Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.

I fear that I may have worked in a similar office environment to Robert Frost. Certainly his description is familiar to those of us who have been subjected to modern "open plan" offices. Such settings may work for some types of job but for myself, as a programmer, it has a huge negative effect.

My old basement officeWhen I decided to move on from my previous job my new position allowed me to work remotely. I have worked from home before so knew what to expect. My experience led me to believe the main aspects to address when home working were:
Isolation
This is difficult to mitigate but frequent face to face meetings and video calls with colleagues can address this providing you are aware that some managers have a terrible habit of "out of sight, out of mind" management
Motivation
You are on your own a lot of the time which means you must motivate yourself to work. Mainly this is achieved through a routine. I get dressed properly, start work the same time every day and ensure I take breaks at regular times.
Work life balance
This is often more of a problem than you might expect and not in the way most managers assume. A good motivated software engineer can have a terrible habit of suddenly discovering it is long past when they should have finished work. It is important to be strict with yourself and finish at a set time.
Distractions
In my previous office testers, managers, production and support staff were all mixed in with the developers resulting in a lot of distractions however when you are at home there are also a great number of possible distractions. It can be difficult to avoid friends and family assuming you are available during working hours to run errands. I find I need to carefully budget time to such tasks and take it out of my working time like i was actually in an office.
Environment
My previous office had "tired" furniture and decoration in an open plan which often had a negative impact on my productivity. When working from home I find it beneficial to partition my working space from the rest of my life and ensure family know that when I am in that space I am unavailable. You inevitably end up spending a great deal of time in this workspace and it can have a surprisingly large effect on your productivity.
Being confident I was aware of what I was letting myself into I knew I required a suitable place to work. In our previous home the only space available for my office was a four by ten foot cellar room with artificial lighting. Despite its size I was generally productive there as there were few distractions and the door let me "leave work" at the end of the day.

Garden office was assembled June 2017
This time my resources to create the space are larger and I wanted a place I would be comfortable to spend a lot of time in. Initially I considered using the spare bedroom which my wife was already using as a study. This was quickly discounted as it would be difficult to maintain the necessary separation of work and home.

Instead we decided to replace the garden shed with a garden office. The contractor ensured the structure selected met all the local planning requirements while remaining within our budget. The actual construction was surprisingly rapid. The previous structure was removed and a concrete slab base was placed in a few hours on one day and the timber building erected in an afternoon the next.

Completed office in August 2018
The building arrived separated into large sections on a truck which the workmen assembled rapidly. They then installed wall insulation, glazing and roof coverings. I had chosen to have the interior finished in a hardwood plywood being hard wearing and easy to apply finish as required.

Work desk in July 2017
Although the structure could have been painted at the factory Melodie and I applied this ourselves to keep the project in budget. I laid a laminate floor suitable for high moisture areas (the UK is not generally known as a dry country) and Steve McIntyre and Andy Simpkins assisted me with various additional tasks to turn it into a usable space.

To begin with I filled the space with furniture I already had, for example the desk was my old IKEA Jerker which I have had for over twenty years.

Work desk in August 2018
Since then I have changed the layout a couple of times but have finally returned to having my work desk in the corner looking out over the garden. I replaced the Jerka with a new IKEA Skarsta standing desk, PEXIP bought me a nice work laptop and I acquired a nice print from Lesley Mitchell but overall little has changed in my professional work area in the last year and I have a comfortable environment.

Cluttered personal work area
In addition the building is large enough that there is space for my electronics bench. The bench itself was given to me by Andy. I purchased some inexpensive kitchen cabinets and worktop (white is cheapest) to obtain a little more bench space and storage. Unfortunately all those flat surfaces seem to accumulate stuff at an alarming rate and it looks like I need a clear out again.

In conclusion I have a great work area which was created at a reasonable cost.

There are a couple of minor things I would do differently next time:
  • Position the building better with respect to the boundary fence. I allowed too much distance on one side of the structure which has resulted in an unnecessary two foot wide strip of unusable space.
  • Ensure the door was made from better materials. The first winter in the space showed that the door was a poor fit as it was not constructed to the same standard as the rest of the building.
  • The door should have been positioned on the end wall instead of the front. Use of the building showed moving the door would make the internal space more flexible.
  • Planned the layout more effectively ahead of time, ensuring I knew where services (electricity) would enter and where outlets would be placed.
  • Ensure I have an electrician on site for the first fix so electrical cables could be run inside the walls instead of surface trunking.
  • Budget for air conditioning as so far the building has needed heating in winter and cooling in summer.
In essence my main observation is better planning of the details matters. If i had been more aware of this a year ago perhaps I would not not be budgeting to replace the door and fit air conditioning now.

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