Coronavirus and working from home – a primer to get your team started

This post is a crash course on Remote Work for a smaller team that is forced into this reality by COVID-19. I am linking some all-encompassing tutorials at the end. This post is meant to get you started with the basic ideas of remote work in 15 minutes.

Switching to a remote environment will take work and won’t be ideal in the beginning. Remote work requires shifting mindsets, and people are not great at that. But you have no other choice. I am using terms “Remote Work” and “Work from Home” interchangeably in this post, because to slow the spread of the virus, your colleagues should stay at home.

Who am I? I am leading a remote team in a company that has been distributed for 10+ years. We have 1200 employees in 76 countries. These are practical tips I learned there.

What’s the deal?

COVID-19 ( / Coronavirus / SARS-CoV-2 ) is an exceptionally infectious virus that can spread „by air.” A long incubation period means that people will infect others before they even realize they are feeling unwell. The virus has already spread to the majority of the world’s countries (a primer on the virus here).

That means a couple of things:

  • One employee can infect the entire office by coughing into the coffee cup cabinet
  • In fact, everybody can be infected right now and not show any symptoms
  • People are stressed with the situation and will be reluctant to work effectively. Most likely, they will be sitting in your office, browsing Twitter, reading up on the virus, and freaking out.
  • The most effective tool we have available right now to cope with the Coronavirus fallout is to slow the spread.

We are pretty sure that hospitals won’t be able to deal with all the cases once we reach pandemic levels. 80% of cases are relatively mild, but 5% requires intensive care. Approximately 1% of people who catch the virus die.

As The Economist has put it: „Flattening the spike of the epidemic means that health systems are less overwhelmed, which saves lives.”

What can YOU do?

If you are a small business owner or a team lead, you need to get on that Remote Work bus ASAP. The most responsible choice you can make is to let your employees work remotely.

  • They will minimize the risk of getting infected during the commute in your office
  • If (god forbid) they get infected, they won’t pass that on to everybody else while sharing a donut
  • They will be able to take care of the loved ones if it comes to that
  • You will help slow down the progress of infections in society.

“To minimize risk, stay home if you can. This may mean canceling meetings, working remotely, or skipping a conference (if it hasn’t been canceled already).” – „How to work during pandemic”

How seriously should you take this?

This is a sample of companies that have closed down entire offices in light of the Coronavirus:

Ok, what is this Remote Work?

I am going to explain to you four pillars of remote work and recommend you another four tools to start doing it ASAP.

If your work happens in front of a computer, it can happen remotely. Yes, face-to-face interaction is the best way to transmit complex ideas, details of the tasks, hilarious jokes, and deadly viruses.

We now have fantastic technology for all of the above except viruses. These tools have been used for a while now – Remote Work was exploding even before the SARS-CoV-2.

 

4 Pillars of Remote Work.

Asynchronous work

Remote work is by design asynchronous. People will take tasks, post updates, have discussions, and go to focus on new tasks.

You can try to keep everybody in sync all the time, but this is exhausting, frustrating, and futile. You won’t know what they are doing at their homes or if they are checking Facebook, and you need to make peace with that.

Newsflash: They probably check Facebook at your office as well.

The biggest challenge with asynchronous work is that you may be blocked by someone else’s task. But you can plan around that – think of what you will need tomorrow and have started working on it today.

It’s challenging but worth it. When you see in the same office, it’s easy to hide inefficiency by looking busy. Remote environment strips that facade, and you are left to confront the reality of your management style.

Making sure nobody is blocked is the biggest challenge as a manager. It will take practice and yield exceptional rewards.

The takeaway is:

Instead of worrying about what your people are doing right this second, try to slice the work so that they can work on pieces independently. And let them have their lunch.

Intrinsic motivation

You can’t just walk in, scold people and control what they do. When you do that online, they can just run away from the computer. You don’t want that. Instead, you want your people to be challenged by the work or at least see the value of it. It’s surprisingly easy – we all want to be useful, challenged and learn new skills.

Remember to provide enough context and give them input into the details of what you need done. You are not as smart as you think, and your employees may be more capable than you imagine.

Takeaway:

They want to do a good job. Let them do a good job.

Communication

Communicate a lot. A massive chunk of what you want to say will be lost in text, and even video calls help only to a certain extent. You will say one thing, and your team will understand something completely different. It’s easier to spot that in person.

Double-check, over-communicate, and write things down. If you feel it takes too much time, you’ll save it by having already written it down and being able to re-use previous notes.

Takeaway:

Write stuff down in Google Docs. Discuss in Slack and Zoom.

Level playing field

If you are letting people work from home, EVERYBODY has to work remotely. If the situation is not the same for everyone, then co-located people will keep their old communication habits, and remote colleagues will be left in the dark. Companies that „failed at remote work” did a half-assed job of choosing a poor soul to be left in the dark and continued to share information face-to-face.

Either your team is in the same space, or it’s at home. This is not quantum physics, where you can be in 2 places at the same time.

Takeaway

Do or do not. There is no try.

 

4 Free Tools to set you up for remote success.

Zoom.

Zoom is the new Skype. It’s more reliable, more dependable, and better suited to remote work than any other video-call software. It has taken over the remote companies by storm because it has unmatched quality. There are other tools, just none worth trying.

Since you don’t see your coworkers in the office, meeting them on video helps to transmit all those non-verbal signals that are lost during voice calls or email exchanges. I recommend you do zoom calls frequently at the beginning.

My best tips for Zoom calls:

  • If you are switching from the office and are on the same timezone, set up a daily check-in call ( say 10 am ). Ask everybody what they worked on yesterday and what they are planning to work on today. Make notes in Google Docs. Use that call to also work on your remote setup. Put that on the Google Calendar and invite your coworkers, so everybody has a link to the call handy.
  • Zoom has a good enough free plan. You need to start paying if you want to have meetings for 3+ people longer than 40 minutes. You can also stop and hop on a new session every 40 minutes. That is what I do.
  • Buy your employees good headphones ($20-$45). Take this seriously. Lousy audio from (god forbid) earbuds they got with their iPhones will be disproportionately frustrating.
  • Back against the wall, light in front. Selfie ring helps. Seth Godin has more advice.
  • The internet does not have to be that fast. Even the one from your iPhone hotspot will be fine.

Slack

This will be your primary communication channel. Since you are no longer communicating in person, you need a central hub and email is not suited for that. Slack is for all those situations where you would come over, say something in the shared space, share a joke, or have a look at what your coworker is doing.

Slack is a shared chat, with different channels. Channels help to separate various concerns and make it easier to manage.

  • Do not require everybody to read everything. Chose one channel with mandatory reading (the typical pattern is „#announcements” ). Every new mandatory thing decreases the chance they will keep up.
  • Once you make a decision or have takeaways, move to more permanent storage. Google Docs is good.
  • Remember to goof off. You need to provide an upbeat environment. If it becomes stressful, your employees will just stop working. The common pattern is to have a „#watercooler” channel and post lots of memes.
  • The free plan will have some limitations. Mainly it has a limited history of conversations. Free is enough.

Google Docs / Drive

You need one place which will be the source of truth, and people will refer to when they are confused. Since they will be working asynchronously, you have to make it easier for them to find information that they need. Shared Google Drive and Docs will help you exchange documents and keep track of your decisions. You are also producing work, which most likely has the shape of documents.

My tips on working with Google Docs

  • Write down as much stuff as possible.
  • Do make a shared folder in Drive and tidy up the structure frequently
  • Make sure to have one place where everything is linked – it can be a Google Doc with a list of running projects and links to docs each describing the progress of the project
  • Update those documents!
  • „Where is X, what the status of Y” should require no answer – it should be apparent where the information is always.
  • You can work using the personal Google Accounts. You don’t need paying for GSuite.

Honorable mention: Trello

Trello is a simple tool to track the progress of the tasks in your team. Who is doing what? How is X doing? Did we finish Y? That’s what Trello is for.

  • You can connect it to Slack so you can always see what your people are working on
  • Again, the free plan is your friend

How to put it all together – your action plan:

  1. Make sure everybody has a computer at home they can use. Buy them headsets. They will need email addresses, but @gmail.com is fine.
  2. They need accounts for Google Docs, Trello, and Zoom. They will also need to install Zoom
  3. Wash your hands
  4. Register a new Slack for your company, invite your team
  5. Start chatting on Slack, make #announcements, #general, and #watercooler channels.
  6. Wash your hands
  7. Start your first Zoom Call. See how it goes
  8. Don’t touch your face
  9. Dump all work into actionable tasks in Trello.
  10. Start writing stuff down in Google Docs.
  11. Wash your hands

Further reading

This list is short on purpose. Sign up to my newsletter to get more resources about remote work:

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Good luck and wash your hands!

Dear Manager, I am sorry I suck at feedback.

Dear ,

I have been failing our company and failing you – personally. I withheld valuable feedback.
To say that feedback is essential is an understatement. All human progress comes from experimentation, analyzing results, and tweaking the actions, one small challenge at a time.

I would even identify the most significant societal challenges as breakdowns in feedback cycles:

  • Obesity would not be an issue if a tasty cookie did not deliver faster ‘positive’ feedback than years of exercise and proper nutrition,
  • Climate Change is a result of quarterly profit cycles providing more immediate data than decade-long weather pattern changes,

We do a thing that we think is good, we get a consequence three decades later and are surprised what exactly is behind this result. Humanity is not built to work at this scale.

But let’s get back to business and the case at hand. Lack of feedback UP the „chain of command” is how companies fail. On paper, big organizations have every advantage. But as the company grows,  „The franchise blinders harden” – as Safi Bahcall phrased it in Loonshots. Ben Horrowitz agrees, and in  Hard Thing about Hard things identifies that „The biggest problem is the one that blindsides you.”.

No wonder that effective leaders not only shy away from feedback but crave and ask for it. I know you are the same way. You ask for feedback, you act on it swiftly and everything is better after the exchange. And yet, I haven’t been giving you enough feedback to you, and I find it hard to pinpoint why.

Following reasons come to mind:

  1. I consider myself a competent professional. As such, I pride myself in taking on challenges and solving problems. My default is to take your suggestions as a challenge and run with it.
  2. I noticed it’s easier for me to disagree with “two levels up” than with you. I am not sure what is causing this. Maybe I am afraid of bringing this up so you won’t retaliate on my performance review? I know this is ridiculous!
  3. I am pretty outspoken and have publicly passionately argued with the company direction. Everybody (including you) assumes that I will have the same force in private conversations, but it’s not true. Privately, I tend to concede much faster.
  4. I optimize my career to work with smart people on exciting projects. You can teach me a lot, and I always assume that you know a little more (or a lot) than me and have stuff figured out way better than me.
  5. Lastly, we all work remotely. I know blaming this on the remote environment is a noob move, but it’s tough to catch the misunderstandings early. When we are not on the same page, it’s really hard to see if it’s a communication problem, or we have different points of view.

Because of these points, I have robbed you of valuable feedback. There were situations where we disagreed, and I conceded when I shouldn’t have. I did not want to introduce more tension or come off as stubborn because I have behaved so in the past.

What can I do?

I don’t think being more outspoken is the way I want to pursue. I am plenty vocal already so that I will try a different route:

Whenever the „I don’t think he’s right”  thought appears, I will note it diligently and set time before our 1:1 to make sure my opinion still has merit. If that will be the case after a few days, I will bring this up on our 1:1. That’s what they are for.

I know this feedback is valuable for you, and I know you will act on it. I need to be better at giving you the opportunity to improve.

Sincerely, Artur.

PS: Dear commenter, if you have any tips on how to be better at giving feedback to your manager, please share!

Ramit Sethi – is this guy legit? I took his courses and found these 5 principles.

Everything was going fine in my life, and I was miserable.

Five years ago, I had a ‘fine’ job, but I craved a challenge – something I could be proud of. Slacking off at the office, I was browsing Hacker News (a technology-oriented version of Reddit), marveling at the fantastic things everybody ELSE was doing. I could see my future as a cog in the corporate machine, and it was not inspiring.

Ramit’s advice helped me truly level up. During one of those Hacker-News-Fueled ‘breaks’, I stumbled upon this financial blogger with marketing, business, and job-search advice. Despite the scammy-sounding title of his blog – “I will teach you to be Rich”, I found it very helpful and ended up taking the “Dream Job” course.

Fast forward five years, I work remotely for the best company I could ever dream of, making past me very proud. I travel the world with my wife, who also works remotely – thanks to Ramit’s advice. Our company even flew us to India to present at a conference. We never dreamt of going to India, let alone on the company’s dime. We went to a city known for one of the most luxurious hotels in India – in fact, Ramit went there on his honeymoon!

After taking Dream Job, I have attended Success Triggers, Delegate&Done, Mental Mastery and How to talk to anybody. I recommend each one of these courses. They deliver consistent, exceptional quality and are great lenses to organize your existing knowledge.

To answer the title question: Yes, he is legit. Any course you will choose will be the best one in the category.

“Ramit Sethi is very, very legit”

Tim Ferriss

The biggest value I get from these curriculums is what not to focus on at this moment. Ramit claims that he and the team spend the majority of the time on nailing the lesson plan and it really shows. In the world where information is abundant, this curation is the ultimate value.

Ramit is about the “Rich Life”

Yes, he is in the personal finance sphere. But instead of focusing on curbing spending, budgeting, power of compounding in investments – and all the other components of successful financial future, he focuses of the end goal – the Rich Life, whatever that means for you:

  • Getting rid of credit card debt ( in the “I will teach you to be rich” book )
  • Getting a better job ( in Dreamjob )
  • Starting a business (in Earn1K and Zero to launch Courses)
  • Negotiating a raise (in Dreamjob )
  • Reclaiming your time (in “Delegate & Done” course about virtual assistants)

5 principles of Ramit

After reading Ramit’s content for years, I have teased out these underlying messages in all of his teachings:

Disproportionate results

By investing 10% more than others into preparation, research and figuring out the strategy, you can get 10x – 100x better results. This approach is applicable in job search (make connections first), building a business (nail down your target niche first), fitness, dating and other areas of Rich Life.

Strategies, not tactics

The Internet loves gimmicks and listicles like “10 apps to polish your resume, 20 online marketplaces for creators.”. But these are tactics. The important things to internalize are the strategies that help us understand “game being played around us”. Not frantic tactics that will be useless after a year.

Focus on the big wins

You can focus on saving a few hundred bucks a year by cutting back on lattes, or you can get a 30 000 dollar raise. Nuff said. Click here if you want to read one of Ramit’s classic rants on ‘cut back on lattes’.

Psychology is key

The best advice is the one you take and follow-through. Ramit understands that and optimizes his courses, emails, and tips to make help you follow-through. They are not stuffed with every conceivable piece of information on the topic, but meticulously designed to make you succeed. That being said, his courses include “Vaults” that have 10x the amount of tips and tactics as the main material. But as I mentioned, the tactics are never the focus.

Test relentlessly

Do stuff that works. Take a hard look at what doesn’t. Don’t try to make yourself feel better by confusing the two.

Get his advice for free

Ramit frequently claims that 95% of his advice is free. I don’t think this is accurate. I found that he shared 305% of his advice for free. But you still should take his courses, because they put everything in place.

I would recommend the following path to take advantage of this plethora of resources:

Step 1:Check his Instagram.

It’s hilarious. It’s also a good test if Ramit ‘resonates’ with you.

Step 2: Tim Ferriss interview.

Tim is a world-class interviewer and they are friends.

Step 3: Briefcase technique

The technique illustrates all the principles I laid out above and helped me get my job.

Bonus round: Ultimate guides

Following that, I recommend his free “ultimate guides”:

“How much should a man spend on an engagement ring?” is a fascinating example of Ramit diving into an area populated with generic advice and actually providing an exceptional answer. This is my gold standard on what a blog post should look like.

A note about joining Ramit courses.

The only way to join Ramit Courses is to sign up for his email list. There is a public page with all the products he sells, but they are only “open” one at a time.

Sign up to his email list. You don’t have to pay him a dime, but you will get tremendous value out of the emails. They are packed with knowledge.

And I do recommend the courses.

Ramit’s vision of Rich Life has rubbed on me a little bit. Even though he does not sell anything in the space, he convinced me to get a personal trainer, cleaning help for our apartment and I even have a personal VA.

Past me would marvel at a life I built.

And if you want to hear in detail what I learned, and how I adapted Ramit’s advice to suit the Remote work environment – sign up for MY email list. ?

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Take a walk to get unstuck

Let’s start from the beginning.
Ever since Plato (423 BC), humanity was plagued by this notion of mind-body duality. Dark Ages have really entrenched the idea that the body is only a vehicle to move around our pristine and godly minds. The flesh pursuits are of lesser concern and don’t deserve much attention.

“Plato and Aristotle, conniving about derailing humanity’s understanding of mind-body connection”. By Raphael.

And this particular idea has seeped into western philosophy. We don’t pay specific attention to the link between the way we treat our bodies and mental performance

  • We try to “save time” by sacrificing sleep, resulting in severely diminished productivity and mental skills,
  • We sit all day on our asses, getting more and more stressed about some artificial situation, avoiding the solution that our bodies were built for,
  • We forget to hydrate or eat properly, because – of course – we “don’t have time.”

How taking a walk can help you get unstuck

Shinrin-Yoku

Japanese, forest bathing: The immersive experience of spending time in nature.

Spending time in nature has a profoundly therapeutic effect on thinking clarity, overall health, and is a surefire way to lower the stress levels. Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) is a recognized treatment in Japan, and British doctors are looking into prescriptions for mindful walks in the woods themselves.

Our bodies evolved in green space, surrounded by trees, shrubs, streams, and rocks. We are familiar with the wild in the core of our souls. This is where our ancestors lived their whole lives, honing their genome to fit the environment.
Is life in a concrete jungle so drab? Can a few hours in a forest significantly improve my mood? I set out to answer these questions.

For a few years now, I document my thoughts in a journal. I have an Evernote-based system, where I mostly rate the previous day and recap what happened.
I will expand on this in another post, but one of the valuable insights I was able to discover is the answer to the question


“What do my happy days have in common”?

Every quarter or so, I review my notes and try to tease out what consistently made me happy during this time.
Over and over again, spending time in nature (and preferably good swimming) is at the top of the list.
Maybe it is because I was a scout for 11 years, and I am trying to reproduce the conditions of my youth. But perhaps it is because I am a human being, and this is the environment where humanity was thriving in for millennia.

My Wife, recognizing the importance of trees and taking a walk.

I try to plan my life accordingly, but as you probably know – it intervenes sometimes. Deadlines pile up, work has to be done, and I forget what restorative effect a walk has on my thinking.
I forget that it clears my head and allows me to get a fresh perspective.
I tell myself: “Tomorrow, I don’t have time today.”

What does the science say?

The science says that I’m dumb.

“To improve your thinking skills, move.”

Chris Medina, “Brain Rules”

Moving can help our brains via several mechanisms:

  1. Moving means more cardiovascular action, which means more oxygen. Our brains REALLY like oxygen. Brains like oxygen how I like the georgian meat pies. Often and in any quantity.
  2. Moving means neurons firing in the brain. Think of it as a bit of a rhythm. By making the body move, the brain gets into a groove of action, and any cognitive tasks get accomplished easier.

“Your lifetime risk for general dementia is cut in half if you participate in physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise reduces your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent.”

John Medina, Brain Rules

Before you embark on spending an exciting 60 minutes on a treadmill, consider the messy outside world. Moving helps but to get the best results, combine it with spending time outdoors.

“People living near more green space reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment”

This is your brain on nature, National Geographic

What could you do to combine the amazing effects of moving with restorative effects of spending time in the green? Guess what! Take a walk in the forest!

Would it help to convince you, if you knew Steve Jobs was pretty insistent on walking meetings?

Check out Outside Magazine amazing feature “The Nature Cure

Artur, but this is basic! DUH!

I clicked on your link expecting some insightful comment, and I don’t want to be lectured about such basic things!

I hear ya. But this advice needs repeating.

Intellectually knowing something is not enough. As Derek Sivers says, “If knowledge was the problem, we would all be billionaires with perfect abs.” We can know something is true and still act totally irrationally.
By all means, I am guilty of this as well. I sometimes discard this advice as “not serious enough” and “this is fine for those wellness people, but I have serious work to do.”
Intellectualizing is not the answer. If you care about doing something, you need to build a habit around it.

The Outside Challenge ™️

Do a test! Check if going outside is really for you.

  1. Get your ass outside first thing in the morning, for a week.
  2. Just walk around, notice things. DO NOT STARE AT YOUR PHONE.
  3. After 30 minutes, go back home.
  4. Be awesome!
  5. Crush your day.

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Remote work helps again.

I know not everybody has a nice green space near home.
But… If you worked remotely, what precludes you from living near a forest?
You could even have a view on the trees, getting the benefits of surrounding yourself in nature while you work.

Have you noticed that I post lots of pictures of my laptop opened somewhere in the wilderness?

Because for me, there is no better place to work than surrounded by tress, with wind on my face.

You don’t have to be in exotic place, or wait till the weekend to enjoy time in nature.

You can pick your laptop, hop on a bike (or into a car) and after an hour, you will most likely be in the forest. Yes, I’m pretty certain that they will have LTE coverage.

Now go outside and take a walk!


Is remote work hurting the environment?

No, it does not. This is a clickbait title.

Remote work helps me see the world, contribute more to our products and lets me enjoy life to the fullest. From the stereotypical Thai Beach office to escaping open space, it’s a clear benefit for my employer and me.

Hard work

But what gets me most excited about remote work is the environmental impact. If people don’t have to move to big cities, they can stay in their home towns, close to friends and family. Outside of metropolis, it is possible to consume locally grown food, eradicating the need for transport and packaging of perishables.
With a smaller density, the housing can be cheaper, and living conditions improve considerably. People working remotely from areas like Kentucky, Idaho or Ukraine can spend their fat tech salaries locally, raising the living standards for the entire community, providing new jobs and example for future generations.
According to WWF, the commuters in the USA alone are generating 1786 metric tonnes of CO2. That is 26% of all US emissions that remote work can help curb.

But of course – there is an element of hypocrisy in that grand vision of remote work saving the environment.

Producing CO2 in Cape Town

I fly a few times a year to meet my coworkers in person, and air travel is a contributor to greenhouse emissions.

Haunted by this fact, I decided to count how much harm did I do. I added up my flights for each year:

  • 2016: 4.4 tonnes
  • 2017: 8.11 tonnes
  • 2018: 5.51 tonnes

That makes a total of 18.02metric tonnes of CO2 emitted due to me flying over the past three years. I do not feel happy about this, but I found a way to ease the impact of lugging my ass all over the world.

CarbonFootprint.com lets you contribute to carbon offsetting projects around the globe. Their air travel calculator will help you figure out how much harm did you do while getting these Instagram photos:


I decided to fund tree planting in Kenya since it will both plant trees and provide work for the local community. I happily shelled out 280 EUR to buy the land, plant trees and help them grow. The trees should consume 20 tonnes of CO2 caused by my air travel, helping me sleep better.

Carbon emissions due to flying is a downside of working for a globally distributed company, but I still can do something about it.
I also believe that long-term remote work can be the answer to the climate crisis we are experiencing right now.

The Garden Route – Cape Town Road Trip

For the past 3 years, my fiancée kept on telling me how amazing South Africa is. We’ve had an amazing road trip in western Canada together, spent a month jumping into Yucatan cenotes, and worked from the beaches of Thailand like proper remote employees, so I felt a little bit insulted. While we were enjoying these amazing places, she extolled the virtues of a city that has both the ocean and mountains, and teased me with waterfalls, wineyards and the perfect steak.

Fortunately, the opportunity has come to say “I call”.

Maria’s team had to gather in April for some on-site R&R in Cape Town. This is a traditional practice for remote employees. Since you see your coworkers only on Slack or Zoom calls – its good to remind yourself that these are real human beings that like to eat and have fun. And that was the plan for that trip – I would sit tight and work from fabulous Cape Town coffee shops and Maria would eat, drink and have fun with her coworkers.

Afterwards, we would go for a 6-day road trip.

Garden Route

We picked an 800 km long route on the coast, west of Cape Town. Known as the “Garden Route”, it is home to multiple national parks and charming coastal cities. This is where Atlantic and Indian oceans meet and nature decides to show us the good stuff.

1 Addo Elephant Park

Addo Elephant Park has “Elephant” in the name. Nuff said. These gracious creatures are impressive not only in size – you should read more on Maria’s blog.

This is the furthest point of our trip, so we decided to hit it first and to do most of the driving up front. Cape Town is 830 km from Addo, so we spent 2 days on the road, arriving at about 1 PM.

Our second night would be in the park itself. We scored a lovely “Cottage” on the park premises, which would allow us to take advantage of early morning animal spotting. The cottages are available on SAN parks website.

Addo Main Camp is located close to a waterhole, which you can observe from an underground hide. And… oh boy! That came in handy when a Lion (I had no intention of seeing a lion, but he showed up regardless) killed a Kudu antelope right next to the hide. We could all see him resting for a while before he dragged the prey away from our prying eyes.

I managed to record a video before he vanished:

The park itself is a DIY safari. You take your car and drive around, spotting different animals and enjoying life. Safari was #128 on my personal bucketlist and I can proudly cross it off having seen:

  • Wild Pig AKA Pumba
  • Kudu
  • Elephant
  • Zebra
  • Ostrich
  • Buffalo
  • Antelope
  • Different birds
  • Hiena
  • Jackal
  • Dung beetle. Lots of them! The biggest challenge in the park was not to crush them when they were crossing the road. I guess this is how elephants feel about us humans.
  • And the aforementioned Lion

2 Storms River Mouth / Tsitsikamma

My sneaky fiancée lured me to this country promising waterfalls. I am kind of a Waterfall afficionado junkie, so visiting Storms River was a must.

Unfortunately, on the day both the weather turned bad and I started having ankle problems, so we gave up on waterfall hike (3-4 hrs) :(. We will have to do it another time.

3 Nature’s Valley

Even though you can sleep in the park itself (Storms River has cottages), we spent 2 nights in the nearby town called Nature’s Valley. The Otter Trail connects it to Storms River and apparently we are the only 2 people in the world that have not heard about The Otter Trail. Everything in Nature’s Valley is named after an Otter, and I mean EVERYTHING. We stayed at a placed called Kamma Otter and I counted at least 5 other B&Bs named after an Otter (and this city has only 50 houses). If you see how many times I used the word “Otter” in the last paragraph, you’ll start to get a feel of Nature’s Valley.

Believe it or not, an Otter-based naming scheme is not the only charming thing about the lovely town. It is located between the lagoon and the ocean, has 1 restaurant, 1 shop and a very tight-knit community of bird lovers.

I think they throw you out if you don’t love birds.

4 Knysna

The view was amazing and the eggs benedict even better.

Do you see the white building just on the edge of the left “head”? This is Easthead Cafe. We had breakfast there. You should too.

5 Map of Africa paragliding spot

Soaring in the air like a sack of potatoaes tied to a parachute!

On the way back to Cape Town, we decided to check out the spot called “Map of Africa”. It’s a piece of land shaped like an African continent, surrounded by river.

My fiancée had dreamt of paragliding for few years now (this trip is all about the stuff she wants to do, isn’t it?). Every time we noticed people in the air, she would point them out and make sure I knew she is up for it 🙂

And there they were, running from the cliff and soaring in the air!

So how does this work?

  1. You drive to the “Map of Africa” viewpoint, expecting to see something vaguely resembling African continent,
  2. A random guy walks up to you, offering to strap you onto a contraption that puts you a hundred meters in the air. No reservation was necessary,
  3. Naturally, you say yes to the random dude,
  4. You pay 800 ZAR per person,
  5. This is a tandem flight so you are actually tied to an instructor who hopefully knows what he is doing,
  6. You run awkwardly a few steps,
  7. You start soaring like a sack of potatoes,
  8. You fly for about 15-20 minutes having the best time ever,
  9. If the instructor catches a wind current, you land where you started, with smooth grass and sheep to soften your fall. If not, he will drop you in the ocean land on the beach and they’ll pick you up in a car.

6 Kaaimans Bridge

While paragliding, you can get a glimpse of this decommissioned railway bridge. If you are not paragliding, you can stop at “The Dolphins Viewpoint” to have a look:

7 The Oude Post

This is a gas station and a sandwich shop. Which has Mini Goats, a turtle and the most delicious sandwiches imaginable. They serve traditional Roosterkoeken – a sandwich/pastry that is baked on the barbecue during traditional Braai.

Braai is to South Africa what Barbecue is to Texas. A human right.

8 Hermanus

Our trip had an end right on the airport, where we would return the car. But since we had extra few hours, we stopped in Hermanus.

Hermanus is a coastal city that is famous for one thing: Whales.

It is one of the best cities in the world for Whale Watching. The cliff offers great views on the ocean and these big sea mammals come close by so you can watch them from the shore.

The season is from July till November, so a whale watching trip in April was a bit of a gamble, but it paid of tremendously! A whale was doing whale things in the bay and standing on Gearings Point, we could see the back and tail popping up from the water here and there.

I tried to take drone photos, but birds attacked my drone, so I had to count on the return-to-home feature.

Map

Here are all these spots – and more on the map:

I have to admit that now I understand why my fiancée wanted to share immense beauty of South Africa with me. I will definitely come back here. I the meantime – you can check out Job’s post with much better photos. Or subscribe to my newsletter!

Bring Your Own Friends – Dealing with loneliness when working from home

@MarkAgee

Remote Work is awesome. It is no doubt, the future of employment and for a good reason:

  • It can solve environmental problems
  • It opens up the access to suitable jobs for the people outside of a bigger city
  • It’s just better for the human soul to avoid the trenches of office buildings all day, every day.

But it has downsides as well.

Ryan Hoover from Product Hunt has recently asked about Remote work problems and loneliness came up #1


It gets… lonely.


In my previous corporate life, I was working in an Open Space at Samsung Poland. The company was voted 3rd best employer five years in a row, and the office had everything that a millennial fresh-out-of-college developer could want. We had fresh fruit, great coffee, slick building with state of the art technology, beautiful view from the window…

And friends.

In some ways, the modern office is a bit of an extension of college life. The scenery changes a bit, but you hop on from the student life to corporate existence without skipping a beat.

office crew GIF

Most tasks in the corporate world are not that urgent or even necessary to perform, so we defer to our primal instincts: keeping up the relationships.

In our past, this served us exceptionally well. In case of a cheetah attack, people helped you if they liked you, so making them like you was vital.

The chance of a surprise cheetah attack in a Samsung office is very slim. There are Cheetos aplenty though. But our biology did not adapt. Keeping thriving relationships is not only the default, but it is also proven to be healthy both emotionally AND physically.

The gains people derived from face-to-face socializing endured even years later. The findings were published online in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Source

But in this brave new world of Remote work, there is no office and no colleagues to socialize with.

There is no daily chit-chat by the coffee machine, no banter on the Open Space and no scooter race in the hallway. That may be the best for productivity, but the silence is deafening at times. Sure, we have Slack and memes and calls and all sorts of social glue that lets us keep sane, but we are a human and we need other humans.

While working from home, YOU are responsible for your socializing. Your employer will not supply you with a kindergarten full of bored peers to play with.

You have to bring your own friends.

? ?‍? How to deal with loneliness in remote work.

Me and my fiancee have developed a set of tactics to deal with the loneliness of remote work. These improved our lives considerably, but we are still on the lookout for new ones.

? Party time.

Photo by Delaney Dawson on Unsplash

I have a confession to make. I have a rolling calendar reminder to organize a party for my friends every two months. There is no birthday or another occasion, just a party. I would say, I have a 50% success rate, so in reality, the said bacchanalia gets thrown every four months, but it’s still a great way to remind your acquaintances of your existence.

Committing to a cycle has several benefits:

1 – Lower emotional stakes.

Have you experienced a little bit of shame before reaching out to a friend you did not talk to for a while? Do you sometimes worry they will laugh at you when you finally DO reach out? I have this nagging feeling sometimes. But guess what. They probably feel the same, and you are just two proud dummies not talking to each other.

Reach out. It’s not a big deal. Only one party out of 10s you are going to organize.

2 – More significant chance you finally get to see some people

We’re all adults. Well you are, I’m just pretending. We have lots of responsibilities, and not everyone will be able to make it to your party. By the 4th time you invite someone, they may be able to make it. Go ahead, keep asking this childhood friend. Maybe she will come.

3 – You will get comfortable with this.

You will not stress about having enough chairs (people can stand for 4 hours, nothing will happen to them). Your place will not have to be squeaky clean. The situation will be normal for you. You will develop a party-prep routine. I can throw the party in 2 hours, provided there are no dead bodies to hide lying in my living room.

Here is my tried and tested, patented Artpi Party Prep Scenario ™️.

  • ? Dried tomato hummus
  • ? Sweet Potato chili-sprinkled fries with garlic sauce
  • ? Barbecue pulled-pork style Egglant
  • ? Salmon-horseradish party wraps
  • ? Home-made Coleslaw
  • ? Greek-Style salad (arugula, feta, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, olives, honey-coated walnuts, vinaigrette sauce)

I can do this on autopilot. I do something else if I have energy, but having default makes it easier to commit.

? More reminders

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Yes, I am a robot. I have three lists of people I should reach out to weekly / every month / every quarter.

I have a bot that will select a person from one of these lists every day. This is a custom solution, but you can achieve the same result by following fantastic Derek Sivers advice.

Reminder ensures I will remember about everyone. I do ignore them some of the time, but I still see value in refreshing the fact of someone’s existence. It’s nice to stop and remember that I have the person X in my life.

Being a part of the community

This societal problem is widespread and touches not only remote workers. You probably don’t feel this in an Open Space, but humans have a deep longing for long-lasting connections with people around them. We evolved in tribes and later settled into villages. Everything was communal.

Getting benefits of community without going insane require some planning. Currently, we are

And I think that one of the most amazing things that anyone can go through and can do in their lives is a variation on the theme of going on a journey, doing hard things surrounded by friends

Tobi Lutke, Shopify CEO

? Organizing a wedding

Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash

Now, I’m only half joking. My fiancee and I are in the process of a fabulous adventure that is organizing a wedding. And we are inviting A LOT of family members. Some of which I have never heard of before. I don’t even think it’s possible to be related to so many people, but so be it.

The surprising part is that I enjoy getting to know them, giving them invites and nurturing those relationships. I can see myself in the son of a distant relative, and it’s very fulfilling and gives me a sense of belonging. If you told me five years ago that inviting 150+ people for an ultra expensive party would be in my future, I would laugh in your face.

But here I am, you can laugh at me.

The point is that these tested rituals served some purpose in the past. Weddings, Funerals, Equinox parties, Easters and Christmases – all of them were kind of a glue that holds people together in the face of loneliness.

Remote work is changing this balance, and we need to find new rituals and again take extra care to nurture a connection to people around us. New technology can help but let’s not forget about the tried-and-tested approach.

Call your mom once in a while. Yes, ON THE PHONE LIKE A CAVEMAN (cavewomen have probably already figured that out).

You have to be deliberate about reaching out to your friends and making time for them. They are busy too and nobody will organize this for you.

Bring them with you.

Cheap ski weekend in Zurich. How much is it?

In February I found myself in Zurich.
You know, the go-to destination for cheap travel.

One of the advantages of remote work is that I don’t need to take time off to enjoy another part of the world. I can work somewhere and just take in the local culture, food and experience the change of scenery. I can pick a cheap flight at an unpopular hour and have a regular workday without skipping a beat.

My Fiancee was in Costa Rica at this time, so I decided to visit my friends in Switzerland. Not that I needed an excuse – Switzerland is a gorgeous country that has the things I love the most: mountains, forests, lakes, and waterfalls.


But since we spent last winter in Thailand and India, my main focus was to get a chance to practice my amazing snowboarding skills.

By amazing I mean perfectly average.

During the weekend I would ski, and on the workdays, I would roam around the city, have a nice walk and work from their home, maybe a coffee shop. Or a fondue parlor, since what you really need on your keyboard is not crumbs nor spilled coffee, but melted cheese.

OH MY GOD, THERE IS SO MUCH CHEESE HERE.

Me.

All this is cheese.
Just kidding. It’s cocaine.

Yes, this is a pot of cheese. You know that French trick where they put a little cheese in your soup? The do the same in Switzerland. Minus the soup.

? Ok, enough about cheese.

There are plenty of ski areas nearby, so we decided on the closest one.

Here is the guide to Zurich Ski areas



?️ Flumserberg


Flumserberg is the easiest one to get to. The train from Zurich HB takes 1 hour to get there, and the lift starts 20 meters from the train station.
Swiss locals come into the train wearing their ski boots and with the gear on. It is perfect for a 1-day or a weekend trip.


It is also gorgeous. The city of Unterterzen is by the lake, surrounded by almost vertical walls of Fjord-like peaks

We came here with a 7am train, arriving at 8am and returned on Sunday at 5pm and were at Zurich HB at 6PM.

? Ski Passes

Swiss rail runs a special promo that gives you:

  • 10% reduction on the 1-, 2- or 6-day ski pass for the entire Flumserberg region.
  • Free baggage transport for the outward and return journeys worth CHF 12 each.
  • 15% reduction at Intersport Rent.


You cannot purchase it online though. You have to use a machine at the station.
Here are the details

I paid 156,80 for a 2-day ski pass and transport to Flumserberg and back.
Once you arrive in Flums, you have to exchange the coupon from SBB into the actual ski pass at the counter.


? Juhui Flumserberg:

Theoretically, on these 2-day tickets, we could have gone back to our place in Zurich on Saturday evening and return Sunday morning. But since Switzerland is such a cheap country, we decided to live like kings and splurge on accommodation.
Which means that we got the cheapest option available on Booking and we stayed overnight.
And what a fantastic decision it was! We got to sleep in a 120-year old wooden hotel.

Don’t get me wrong, restrooms were not in the room, and it was very cramped, but we passed out almost immediately anyway.
We got sheets, towels and a big breakfast with fantastic views. We were happy.
We paid 149 CHF (including beers) for 2 people in a 4-person room. I would be very surprised if in 4 people would indeed fit there comfortably.
But it was 74 CHF after splitting between 2 people.

? Rental

I had my Snowboard boots with me, but I had to rent the Snowboard and a helmet.
The passes from SBB should have given us a 15% discount on Intersport rental. But because of a misunderstanding with our friends, we rented in a place just by the gondola.
I paid 101 CHF for a helmet and a snowboard for 2 days.
My friend paid 65 for skis + boots etc., for 1 day.

✈️ Flights

I have Star Alliance Gold status, which entitles me to a piece of free luggage on all star alliance flights except „light” tariffs on Lufthansa and Swiss. But I found a cheap ticket on LOT (PL national airline, Star Alliance), also in the „light” pricing.
But because of my Star Alliance status – I got luggage for my snowboard shoes and drone for free.
Zurich is a peculiar place. It is a place of employment many expats, and they want to fly home for the weekend. Which means that if you come here FOR the weekend, you pay less.
I arrived Saturday morning and flew back Sunday. I paid about 55 CHF for all of that.

If you want to read some tips on how to get to Star Alliance Gold cheaper and faster – do sign up! ?

? Totals


So there you have it. I paid 331 CHF for the whole trip. If you want to include the flight to Zurich, that is an additional 55 CHF. So for 380 CHF, you can enjoy a weekend of skiing in Swiss Alps.
But then again, if you want it to be cheaper, then you probably should not choose Switzerland. ?


And here is Michał who organized all of this. Thanks Michał!


So you want to work at Automattic.

Today, in April 2016, it’s been precisely 6 months since I joined Automattic as JavaScript wrangler. All you’ve heard about how awesome this company is in fact an understatement!

It is out of this world!

IMG_0951
Working from out of this world.

One of the things you have to know about me is, that I fit right in with the whole `Tim Ferriss fanclub` type of crowd. It is not religious in any way, I just like the content he exposes me to and I enjoy tips, tricks and `weird shit from the world of esoteric he digs up`, as he himself puts it so eloquently. Some of my friends don’t share this enthusiasm, but it’s beside the point 🙂

Tim Ferriss in the 4-hour workweek introduced me to this idea of “Geo-arbitrage”. Basically, he says: for Americans it is extremely easy to travel, because the money they make in US can go a long way in other, cheaper spots on the map, so it would be a good idea to become a remote employee, travel the world, all while living a good life abroad.

Awesome! Work that allows you to travel AND save compared to your usual expenses? Where do I sign up?
Except, there’s one problem with that: I live in Poland. The only place that our salaries let you live on a decent level is Romania. And cheaper parts of Poland.

Nevertheless, I tried to make this happen. With one of my friends I started an e-marketing agency (Netivo) which I helped run while studying in Sweden. Turns out it’s pretty hard to travel, run a business and make enough money in Poland to live decently in Sweden (that plan is an example of reverse geoarbitrage and is generally a challenge stupid idea). But in that line of business I had to work A LOT with WordPress and became quite fascinated with it to be honest. I decided to become kind of an “WordPress” expert since.

Then the crash of 2008 made everything more difficult. I switched to JavaScript and found a career in safer, bigger companies as a JavaScript engineer.

I was quite happy, but in 2015 I started to crave greater things in life. I felt that world is moving forward, all these startups are sprouting all over and people get to change the world. In Silicon Valley, or even in Western Europe people could be proud of the stuff they build, all while working with the newest technologies or programming paradygms. In Poland, it felt like an “IT Callcenter”. We are good, reliable and cheap, but we were not on the bleeding edge of the innovation razor.

Then, I stumbled upon Automattic job offer.
They were hiring in JAVASCRIPT!
Not only in PHP, but also in JavaScript – the technology I became pretty decent in. On top of that, it turned out, that working in Automattic would let me:

  • Work with React, Redux, NPM, node and all the ‘fresh and hip’ JavaScript technologies;
  • Work with amazing engineers from all over the world and be a part of Silicon Valley;
  • Instead of reading articles about what ‘cool kids’ do, I could have an opportunity to join them!
  • I could travel quite a bit, or even live wherever I wanted! Automattic is a distributed company (or, as we put it: location-agnostic) which lets you see the world without taking a day of vacation (which you have unlimited amount);
  • Because of the whole remoteness, I could be in Poland whenever I wanted to, without skipping work. This is important to me, because I have very old grandparents and sometimes they really need help;
  • I was very excited with the product – I loved WordPress!
  • Tim Ferriss’s site is hosted with this company! (along with Time.com, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the Guardian, but I find Ferriss more influential 🙂 ),
  • It was never about money, but geo-arbitrage is finally working in my favor;
  • Overall, this really looked like my “Dream Job”. I became determined to get it and to do it right.

To help in your remote job search, I recorded this video:

Getting there

Well, you probably got pretty annoyed by the long lead-in. But this is my blog, my rules and I can write here whatever I want :).
But here comes the meaty part:

Reading

I was determined to do it right, so I dug up everything I could on Automattic and their hiring process:

IMG_1446
All I’ve read about Automattic hiring process

Polishing the resume

At this point I knew they must be getting a lot of resumes, so I decided to make mine one-page and make every word count. I reviewed it over and over, asked friends to review it and obsessed about it a lot.
Since I did my reading right, I threw in some “nice touches” about my core competence constituting off-the-charts-sandwich making ability and one of my hobbies being barbecue. All true. Putting that in a resume felt good.

The wait.

G0073526-ANIMATION

After sending that resume I waited. And waited. And waited some more, all while questioning myself.

  • Did they get it?
  • Did they read it?
  • Did they reject me?
  • WHO PUTS SANDWICHES AS A COMPETENCE?! Why did I do that?!

Moar wait.

After 1,5 months I needed to do something constructive. So I booked a ticket to “WordCamp Europe” in Seville, where I was sure I’ll find an Automattician. That was the extent of my plan.
I actually met a bunch of them and they turned out to be very cool people. I even “pinged” them to get my resume reviewed and got back home.

Moar wait

Just after WordCamp Europe, a lot of Automatticians went to React Europe where they ran a coding competition for the attendees. They made a mistake of tweeting the URL, so I promptly joined in.
As you can see, I came in second, after “Moarhaus”, who (despite me trying really hard) had a huge advantage over me.
I have no idea who he is. I only have a vague notion as to where his soul may reside.

reurope.png

Actual Hiring Process

Artur, can you please get to the point? This story is becoming longer and more convoluted that “Pirates of the Caribbean IV” plot and we didn’t get to the hiring process description yet!
I hear ya, but to be honest, Pirates of the Caribbean IV plot is just /dev/random…

1. Chat

First, I was invited to a text-based Skype chat. It lasted about an hour and was quite fun. It was way less technical than I expected.

2. ‘Simple’ coding challenge

After the chat I got a coding challenge to solve. It was not in JavaScript.
The instructions were very open – ended, without any deadline and only with vague description of problems to solve. I assume my drive and ability to self-direct my work were also tested.

I later learned that it was designed to take 6-8 hours of my time.
I devoted about 35 to that project making sure it was perfect.
I may have taken it too far.

3. Chat + Challenge feedback

It took 40 minutes.
I am in for a trial! Wohoo!

4. Trial

What can be a best way to make sure you fit in a company? Ask you questions about JavaScript context execution, new ES6 syntax and what would `”potato” + {} ` evaluate to? Brain teasers about roundness of sewage covers?
Turns out, that the best way to see how an employee would perform is to well, employ them.
This is how trial works. I was working on my trial project, communicating with other coworkers just how I would If I was already working there.
You can do trial “after hours”, keeping your previous job. I decided to throw everything at it and take no chances. For me, it felt more risky to approach this opportunity tired, after hours of my usual work than to quit my safe spot at a huge company. I quit my previous position at Samsung and decided to do the trial full time.
I got paid 25$/hr, which was way more than I was actually making before.
The project was similarly open-ended as the previous one, just much, much bigger. I had to research proper technologies, communicate my progress and design my tasks.

The trial took me ~1,5 months.

5. Matt chat

The final stage of the process is a chat with CEO, Matt Mullenweg. It is a unusual opportunity, as he is a “celebrity” in IT world and frequents the Forbes and other such magazines.
The chat itself also isn’t a mere formality – mine lasted 4-5 hours and I felt that Matt wanted to know me at a personal level. He seems to take this hiring thing very seriously. It is great!
Because of his schedule, sometimes you have to wait quite a bit until he finds time. He caught me in a movie theater, but fortunately I had a good excuse to postpone the chat.
I was watching “The Martian”. It was pretty neat.

I started my job 2 days after that. It was my 30th birthday.
Most awesome gift ever!

Grand Meetup

IMG_0150

GM is a yearly event where all employes meet in person. Because our company is completely distributed, we don’t see each other face-to-face. During this one week a year, we get to shake hands, do some awesome activities, party, geek out, eat together, hug, have a meal, have a walk, eat together, try Polish vodka I brought from home and eat some more.

Naturally, being a relentless badger as I am, during my trial I tracked down other Polish Automatticians and pumped them for information when the Grand Meetup may be.
Knowing the date, I tried to expedite my hiring process so I can “make it” to this years GM. 9 days after my “Matt chat” I was on a plane to Salt Lake City to meet the rest of my new coworkers.

It was a whirlwind!

My team is bunch of the coolest, funniest, most awesome people around!

Automattic Benefits

IMG_1864
Working very hard for those benefits from a Whiskey distillery in Bushmills, Northern Ireland

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  • You get to work with really awesome people,
  • The product you work on has 100 000 000 (yep, that’s MILIONZ!) users. The stuff you do matters,
  • You work from wherever you want. Seriously,
  • You want WHENever you feel like it. If you have flow, you can work 12 hours, and the next day – you don’t have to do much. It’s up to you (at the beginning, it was hard to me to understand it),
  • No distractions, meetings and corporate b***t to slow you down,
  • You can spend time with your kid when you need to, walk your dog, set you laundry,
  • You get unlimited vacation,
  • They fly you to awesome places to meet your cool coworkers,
  • Friends all over the globe,
  • A lot of other stuff, listed on benefits page 🙂

And that’s me, Cognitive Engineer, Artur Piszek. One of the cool kids.
Who would have thought.

And yes, we’re hiring.

Working from home? I could never!

Let me tell you about quite typical situation in my life.

I’m sitting at a bar with my friends. A few people I’ve just met overheard me telling some travel story and they want to know more about remote work. So I start to explain the reality of it – that our company has no office, we talk over internet and so on.

They nod along for a while, and after about a minute or two I hear something like:

? But I couldn’t work from home!

I DO understand why they say that – and they are right!

Working from home makes one… different.

This programmer has been working from home a bit too long

It’s good to stay in touch with other people. Have you ever been sick for 2 weeks and then you just became sick of… being sick?

There comes a time when you would do just about anything to leave your apartment. The perspective of spending every day like this is scary indeed.

? Stages of working from home

Believe me, I can relate. The only difference is that I have a crow sitting in my window. Her name is Kraaatherina.

But I do have some good news!

Remote work does not (necessarily) mean work from home.

One of the benefits of remote work is that you can choose a place within walking distance from your home.

  • You don’t waste so much time commuting to the office,
  • You are not limited to companies hiring in your area,
  • You can work for the company of your dreams without having to move.

These are fantastic benefits that can change your life. But if you don’t feel like it, you can ditch the office – there are plenty of options to choose from.

☕️ Working from a Coffeeshop

I’m sure you have stumbled upon a romantic, greatly overused photo of a wooden table and a MacBook perched on top. And a cappuccino (of course).

This is what I am talking about!

I’m aware this looks like a hipster’s wet dream. When working remotely,  you have to get used to the fact that your life resembles a promotional photoshoot. Working from exotic places, whipping out your MacBook at a cafe…

The struggle is real.

Me.

So how does it look in practice? How do you get work done from a coffee shop?

I usually pick a chain one. Unfortunately, my favourite cafe in the neighbourhood is taken over by moms with their kids. It may be surprising for you, but this constitutes a sub-optimal work environment.

In Poland I opt for Caffé Nero – they have the best sandwiches. But while traveling, there is always a Starbucks. And a Starbucks on the corner of every Starbucks.

  1. At a chain coffeeshop, I don’t feel self-conscious when I’m sitting and sipping one cup of coffee for 3 hours,
  2. They usually have a long, wooden table where I can secure enough space for my laptop. Romantic, round tables are probably useful when discussing poetry and charging tourists ridiculous prices, but not for real work,
  3. You know what to expect. I appreciate some variety in my life, but when I have a stressful task to accomplish – the unexpected factors,  high noise level or limited bathroom access can make us feel a little uncomfortable.

However while travelling, I do look  for “pearls”. When my fiancée and I worked from Paris, we were heartbroken by the fact that all those Parisian cafés are incredibly uncomfortable. But you do (have a chance to) stumble upon some interesting decor. Rainforest Cafe (an USA chain) imitates, well, a rainforest with fake gorillas and all. In Lviv, there is an amazing “Apteka Mikolash” where the inventor of a gaslamp used to spend his days.

Usually I get to a cafe around 9:30-10:00 and leave before lunch. Sitting there for about 3 hours, I pick “less popular” times so I don’t block the table during breakfast and lunch time which is an avalanche of hungry mob.

I like to eat breakfast at the cafe, to leave more money – in the end it’s a business, not a charity. Unfortunately, healthy options are sparse. If you want to limit caffeine consumption at the same time – it’s even trickier. Most non-caffeine options are pretty sugary. By the way, I highly recommend ginger tea in Starbucks. It’s great for those cold mornings.

When I walk into a place, I’m like a special-ops commando. But instead of assessing exits and possible murder weapons, I do check for power outlets. I carry a 3-meter extension cord with me (write me if you want to know more), so it’s less of an issue nowadays. If I happen to secure comfortable-looking table close to power outlet, I need to mark it by my sweatshirt. Searching for a proper work spot carrying a sandwich and a coffee is a real challenge.

As I mentioned – I like those long communal tables, even if I have to share them. I don’t mind company, but I really value desk space.

So I start to work.

Headphones are key, but from my experience cafe is not the most noisy environment. Other patrons tend to scroll their facebook feeds, chat in small groups, read book or work like me.

Do you want to know how to make sure you can secure a power outlet, which headphones will ensure blissful focus and what cafe is best to work from? Sign up now! ?

? Cowork

Cowork is an office space you share with other companies / freelancers. You can get a whole room, but a desk in a an open space is much more common. You can get your own dedicated spot or a “hot desk” – where you just sit at the spare desk.

This arrangement is the closest to traditional office and has some benefits:

  • Every day you see the same faces. You meet folks during coffee breaks, you can chat about football, startups or challenges of your projects. You will have the opportunity to network – or even find friends.
  • If you’re a freelancer, it makes it so much easier to find business partners or clients. The startup that is producing a video game 3 desks away may trust you with their marketing campaign if your off-handed advice will pan out.
  • Coworking spots tend to have their unique communities. In my WeWork we get breakfast for the whole community every Monday. We can get to know one another while aggressively fighting for the last spoon of tomato hummus. Nothing brings people closer than food and a brawl.
  • These are the most beautiful offices you have ever seen. Coworking spots are evaluated the same way as potential spouses are – totally superficially. The nicer looking one always wins. Fortunately, its less paperwork to get out of coworking deal than a marriage (usually). WeWork puts a lot of effort into design.
  • Every cowork puts coffee, scanner and a printer as a benefit. Those perks may be less important for you – but you don’t have to worry about it anymore.
  • You get a physical address to put on official business documents. In Poland, that’s a legal requirement and not every landlord lets you do that in a rented apartment.
  • If you buy crap interesting items on AliExpress or do a lot of online shopping – you will have someone to sign for all those packages. This is important if you tend to wander around the world like me.

Price usually hovers around $250-$350 for a desk, but that depends on the location.

But there are tradeoffs

As I mentioned – coworking spaces have a lot in common with regular offices. With all the up and downsides.

In coworking spaces there are companies dealing with various things – for example sales or accounting – and make a lot of phone calls.

Fortunately, in my WeWork there are dedicated phone booths. This is a gamechanger. Loud phone calls are the reason why I left my previous cowork. The noise made it impossible to focus.

I generally have 2 complaints against coworking spaces:

  1. It is surprisingly louder than a coffee shop.
  2. If you travel a lot, it may not be feasible. The per-day passes are around $20, so monthly memberships are much cheaper. But if you plan to sightsee and enjoy the city, coworking spot may not be the best option.

? Library

Paris city library

When you were in college – did you happen to swing by the library to finish some project or focus? Why should it be any different now that you have your amazing remote career?

I am a fan of libraries myself.

Me, while smoking a pipe
  1. This is the only place that ensures quiet working conditions. You don’t even need your headphones!
  2. There is no shortage of outlets and desks.
  3. It’s free.
  4. Sometimes the interiors are phenomenal. All over Europe, libraries are the most spectacular buildings as they were founded and frequented by rich & famous. Now you have to be rich and famous to keep that tradition. It’ll be easy because – as you already know – libraries are free.

? Museums

People sitting in a coffee shop without laptops. Has to be some surrealism. Thanks Chicago Art Institute!

Now, that’s a pro territory.

Museums are a very picturesque environments/ interiors. You get to work from a very impressive/intriguing/stimulating location, get some culture and learn interesting stuff during the breaks. The potential is big, but you have to do your research.

A few hints how to find a museum and which ones to avoid:

  • Science, naval and war museums tend to have more seating options,
  • Unfortunately they tend to have more screaming children,
  • Your best bet are very unpopular museums,
  • Power will be an issue in all of them. Bring extension cord or a powerbank,
  • Usually the best chance of a table and power is the museum cafe,
  • It will be loud,
  • Some museums have libraries!

⛰️ Outside

Working in the open air is like having a beer in the forest. But with a laptop and continuous quest for better wifi/lte signal. And without the beer.

By far this is my favourite mode. I love spending time in nature, watching trees and waterfalls. My remote work arrangement lets me commit new code in a Canadian National Park, conduct a video call with the Loire Valley castle backdrop and test new product version from the beach in Thailand.

WiFi is widespread nowadays, but it’s good to always have a 3G option with you. “Hotspot” option in your smartphone is usually enough.

US and Canada have a lot of picnic tables in parks. They are probably meant to be used as a place to have lunch, but they are also a great spot to whip out the laptop and pretend you are working while secretly checking your Instagram likes.

? Home

Artur, you promised that I don’t have to work from home!

I won’t lie anymore. I worked in all of those places, but pretty often I end up in my… home office.

We recently bought an apartment and I enjoy my place a lot. I can see birds from the balcony (I need to keep tabs on Kraatherina). I love being able to cook fresh vegetables, going to the gym or the swimming pool without carrying all my belongings and a laptop with me.

If you want to know how to arrange an awesome Home Office, do sign up!

? Everywhere!

Remote job allows you to work not anywhere, but… everywhere!

In a traditional job you have to sit in one place. Moreover, you have no say on the matter. It’s only natural that while moving to a remote setup, you are searching a replacement.

But… is it good for you to sit in the same position for 8 hours trying to focus? Won’t your mind appreciate a little bit of change? Won’t it feel energized in new surroundings?

  1. In the morning you can work from home. Let everybody else stuck in traffic jams,
  2. Once crowds are gone you can get your morning coffee and enjoy the coffee shop,
  3. Around lunch time it might be a good idea to work from a restaurant? From my experience, Mondays are always empty and nobody will mind the laptop,
  4. Maybe… Don’t you feel like a library is a good idea today?

Or maybe it’s better to hit the cowork early in the morning, go to the gym when everybody else is still in the office and finish work at home?

You get to choose. It’s worth it!

The best benefit of remote work is that the workplace has to fit you. Not the other way around.