Developers Quarantined (how to stay productive)
The stories of software engineers during Covid-19, + Work-from-home productivity tips
The first part of 2020 surely won’t be remembered as the best part of this new decade.
In just a few months we had to assist at one of the biggest wildfire ever registered in Australia, the premature death of the most expiring NBA player in the last 20 years and to add to all of this, a pandemic that is threatening almost every country around the world.
I have contacted several web developers and software engineers around the world to see what measures have been taken during this lockdown.
Here are their stories:
Peter from Taiwan
Chun-Sheng, Li in art Peter.
I am a bachelor of National Taitung University CSIE and a master of National Taiwan Ocean University CSIE.
I have several years of experience in PHP and Java, in fact, I usually focus on web development, mobile computing and web backend services.
I am also interested in other research some of them be web security, IOT applications and related.
My work is also affected by the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
And we recently launched the "work-from-home" style in our department.
Work-from-home is not remote work!
To be a remote worker the job has to have the remote style from a company originally, whereas work-from-home is when a normal job (the one we always go to the office every day) and because of a few reasons such as a virus outbreak or government policies we need to change our working style.
How things have changed in my company?
At the moment I am writing it our department has been split into two teams,
Let’s call them team A and team B
To prevent the safety of all web developers some rules have been imposed:
The two teams’ members cannot go to the office on the same working day.
Which means the guys in team A will be going to the office the odd days the ones belonging to team B the even.
Then switch the following week.
I found that there are several advantages and a few disadvantages to using this method.
The biggest advantage is that since the number of people that goes to the office has been halved it is easier to follow social distancing rules.
Recently the government of Taiwan suggested that people should have 1.5 meters of distance if they find themself indoor and at least 1 meter if they are outdoor.
The biggest disadvantage I find is that a team member has to remember his working status or a specific date.
This is time-consuming and can be distracting from the work that has to be done.
Plus, this solution only works or us software engineer, whereas has not been applied for the hardware engineers as well.
They have to work at another office because they are not allowed to bring hardware devices to work at home.
For more stories, you can reach me out on my dev.to post.
Federico from Milan
Italy has been hit hard!
Maybe because of the large amount of elderly in the population, probably because the low budget instantiated for healthcare during the past years but, at the moment of this writing, Italy surpassed China for the number of death and is in the top 3 among the most affected countries in the world.
I came from Milan Lombardy. The biggest and more techy city in the country, a lot of people moved here to find a well-paying job from the countryside or the south of Italy.
Which is the hot spot of the virus and, as you might expect, the life for a web developer here has changed drastically in just a few weeks.
February 27th: This is when I heard the word ‘Coronavirus’ in the news for the first time.
A new exotic disease that started to cause some problems in Wuhan a city in China that nobody knew until that moment.
So far from our day to day life that this news went from ear to ear almost being unobserved.
Needless to say, my daily routine is still the same, still a lot of meeting and luckily for me plenty of code to write.
March 8th: oh well, things have changed! During last weekend a few reporters published the news that a couple of infected people from Wuhan have been visiting Milan and maybe spread the virus among the population.
Because of that, the whole city might be blocked and nobody would be allowed to get out of the city.
Surely journalists have their reason to write things as drastic as they can be but the outcome from this was unexpected, even from them.
A whopping 41000 people rushed to the train station over the weekend to go back to their family, in the other, southern region of Italy.
My employer told me that for now we all should work from home, install a robust VPN and try to be safe.
We needed to make several adjustments to our lives but everything seems great, work wearing shorts, meeting via Zoom and chat via Slack rather than moving paper around desks.
Technology at its best.
March 20th: now the situation is drastic, apocalyptic almost.
The only topic of conversation is this virus, the tv shows dozens and dozens of trucks of the army transporting coffins from hospitals to the cemeteries,
On the good side, the new routine started to kick in, I love working remotely.
So much work done, a lot less distraction and you do not have the intern developer coming to your desk every 10 minutes because they managed to create an infinite do-while loop (for the third times in the same week).
Getting tasks, pushing code, and doing phone call with the delivery manager.
Eventually, everything is working out well, as long as I stay home I am safe, even considering that weird, dark face of the CEO during the last Skype video chat.
April 3rd: The dream job is not a job anymore, been furlough as more than half of the dev team, “Waiting for better time” they say.
It is a difficult time for everyone but watching the news I can only think of how lucky I am to be in the middle of the warzone, still healthy and safe.
The government says will send a basic-income cheque for the time being.
I still got my savings and I finally can spend some time working on some projects I postponed for months.
Plus I now got plenty of time to read some book.
So far so good
Joseph from San Francisco
I started working as a self-taught software engineer at a young age,
After dropping out of university I got a few junior positions till the decision to move to the techy city in the US and work as a contractor.
I have been working remotely for the last 5 years.
This means, I haven’t seen much difference between before and after the 18th or March, the day SF closed the door.
The first impact though, it was surreal,
Fewer people on the street and everyone wearing masks.
To be fair no one was panicking, people were behaving politely rather than assaulting Costco,
things are different but I keep doing what makes me feel the normality,
I still lock the time to do my morning routine, train and have fun.
Work too hasn’t changed a lot.
I keep getting my tasks and write the code that I have too.
On a weird way, I feel fortunate.
All my friend are a software engineer too,
Some of them feel the pressure and are scared of the news.
Rose from Sydney
Rose is a Korean full stack developer currently working in Wynyard, Sydney
I want to show you how things and life has changed here in Sydney
This city has been in lockdown for a while now, apparently, we are on “level two restriction” which means that some of the companies are business, as usual, some of the other companies are allowing the employees to work from home.
Fortunately one of the industries that have been affected the least in programming.
While a lot of restaurant and cafes are closed now or only do takeaways and deliveries.
I have been to Coles and Woolies lately and realized that a lot of items are missing or are not in stock.
Especially toilet papers and sanitizers. That’s insane.
When it comes to local transportation here, ferries, busses, trains and the light rails are still operating, but you will find that there are a lot fewer people.
Now work meetings or team meetings are replaced by Zoom, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Since this is a stressful situation, the managers decided to let us spend the last hour of each working day, do what we love more.
We can now read, study or attend online courses.
I hope these measures will stay in place even after the quarantine will be finished.
Nico from London
The UK had a different path from other European countries,
Want for the needs of feeling different (read Brexit) want for different situations, the lockdown and quarantine tactics decided by the government here went very different the nearby countries.
To begin with, here the lockdown started really late.
What Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, and his crew decided at the beginning was to apply to herd immunity.
Since this virus only attacks people how does not have it yet, by spreading this as much as quickly as possible it would have decreased the curve.
Not to mention this tactic wasn’t well accepted by the population and just after a few days of protest he had to make a 180º turn and lockdown the country.
As per the life of workers obviously, it has changed a lot.
The majority of the population are not working anymore, many others have been furloughed only getting 80% of their salary.
As a web developer, even in this moment of fear and scarcity, I cannot avoid feeling blessed.
I have been able to work for the whole amount of time,
For someone very talkative and who loves to share information, having a chat in the office kitchen or attend meetings, the stay-at-home situation is not ideal.
Doing calls, meetings, discussing Jira’s ticket, chatting with QA guys all digitally can be problematic.
On the other end, no more commute to work, and plenty of more free time is what we can take from it.
Something important is to stick with the routine that I have implemented when this quarantine started and be as productive as possible.
On this note read the following section to understand how to best cope with remote work ...
Tips to stay productive
I believe routines and checklists are the keys to productivity.
Here is how I am using them during quarantine and being able to have a full-time job, running a web development business and write content on my blog.
Plan your day
If you think that a day starts when your clock says 00:00 think again!
The day starts the evening before, you do not want to get caught in the rush having to go to work and find out your car has no gas in it.
As you need the full list of ingredients before cooking your preferred dish you must have a plan to be able to complete the next days' tasks.
Do a brief brainstorm within yourself, and list 1 to 3 goals you what to accomplish tomorrow.
They do not have to be more than 3 because of the Pareto principle (I have already written about it in this blog post).
Basically, you need to be able to focus on a few things, without spreading your attention left and right.
FOCUS here is the keyword.
Get a list and try to get the right time estimation, now multiply this time by 2 or 3,
According to human basic instinct, it is really simple to overestimate what we can do in a day.
Shower and get dressed
You do not need to wear a suit and a tie if you are working from home but you definitely have to shower, shave and get dressed.
Here is why:
Even though you know that nobody will see you during your working from home days you are doing that for your mind,
One of the most read book of the last century and still doing great almost a hundred years after the first publication is Think and grow rich by Napoleon Hill (link below).
In that book, the author describes the function and power of the subconscious mind over our action and performance at work.
By pretending to still go to work you trick your mind to get that performance-oriented mindset, making it easier to perform high-quality work
Designate a workspace
Another very important rule is to designate a place in your house where you feel comfortable that you won't be disturbed.
During this quarantine, it may be very easy to stand up from your desk every 5 minutes to get some random item from the fridge or pantry.
If you assign a definite place for a definite task it will be easier to follow through and achieve the flow.
Using the kitchen just as the place to cook your food no coding nor playing in there, at the same time you must consider your desk as a place in which you will stay 100% focused on completing your working tasks.
Eat that frog
Brian Tracy is a sales trainer and author and the book Eat that frog,
It that book he suggests to “eat the frog” first (link below),
Why a frog.
As a child, I am sure you came across the story of The Frog Prince a fairy tale of a girl that kisses an ugly frog and transform it into a beautiful prince.
The moral of the story is that by doing the uglier task you can get the best result possible.
And if you book the time to do the uglier task first not only you set yourself for the best result but you also feel that amazing sense of accomplishment for the whole day.
Shout notification down
Email, YouTube, What’s App, Facebook Messenger, Instagram are all great applications that make you connect with your client, friends and family around the world.
The problem is that they take something very important from you.
It is much more difficult to focus on your tasks if you got a phone ringing every 30 seconds on your desk.
That little electronic thing is what causes you to procrastinate on the task you want to accomplish.
The solution is very simple:
Disable all the notifications from your pc, put your phone into a drawer, in silent mode, set up a clock for just 20 minutes and start work.
You are going to find out that after 20 minutes you will want to keep on going on your project rather than check what Lizzie eats for lunch, or where Sam went on holiday.
It works like a charm.
Stay informed, the right amount
Here is another reference from another book,
This time is Tim Ferriss with his bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek (link below).
It that book Tim says that he does not like to watch the news, it is considered a waste of time and he can get the same information by having a 5 minutes chat with their friends and asking them what is happening in the world.
The truth is that we are bombarded with news, the vast majority of them has catchy titles that aim for the user to click and get ad revenues rather than inform about what is really happening.
Don’t get me wrong
It is good to stay informed, but, especially with a global pandemic and high unemployment, it is very easy to get overwhelmed and think that the world came to an end.
The world will do just fine and is very likely that will be back at our normal life in less than a year from now.
What you can do is to set a limit time, 5 to 10 minutes maximum for reading newspapers or check the news.
After that, close everything as just process the information.
It is very likely that once we go back to normal life we won’t have as much time available for a long time.
Something you can do is to take advantage of the spare time you are getting right now by doing something that can set you apart.
Learn a new skill that you wanted to learn for a long time, read that untouched books that are in your shelves or attend some video course instead of doing tv-series marathon on Disney+.
There are an infinite amount of content out there that will level up your skill and make you a much better individual once we are all out from this situation.
For example, If you want to learn how to code you can have a look at the basics of PHP
Get in touch with friends and family
Lastly, book some time to talk with friends and family.
As a remote worker, you can find yourself in an apartment alone for a long time, that will affect your brain is ways therapists cannot describe yet.
As I wrote in a few sections before, it is very easy to spend all the time scrolling on social networks but it is also true that nobodies before us have had the chance to communicate with people so far apart so quickly.
If you have a friend you haven’t talked for a while, this is the right time to do that.
Resources for productivity
Here is a list of resources you can spend some time one during this quarantine
This is a unique time in our life,
2020 will be written in history books that our nephews are going to study on, all the problems and health concern that this pandemic involves.
The good news is that it is very simple to stay safe, wash your hand as much as possible and practice social distancing by staying home.
In this period of fear turn on your videogame console or spend a lot of time in front of a tv is very compelling but it will actually set you back from where you were before these lockdowns started.
I suggest taking advantage of the tactics shown above to be ready when we will be back to real life.
A way you can do that is by studying and reading,
If you are looking for a nice place to start learning about web development go over the blog where there are hundreds of hours of good reading for beginners and advanced developers.