Tuesday, October 19, 2021

An office space to call home...

I’ve been counting down to the start of a new job. It’s an exciting time!

I’ve previously written about my home office, which I used mainly for writing articles and exploring tech. But it was always more my fun space than a space to work in.

Of course, 2020 changed a lot of that (and for a lot of us). Lockdown around much of the world meant that ‘working from home’, which was much disliked by many employers, became the only way to survive.

This popular meme from 2018 really dated in 2020

Suddenly spaces at home had to function as office spaces. I was lucky to have this space; I had many colleagues struggling on the kitchen table or in a spare bedroom. Or even (amusingly for conference calls) their kids’ music room.

A week ago, one of my bookcases decided it’d had enough, and it started raining software engineering books on me (I literally had Grady Booch’s Object Orientated Analysis And Design beaten into me).

I decided that in preparing for my new role (where a degree of working from home will remain the norm) I decided to spend a few days moving things around in my space and making best use of the space.

Oh yeah – and replacing that damn bookcase!

Spoiler alert – you have no idea how heavy so many books are until you move them all.

Along the way, it’s given me a lot of time to think about the use of space, and what makes it a great space for me to work in. So let me take you on a journey, and start with a picture of my place now...

Make it fun

My new employer talks about how what they do is serious, but it’s important that we have fun on the way, and really everyone can bring their own selves to work.

Indeed, Jose Diaz at ATD USA 2019 gave a really important speech to me about the importance of having fun because we learn and we’re more motivated when we feel that way.

Your first impression might be that I work in a giant toy store. A lot of items date back to my childhood, and being a sci-fi geek (and not forgetting a sci-fi writer), I’ve added to them as I’ve gone. You might notice for instance that I have a LOT of R2D2s! It’s kind of my thing.

Included in some items I have are Cameron’s things, but mainly this is my stuff. If you’ve seen I occasionally use these for videos – something I’d like to do more of. I have a whole ‘agile office’ set somewhere in the house where I’ve filmed segments for videos before now.

The Agile Office backdrop elsewhere in the house...

All this had an important point, to try to make a room which it feel joy to come into every day to work. Given this was in the backdrop of a major worldwide health crisis, the importance of this could not be overstated. We were all at home, trying to get through it. We felt worried, and there was a definite mental health toll that we were dealing with.

I do worry this might be too much, and sometimes look perhaps a little unprofessional. I can always blur the background or just install a pull down background. If I could get a green screen background, then that could be interesting…

[By the way, I have a set of headphones for video calls, has anyone come up with a way to prevent this from causing havoc with your hair?]

Healthy mind, heathy body

Yeah, with us now working from home, making our workspaces healthy was important. I was using a rather fancy looking red race car chair for the first months of lockdown, and I was in a lot of pain with my back.

It turns out my chair looked fancy, but it wasn’t rated for 8 hours of sitting a day. Thanks to some advice, it turns out it’s the chairs which look really drab and are also expensive that are better for your back! [They also have a really long warranty of 5-10 years which is why workplaces never seem to throw them away]

It’s amazing how much moving to such a chair removed my back issues.

Turns out such chairs may not look stylish, but are designed more with your behind in mind.

I likewise have decided to bite the bullet and get a standing desk – I do like actually standing up during virtual stand-ups, and it’s good to vary things. Being tall, I normally have to have my desk raised for good posture. And as I write this, realise that my monitors probably need to be raised a bit to be the right height!

Honestly, the disco lights help me ride the bike faster.

While we’re on the subject, I work next to our garage, which has some weights and an exercise bike in, so is a commonly visited area during lunch/after work.

Take a break

Yeah, I’m really terrible at taking breaks – having a few spaces in the room to sit and have a drink help. [I kept meaning to have a picnic in different rooms during the lockdown, but never got that far around] Generally I will try to have coffee with my wife during the morning.

But in a recurring theme, having a space that has a sense of fun makes the room more relaxing. I have a couple of places to sit around here, which are important.

Achievements on the wall

I really struggled with this – and it might surprise you. Back in 2016 from many teams who entered, my team from Datacom came first in our regional heats of the software world cup, and eventually third in the finals of the competition. This was an amazing experience and my first attendance at Agile Testing Days.

This certificate stayed in a drawer until this week. I’ve felt really self-conscious of having it on my wall feeling that people will think it’s an ego thing. But most people will never see the detail.

A couple of my closest friends remind me that we all have days where we have our doubts. For myself, though, it’s a reminder of what I can achieve when I’m working with a great team.

Daylight at home

When I set up my rumpus room in 2009, I did so that my monitors would be against a wall over in front of a window. This made them easier to read and meant I wasn’t battling against daylight when looking at them. This is still a good system, but it means on video calls, I can look a little like a shadow entity.

I have a light to the side of my PC, which I can turn on which helps me be more visible. I will admit though, getting the lighting just right is a pain though, and still a work in progress. If people can’t see me, they can’t see my facial expressions and body language, and that’s a problem.

I’m my own cleaning staff

I know the headline for this could easily be 'middle-age man realises he has to tidy own room'. 

Yeah, I have a dedicated vacuum cleaner down here, a reminder that I need to keep this place tidy. Nothing is worse than working in an area which is getting a little messy.

My coworker, Gordon

Yeah, Gordon the gorilla was a purchase for our son during the height of Tarzan last century (oh that sounds odd). We’ve supposed to donate him to a charity shop, but I kind of like having the guy around.

There’s something comforting about having him in the room, like there’s another individual in here with me – esp during the isolation of lockdown. I don't my experience would be everyone's experience. I think for some, seeing a human-like figure out of the corner of your eye when you're supposed to be alone could be anxiety-inducing.

How are you faring with working from home? It’s a good time as always to remind you of the awesome book Software People… Work From Home compiled by Stephan Kamper and Maik Nogens which includes many people's journey to get a hang of this 'working from home' gig.

[Maybe this should have been called Testers Cribs]

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