Tip For Working From Home

Some people have the fortune of being able to work from home as part of their employment. Working from home, or telecommuting, can be extremely productive for a lot of people. It can also be counter productive if you’re not experienced at telecommuting. As a regular home worker, I have learned a lot of ways to make the valuable, non-interrupted time as productive as possible.

Routine

It’s important to keep your usual morning routine (apart from the travelling to the office part, obviously) to help switch your brain to work mode. Lounging around in your dressing gown with your laptop is something you can do on a Sunday morning, and you’ll struggle to associate the time with work.

My normal morning routine looks something like this:

  • 6:00 – Alarm goes off.
  • 6:05 – Have a cuppa and breakfast with the wife and kids.
  • 6:30 – Shepherd the kids into their uniforms for school.
  • 7:00 – Get a shower and get dressed for work.
  • 7:20 – Shepherd the kids into coats and shoes ready to leave.
  • 7:30 – Leave to drop the kids off at various locations.
  • 7:50 – Leave the hometown en route to work.
  • 8:20 – Arrive at work.

My “working from home” routine is pretty much the sames:

  • 6:00 – Alarm goes off.
  • 6:05 – Have a cuppa and breakfast with the wife and kids.
  • 6:30 – Shepherd the kids into their uniforms for school.
  • 7:00 – Get a shower and get dressed for work.
  • 7:20 – Shepherd the kids into coats and shoes ready to leave.
  • 7:30 – Leave to drop the kids off at various locations.
  • 7:55 – Arrive back home ready for a day of work.

Since I usually wear a work branded polo shirt and jeans for work, I usually just wear them when working from home. Your mileage may vary if you have to wear a suite though.

Workspace

It’s important to have somewhere to work from while telecommuting. Sitting on your sofa with your laptop might seem like a great idea, but take it from me, you will soon get too comfortable and start slouching. Then you start to become distracted and turn the TV on. This is fine if you can work like that, but I bet your productivity is affected.

The best scenario is having a desk and a comfortable office chair to sit in, preferably in a different room to the hustle and bustle of your house, if there are other family members home. If you don’t have a desk, the dining table is a good alternative, providing enough space to spread your work out a little and key coffee cup support within arms reach.

Connectivity

The vast majority of work is performed on laptops these days. Unless you are simply writing a proposal and you don’t need internet connectivity, then you need to think about connectivity.

In some cases, a straight WiFi connection will suffice for access to emails and the internet, but you might need to consider access to internal business systems. Since each company is different, contact you ICT department to find out what options are available to connect to the resources you require for your job.

The company I work for offer a device called a Teleworkers Gateway. This device plugs into my own router and gives me the options of either a “work” WiFi connection, or a cabled Ethernet connection. They also offer a software VPN solution but the Teleworkers Gateway is the simpler and more convenient option.

Welfare

The beauty of working from home is having unlimited coffee without feeling obliged to make one for everybody else in your office each time. Just make sure you stop for lunch at your normal time.

Another benefit of working from home is your bed. Seriously. Feeling a bit burnt out by lunchtime? Have a 45 minute nap. You’ll be nice and refreshed and more productive in the afternoon.

Moderation

Like all good things, telecommuting should be used in moderation if it isn’t your primary working arrangement. Working from home is great when you need to focus on a particular task without the interruptions of the office. Do it too much though, and people get used to you not being in the office and start calling, emailing and instant messaging you more, thus increasing the interruptions you were trying to avoid.

tado – An Honest 1 Year Review.

A little over a year ago I was excited to receive my new tado smart thermostat. When it dropped on the doorstep I couldn’t wait to get it installed and it was actually up and running in less than half an hour before I had to go to work. The instructions provided were tailored to my setup based on the boiler and existing thermostat and were easy to follow, although an “expert” mode would have been nice as I’m familiar with central heating wiring to start with. The included extras were a big plus though, including everythin one might need for the installation. 

Configuration of schedules isn’t as simple as I had imagined it would be. Having to add new sections which tweaked the sections either side of them, which made the process quite tedeous. The only real positive was the fact you only need to spend the time once when first setting up the tado. 

Location based control using the family’s phones worked suprisingly well and was pretty accurate. Not having to worry about turning the heating off before leaving the house was very convenient and having the house warm when we returned improves the whole coming home in the dark after work depression. It also worked well for when the kids return from school before me and the wife, not having to worry about teaching the kids how the heating system works was great.

The thermostat itself is pretty vanilla looking which I suppose makes its integration into your room decor pretty pain free. Unfortunately though, the thermostat isn’t particularly user friendly or responsive. I seemed to find myself standing in front of the thermostat far longer than I used to with the old thermostat, just to turn the temperature up a degree or two. 

Unfortunately the experience continued to decline from there. Tado promised apple HomeKit integration “soon” which was one of the selling points for me personally. There was also talk of an Apple Watch app too, which could have been excused if HomeKit integration was available. After a year of “2nd quarter” then “third quarter” and so on as a release date though I pretty much gave up on HomeKit integration. Then I received an email claiming it would be available within a month and to contact support to arrange a replacement tado bridge to enable it. Then the release was delayed again. Then again. I wish I was exaggerating. It’s even more insulting that they have managed to release radiator valves in the same time frame.

Then came the fabled savings touted on tado’s website. According to their website a house the same age and same size as mine should see over €1,000 saving. I knew this was far fetched, but I wasn’t prepared to see the actual savings I made on gas over the period of 12months. £33. Again, I wish I was exaggerating but unfortunately not. This means my tado cost me £110 in the first year. Nothing like what was implied on tado’s website. 

Last week I received an email from tado reminding me that my next annual subscription was due, which is upwards of £100. After contacting tado to voice my concerns and receiving no reply other than automated “we’re sorry it’s taking so long” messages I was fed up with tado’s customer service. I then emailed them again to tell them to cancel my subscription and send a box to return my tado. I’m yet to receive a response three weeks later. 

While I like the idea of smart thermostats and understand the concept of energy efficiency using technology, tado isn’t a product I would endorse. Don’t get me wrong, it has worked reliably since the day I got it, but the lies, broken promises and lack of customer service to back their technology leaves me disappointed at best. Since central heating is imperative to the comfort and health of my family, tado is now back in it’s box waiting to be collected and there is a nest on my wall in it’s place. At the end of the day, the nest was only £30 more to buy outright than the next annual tado subscription, so it was a no brainier really. Plus it looks way cooler. And it’s easier to use. And the schedule is far superior. 

Anxiety In An IT Role

One of the biggest challenges I face while dealing with anxiety is my job. I work in a small IT department for a company with about 150 employees, all with varying levels of IT knowledge and all with very different patience levels when it comes to things they don’t understand, or that don’t work how they expect them to. Users are frustrating to any IT person at the best of times before mental health is even a variable.

The biggest obstacle I face is the variation in my job role, which is down to the small team I am part of. Some organisations have the luxury of having an entire team dedicated to their storage infrastructure. An entire team dedicated to networking. An entire team dedicated to database administration. More teams for wireless networking, directory services, security, teams for different application stacks, teams of developers. The list goes on. As it stands, I am the company database administrator, Sharepoint administrator, Skype for Business administrator, general application administrator, PKI administrator and developer, which isn’t even the complete list. I also do my fair share of network management, virtualisation administration, general domain administration, and then end user support for anything from “we need a microwave link to a platform offshore,” to my printer is printing a black line on every page. I’m also jointly responsible for network security, telephony, door access systems and I’m the holiday cover for the guy that does everything else. 

As you might immagine this is quite a stressful workload. Keeping the wheels turning is so time consuming it often involves overtime to fix issues or install security patches, and leaves very little time to complete tasks I consider essential to all good implementation projects, such as proper documentation for the next guy to take over, user documentation to act as training materials, and organising and providing end user trainin

Development is bitter sweet when it comes to dealing with anxiety. The development process is a great escape from the general bustle of the office. Headphones on and keyboard smoking is the best ways to pass the day without even blinking. The problem comes when the deadline is looming. If the project is behind schedule, that can cause any amount of anxiety, but not as much as the prospect of releasing an application into the wild for users to scrutinise and find problems with. This is inevitable with any application you release, which might be the best applications in the world but that doesn’t stop the feelings of self consciousness, or prevent a developer suffering from anxiety from losing sleep. Having somebody use something you spend weeks coding and testing and coding and testing, only to complain that there is a typo on some button in a settings menu is a terrible feeling, and often feels like a massive kick in the balls.

Perhaps the most unbarabley extreme anxiety attacks come from my least favourite part of my job though. Presenting an application to users, or providing training on a new product. Standing in front of 150 people trying to teach them something is ridiculously hard for me and something I sinserely hope no anxiety sufferer has to go through, although they inevitably will since the world doesn’t stop for anybody. I have yet to schedule some user training for a product that I deployed months ago. The problem is, I keep delaying booking the training sessions in because I can’t face all of the judgmental faces in the room staring back at me, asking stupid questions to try and disprove what I am telling them. I’ve even considered handing my notice in to be completely honest, just to avoid the prospect of it.

In this day and age employers should be able to spot the signs and do more to help employees suffering with anxiety. Unfortunately though due to the culture of the workplace today, mental health is still a taboo subject, and anxiety is hushed up like some kind of dirty secret. Since the only other people in the company that know about your condition  are in Human Resources, most anxiety sufferers are still expected to perform tasks that cause extreme anxieiousness. It’s about time the world stopped ignoring mental health illnesses, which in itself would probably go a long way towards helping sufferers. 

Anxiety. It’s All In My Head

I used to think anxiety was all in the head of the sufferer in a figurative manner. I always understood the concept of a person being anxious about doing something extreme, like skydiving for the first time, but being so anxious about doing something as simple as going to a shop, that they are physically sick? Bollox! It must have been a hangover or something…

Then one day, anxiety was all in my head. Literally. I didn’t know that’s what it was straight away though. What I did know was that I had absolutely no desire to venture past my own front door. Whenever I did, because of my competing obligation to spend time with my family, even doing simple things such as going shopping, I started feeling dizzy and physically sick. This was especially obvious when walking and a sudden feeling of vertigo would present at seemingly random intervals.

Possibly the worst part of this period was my appalling mood swings and inability to tolerate people. I hated anybody outside my family. As somebody who frequently meets new people through work, this was especially difficult, Often resulting in a need to “disappear” to the little boy’s room for five minutes to regain my composure. It also affected my temper and rate at which I angered over silly little things. I’m not usually a moody or bad-tempered person. I think my wife has only actually heard me shout in anger once in the years we have been an item, and that was to a debt collector over the phone.

Unforseen change also sparked “episodes.” Simple things such as having to pick the kids up from school early because they were sick were incomprehensible to me. Or a change to a meeting time at short notice. Or a five-minute delay on a bus or train.

Eventually I decided enough was enough and visited my doctor. By my doctor, I mean a random doctor from a different practice because my GP practice at the time were useless. This chap was the one who made the diagnosis of anxiety and put it down to a seizure I had suffered out of the blue a few weeks before hand. Prescribing some medication, he proceeded to sign me off work for a few weeks to allow the meds to start working. He also advised the use of a free counselling service available in the UK called Talking Matters.

For all I didn’t notice an immediate change, my wife had mentioned how she had noticed an improvement in my mood. Progress was slow in the early weeks of recovery though. Gradually, the prospect of leaving the house become more bearable. Then I began to enjoy day trips with my family again.

The hardest hurdle to over come was returning to work. I had planned to return a few times over a two month period, but found the thought extremely stressful. After speaking to my doctor on a couple of occasions, as well as a counsellor, who both advised that I didn’t return to work just yet. I took their advice for a while but I soon found myself slipping into a depression due to the lack of human interaction during the day while my wife was at work and my kids were at school.

Eventually I decided it was time to climb back on the proverbial horse and drag my arse back to work, for some company and a distraction more than anything else. This tactic seemed to work. At least for a few weeks. And then my employer seemed to get bored with the whole phased return thing and decided I was ready to be thrown back into the deep end.

Within a month I was on a train to travel to a different company 300 miles away, to meet with a room full of people who I didn’t know, to gather requirements for a project in which I’ll be seconded to said company to develop on a platform that I’m not familiar with. In the interest of avoiding confrontation, and not admitting defeat, I kept quiet about how all of this affected me mentally for a good few months. All the time I was slipping back into a depression and suffering anxiety attacks again. Inevitably, I ended up having a breakdown and being signed on the sick again by my doctor.

This caused disquiet at work to say the least, but I didn’t care to be honest. I turned my work email account off on my phone and ignored work entirely. Apart from sending in sick notes anyway. I’d obviously learned a few tricks by this point.

It was during this bout of sick leave I had an epiphany. Instead of trying to keep everybody else happy at the expense of my sanity, fuck them all. This is the tact I have employed since returning to work this time, after the promise of weekly meetings to make sure I’m managing with my workload ect. They lasted roughly three weeks, the first two meetings didn’t happen, if anybody was wondering.

I think the inexperience of employers when it comes to mental health issues is a cause for concern. Employers are great at catering to some poor sod that has lost the use of their legs, for example, but piss poor at recognising when somebody is struggling on the inside.

The moral of the story is. Anxiety isn’t something to be embarrassed about. Don’t be afraid to get help, or tell somebody something is too much. Trust me, it’s a real thing and keeping quiet about it will only make it worse! And remember, no job is worth your mental health.

Novels: Read or Watch First?

I recently finished reading the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin. The books already released anyway. Having never read any fantasy novels before I was blown aware by the first book, A Game of Thrones, which is of course also the title of the popular TV series based on the collection. I never imagined how immersive a fantasy novel could be and found myself reading for hours on end, completing the series of books in a few weeks between work and around family time.

The problem with finishing a good book, or series of books for that matter, is what to do next. Obviously there are still books to come out of the Song of Ice and Fire series yet, but I don’t want to wait for Mr Martin to pull his thumb out and finish them. Eventually I decided to start watching the TV series in the hope of filling the empty void the remaining books have left. I soon realised this was a huge mistake!

Now before all the Game of Thrones fans out there grab their pitch forks and torches and come searching for me in the quest for blood, let me explain. While I’m sure the TV series is wonderful from beginning to end, the characters and settings are nothing like the ones in my imagination. This totally spoils the experience for me. In fact, it spoiled the experience so much I had to stop watching midway through the first season so as not to squash my hunger for the new books in the series.

On the other side of the coin, however, I recently read The Hobbit after watching the movie. I found that since I’d seen the movie first I already knew what the director’s interpretation of characters and locations looked like, meaning the characters and scenes in the book were already formed in my head from the moment I started reading.

Unfortunately this order of consumption also has its problems though. Since I no longer required my imagination to form the world depicted in the text, and the events that take place during he adventures or Mr Baggins and friends, the overall reading experience isn’t as immersive as I think it could have been had I formed my own interpretations of the characters’ attributes. Then again the movie doesn’t contain nearly as much detail or dialogue as the books, leaving at least some ragged strands of meat on the bone for my imagination to pick at.

I don’t see a way to solve this dilemma of mine and I’d be interested in hearing suggestions from others. At the minute I think I’ll need to either read the book(s) or watch the movie or TV programme for each series, and not both.