having a full eight-hour stretch of time for work – that’s long gone.

Many people have mentioned that the line between work and home has blurred so that people feel like they’re working way more hours than before. There are two things I can recommend that helps overcome this feeling.

Time-Bound

The first one is to set explicit boundaries. Yes, it’s pretty obvious, but ask yourself honestly: have you taken the time to consider specific boundaries here? The first boundary is definitely time. I make it a point to clock in only 8 hours for work. But do I have a full 8-hour workday? No. I stagger it more because I deal with five different time zones. The bulk of my hours starts at 6 am Pacific. Starting this early allows me to overlap for a few hours with my European collaborators and my US colleagues in the East and Central time zones. I go on working till about 11 am. (Yes, getting ready for a 6 am start is early – but I’m used to it because I’ve made a routine out of it. My body has gotten used to the patterns.)

My second slot goes from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm. I get to catch up with my west coast teammates. After that, I have another slot from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, just before bed. I use this time mostly for my solo concentration and reflection work. But this time is also a way for me to sync up with a few colleagues in Perm, Russia since their day is just starting.

Create boundaries on your calendar

I explicitly schedule my availability in my calendar, which is the key to setting boundaries between home and work. By putting it on my calendar, I’ve trained my colleagues when they can reach me or collaborate with me and when they can’t.

9 to 5 movie poster © IPC Films / 20th Century Fox
9 to 5 movie poster © IPC Films / 20th Century Fox. Copyrighted content falls under the guidelines of fair use.

So what happens in between these times? Well – it’s my 8 hours of personal productive time. During these in-between moments on my calendar, I do house chores, run errands, exercise, or even catch up on some recreational reading. I’ve even taken a nap or two. 

Having these long breaks actually helps me alleviate my cognitive overload. I can do this because I no longer have a long commute. What used to take about 1-hour commute each way living here in the Bay Area is now just 10 minutes – a walk from my bedroom to my office. I’ve gained back time for myself as a result.

Space Bound

And here is the second boundary – make sure to create a dedicated space for work only. I learned this advice from various people and articles over the years. Having this dedicated space gives you the feeling of having an office routine. The space doesn’t have to be a dedicated room. It could be a corner of a room that is set up for just one thing: work. I also recommend not having distractions within easy reach, like a TV or books to read. The rule of thumb I follow is – make it “hard” for you to be distracted. Try not to make a habit of taking your laptop with you and working in various places around the house. Doing this is the first step in blurring the line between your work time and home time.

Learn from Dolly, Jane, and Lilly

The movie 9 to 5 may be dated. Still, the ending had a very interesting point to make – something prescient and very applicable to today. In the movie, the productivity of people in the office increased because the main characters created more flexibility, but within certain bounds. The same kind of thinking should be applied to the remote work vs. hybrid debate. What would make people more productive? A mandate for either remote or hybrid doesn’t necessarily make it so.

In my example, I am flexible with my hours, but I bound them by the amount of time I allocate to each part. And I constrain my environment as well. Does this mean I follow this routine every day? Well, for the most part, yes. I’d say 85 to 90% of the time, I follow this routine to the letter. But I leave some leeway for myself. There may be days when a doctor’s schedule doesn’t match mine. 

Do I really sleep eight hours a night (I only covered 16 hours of the 24-hour day here)? Well, not really. Sometimes I want to relax and watch TV. I get around 6.5 – 7 hours each night (unless insomnia strikes) for the most part. I might just lay in bed a few extra minutes before getting up.

Again, it’s all about being flexible with boundaries. 

PS I mentioned earlier in this article about taking breaks to reduce your cognitive load. Another way I reduce my cognitive load is to employ the pomodoro technique. I finally fell in love with it during the pandemic because I found a routine to make it work. I’ll blog about it sometime as a follow-up to this entry.

An Example of Online Collaboration Done Very Well

Just because you’re remote doesn’t mean you can’t Collaborate

During the early part of the Shelter in Place, I participated in a highly collaborative design sprint exercise. The whole session was online.

Since the Agile ideal is face to face, who says you can’t have the same fidelity, if not better, of collaborative brainstorming sessions online? See for yourself:

 

 

 

 

To say that I had fun doing this is an understatement. I got all my creative juices going, and I think I came up with a pretty good idea in the end.

There are three things that you can take away from this highly successful online collaboration. One is an excellent and effective facilitator. He adeptly handled and guided people throughout, giving instructions, helping when needed, and asking probing questions.

The second thing is that facilitator must be well prepared. Notice that all the tooling was in place at the very start. Our facilitator communicated prepared instructions in multiple ways – verbally, textually, as well as visually. Being able to do this requires intentioned planning.

Third is the right tool to use. I’ve seen people try to collaborate similarly with Google docs or spreadsheets, especially in this pandemic. The results were mediocre.

Thanks toRobert Skrobefor holding and facilitating this session. I enjoyed a great learning moment as a participant. You can catch more of what he does on theDallas Design Sprint YouTube channel.

Zoom Design Jam

The Work Remotely Genie Has Now Escaped the Bottle

Remote work is here to stay…permanently

Recently the technology company Square announced that they were permanently allowing people to work remotely. This announcement comes on the heels of Twitter’s similar declaration a week ago.Business Genie

Also, companies like Facebook and Google announced that their employees wouldn’t be returning to the office for the remainder of 2020. Want to make a bet that these companies will now pivot and allow people to work remotely – permanently?

Well, thanks to COVID-19, the Work Remotely Genie has now escaped the bottle completely. It is no longer going to be a perk. It is now ascendant and will become the norm as we redefine a new normal in this pandemic world.

Square Logo

I’ve seen this for a while now, as early as 2015 or even earlier. I was working in a distributed environment, where my team members were scattered in our Santa Clara headquarters, and in our Guadalajara and Chennai offices. At one point, I became fully remote, where I was the only person on the team in the USA, while the rest of my team were in Mexico.

I already began to think that the Agile ideal of colocated teams was just that – an ideal. 

Agile had to adapt to the world that was getting more distributed and starting to become more remote. I was adjusting to a remote world personally. During this time that I was working, either as distributed or remote, I started figuring out ways to be more Agile in this environment. Some of the things I tried didn’t work as well as I expected, while others succeeded.

 

“If you want to be working from home, you need to be Agile. If you want to be Agile, you need to think about working from home.”

Steve Denning

Six Deminsions of Change Every Company Will Face

World Agility Forum

How do I know? Well, I got a touching send-off from my Guadalajara team when I was leaving to go on my next adventure. Yes – the lone remote worker getting a very heartwarming and touching send-off – who would have thought that this could happen while working as a remote worker?

I didn’t realize that remote working was becoming a big thing. I only realized this when I attended the Remote Forever Summit in 2019 for the first time. The conference blew my mind. Here were people working entirely remotely AND still being Agile. Some of the things they were doing were things that I had been doing already with my teams.

I got validation that I was going down the right path. I confirmed my hypothesis that colocation was an ideal that would be left in the ensuing dust.

Today, the remote work genie is totally out of the bottle. Thanks to COVID-19, the pandemic situation accelerated this change. 

Companies that don’t embrace remote work options will fail in the long term. I’ve heard this from various leaders from startups and companies while attending conferences and webinars during the Shelter in Place period. The announcement from Twitter and Square validated these points.

Remote work has its advantages. The real estate costs for companies goes down. The work commute disappears, and people will have a better quality of life for both home and work with the diminished stress.

Twitter Icon

But these bring up interesting questions and issues as well. The law hasn’t caught up yet to this new work paradigm. Who covers worker’s compensation when one gets injured while working in their home office? Is it you, the worker? Or is it the company? These kinds of issues and questions require answers as the shift to remote work accelerates.

In the meantime, remote work is here to stay. Companies better start looking into this during these times or will be left behind in the long run.

PS – So you may be asking – what’s the difference between distributed and remote? In a nutshell, distributed is when you have people working in offices together. And the offices are all over the world. People in these offices come in during business hours, and they collaborate locally and with other offices. Remote is when you work remotely by yourself, for the majority of your time.