Let's Talk About Your New Office

I tell the same worn out joke. If you want to work at Slowtwitch you must pick up and move, that is, if you live within 75 miles of our headquarters you must relocate further away. No one who works here at Slowtwitch works here, at Slowtwitch.

The architectural motif in this neighborhood is sagebrush and creosote bush at what I call The Compound and, yes, like Little Joe and Hoss I’ve got to drive the wagon into town for supplies from time to time. Otherwise we’re out here with the owls and the coyotes. I had a visitor a few weeks ago who said, “You know you have a bee problem.” To which I replied, “You mean the bees in our attic? They’ve got outside access; they don’t have permission to use the rest of the house. What problem?”

I write to you today because I suspect that telecommuting is disorienting for some of you. In fact, it may be the best thing to happen to your work product. There are some best practices. I beg your pardon if you know all this stuff. Most of the technical stuff I’m writing, you know it better than I. Maybe some of the personal notes will resonate.

Emotion Management

I figured out about 40 years ago that I was basically unemployable, which means I’ve spent my entire adult life unemployed. Though I can’t land a job myself I do employ others (or contract with them). This means I must make payroll and rent during fat times and lean, like these.

I became very familiar with 2AM, mostly back when I was building Quintana Roo. This is when I used to wake up, and when I did I was terrified. I didn’t wake up from a nightmare, but to one. This doesn’t happen to me any longer, but it took me at least a decade to fully solve this. I don’t know if you’re like me, but it takes me about an hour to put on my armor in the morning. My emotional armor. That armor is missing at 2AM. It’s just raw, exposed nerve endings. No sense of reason, or proportion, no capacity for problem solving, no one to work through the problem with. You can’t get anything done at 2AM.

Except sleep. You can get that done. You can awake rested, put on your “armor”, and get to work solving the problem in the morning. What I’ve found is that I’ve been terrified at 2AM probably 500 times, and the insoluble problem that terrified me at 2AM got solved all 500 times, and usually by noon.

But this is a little bit difficult when you aren’t in an office setting, surrounded by those who’ll help you work through it. You’ll need to acclimate to the aloneness of the home office. I did. You can too if you haven’t already.

And by the way, if you’re terrified now, I am too. I’m a little afraid for myself, but mostly I’m terrified for you. My heart is breaking for you. Not because I don’t think you’ll make it through. I’m certain you will. It’s because all the pain, the powerlessness, the terror, that I’ve felt during my young and middle years has come crashing back on me as I contemplate what the events of today mean for you all. We will get through this.

Mornings are precious

I have a morning routine and, if I didn’t, my dogs keep me honest because they have a routine. My dogs have a crackerjack alarm clock and it’s up and at ‘em at 5:30AM. If it’s wintertime, as it is now, I build a fire in the woodstove. Feed the animals. Make the coffee. Sit in front of computer. Weed out the spammers from the Reader Forum. Validate the accounts of new Reader Forum users. See what mischief you all got into overnight on that Forum.

But before I do any of that, I put clothes on. Actual, go-outside, clothes. I don’t work in pajamas. I don’t pretend I’m at home. In fact, I’m not at home. I don’t work from home. I sleep and eat at work.

I have a discreet work space. The image highest above is what I see for 8 or 9 hours a day when I turn my head to the left. My office is an office. I didn’t originally have room for an office. But it became an imperative to carve one out, so I did. I try to keep it clean. My space isn’t elegant, but it’s efficient. I built my own desk in my little woodshop. I have large enough monitors for the windows I need open. That door you see is to shut out the noise.

You and I need the necessary apps for remote office work. (I’ll get to that.) And, the space for our work tools. Above is a bunch of cubbyholes, some of which are occupied by all the historic HOKAs, so I can weigh and measure them, which the HOKA folks probably prefer I didn’t do as I waterboard them on why the new Bondi is heavier than the old Bondi. Below is my workshop, where I build bikes, ride them, and just about when I’m starting to like them I have to ship them back.

This is my primary workday axiom – my prime directive – how much did I get done before 9AM? Remember that old recruiting motto? “In the Army, we do more before 9AM than most people do all day.” I didn’t attach myself to the Army, but I did cleave to its motto. How I did in my first 3 hours, before 9AM, is a gauge likely to determine how productive I am for the rest of the day. The more I get done early, the more productive my day.

I don’t have a bottom to my pile. I work on the icky stuff first. Get it done early. Retiring the first icky task lubricates me, and gets me ready for the next icky task. This means there’s no bottom to my pile. Only the top of my pile.

Then there’s the paper. The paper! You’ll need to quickly develop a filing system to deal with the paper. Why should you have a lot of paper to deal with? I don’t know. That’s a mystery.

The Teleconference

What you gain by not going to useless office meetings you lose by not enjoying the creative burst that flows from a number of people together spitballing on a common theme. Don’t worry about missing those think tanky sessions at the office. The office think tank will find you. I sit in as many meetings now as I would if I worked in a regular office. Just, they’re virtual.

Arm yourself with the apps that everyone uses: Skype for Business, Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet. Sure as shootin’, whatever list of teleconference apps you think is comprehensive, somebody’s going to schedule a meeting using an app you’ve never heard of. When I get a meeting invite, I look at the platform, not just the date and time, because I’m a Luddite at heart and I don’t want to get ready for the meeting with 3 minutes to go only to find out I don’t have the platform app.

You won’t have people walking in reminding you of a meeting, so, place these meetings on your calendar, with a tickler that shows up on your computer screen so you don’t blow right past them. Microsoft Outlook is my organizer for this. Make sure you know how to soundproof your room for these meetings. Respect yourself. Make sure your computer’s camera shows something decent behind you. Probably a good idea to not look like those guys the morning after the big party in The Hangover. That said, people expect you to lose control of the background. I chaired a call this morning, a meeting of the board of a corporation of which I’m the president. If my dogs start barking in the background, so what? If your family, including the kids home from school, interrupt your teleconference, folks will understand. Don’t worry about that. And your dogs. Bear (below) often guards the office door.

International calls are handled either by one of the conferencing apps, or by my cell phone using a VoIP app, like Facetime or WhatsApp.

Become versed, if you aren’t already, in how to transact documents on your computer. I know you know this already, better than I do. I’m an OSX user (Mac) and the application Preview is a must. I can fill in forms, sign documents, add text, and I almost never need to print out a doc. I “sign” it via Preview and send it back. Collaborative cloud platforms, like Google Docs and Sheets, solve the problem of remote work flow.

Everyone at Slowtwitch is paid by direct deposit. I have an app on my iPhone, provided by my bank, for remote deposit. You snap a pic of the front and back of the check you’re depositing. I almost never need to go to a bank.

When do you do your workouts?

I do best with a mid-morning workout. I also tend to like our 4pm (Pacific) Zwift rides. During the summer, assuming there’s no worldwide pandemic, I also swim in the middle of the day. I do think I save a lot of time by not driving to workouts. Except my swim, and there’s no getting around that.

I’d like to get in about 7 solid work hours. I know I’ll get 3 good hours in by the time I do my first mid-morning workout, so the wind’s at my back if I get that good morning worth of work in.

Eating can be a conundrum if you haven’t figured this out. Meals at the home-workplace are probably the thing that will require the most trial-and-error. I think a lot of people just don’t fix lunch when they're at work, or maybe breakfast either, so you are asea when you have to fend for yourself at home. You’ll learn what are quick meals to fix and easy to clean up. Don’t nibble. One by-product of the regular, short, workout executed at the “office” is it helps to control and moderate appetite.

I don’t work remotely. I live remotely. To me, my work method is natural. But it can be disorienting if you’re new to it, and some of you are. I suppose there’s a discipline to it but I can’t say that discipline is my best trait. I make up for my lack of discipline by getting a jump on the day. That motivates me. It makes me feel like I’ve just gotten a gap in a footrace and bless my soul no sensation in life has ever felt better than that to me.

Some of you may be ace telecommuters and can drive circles around what I’ve written above. Feel free to post your tips on our Reader Forum. And just know that if you’re working in the place you live, this is the natural state. This is how humankind did it for its first several million years, until about 4 or 5 generations ago. You may feel a little bit lost. But you might identify some things about yourself during this process. As you type away at your keyboard, at the same address as the place you lay your head, just know that I’m typing too, as are millions of us. What matters is what flows from your brain, through your hands, and to the page. The physical address where the typing happens is a detail.

And finally, what if you’re on the other side? You’re an employer of a staff that you suddenly can’t control, because they’re not visible to you? So what? I’ve spent my entire business life seeking out problem solvers to hire. Product managers. Rather than clock punchers. My business icon is Larry Ellison of Oracle for this one simple reason: The CEO who gets to take 9 months off sailing around on his boat is doing something very right. That CEO does not walk from cubicle to cubicle making sure his machine is well-oiled. In my business, what I want is are problems solved rather than time served.