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Hidden Environment Inputs - Mindful Remote Work

Published 3/18/2020

In today's episode, we're talking about coping with remote work and how to be mindful during social distancing. We'll cover the different effects remote work can have on your work and home life and focus on the environmental changes when opting into a remote work environment.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Many of you are working from home for the first time, maybe in a long time. Interestingly, for the people who listen to this show, remote work is probably more and more prevalent at your company or at least with people that you know in the industry. There's a lot of literature, there's a lot of blog posts that are being shared, lots of advice going around about remote work. And much of that advice is about how you can change your habits or your daily procedures to better cope with remote work. And it's worthwhile to read some of this advice, but in today's episode I want to talk about something that's less discussed about remote work. My name is Jonathan Cutrell listening to Developer Tea, my goal in the show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective and purpose in their careers. Now whether you are dealing in your country with the global pandemic of the coronavirus or if your company has decided to go remote anyway, perhaps you work for a fully distributed company, maybe you're moving from one job that was not remote to a job that is. Whatever your reason is for changing your work style to work remotely, there's a lot to consider about the effects that this might have on your work and on your life. Of course it's going to have an effect on how you collaborate and communicate with your co-workers. We're not going to focus on that aspect because it's been covered in so many other media outlets and so many other books, for example, on the subject, instead I want to focus on the hidden inputs, the environmental changes around you that you are subjecting yourself to by working remotely. And this thinking applies even if you aren't changing your work from an office with people in it to a remote office. In the simplest changes, let's say you are staying in an office of people, even the simplest changes to your environment are shifts in the inputs that you have in your day to day experience. So what are we talking about when we say inputs, when we say hidden inputs in particular? Well, these inputs are not fundamentally hidden exactly. Instead these inputs are persistent or passive inputs. They're things that we're not necessarily choosing as inputs. Traditionally, when you talk about inputs, you think of media like a book that you're reading or you think of music that you might be listening to or news that you're watching on TV. What we're talking about with these inputs are your environmental surroundings. And the goal of this episode is to get you to think about the downstream effects of those environmental choices, those environmental surroundings that you are choosing as passive inputs to your day to day life. So one very simple example. Let's imagine that you work in a room with a window and that window has natural light coming through. Most of the time you want that natural light to show on your desk. And so you sit with your back to the window. Now, anybody who's worked remotely for a while knows that this can have a major effect on your video conferencing. It's really simple, but when you have light coming from behind you, the camera you're using is going to be blown out. People are going to have a hard time seeing your face. Now, this may seem trivial. You're wondering, well, we talk about all of these really big ideas on Developer Tea. You, why are we talking about a webcam setup? Well, when dealing with remote work, the details tend to matter more than we expect them to. The way that you are presented in that 20 minute remote meeting on Zoom on your Zoom call or something, that is the entirety of people's perspective of where you are. If they have a lower bandwidth, and when I say bandwidth here, I don't mean that their video is loading slowly. I mean, the amount of information that they're able to receive as a result of this of this video call, if that video call is lower bandwidth, if they are not able to see your facial expressions clearly, or if they're not able to hear you clearly, you'll end up with a lack of information. And that may not sound like a big deal. Lack of information is not necessarily a bad thing, but because humans tend to fill in the blanks, we have to pay attention to a lack of information. In the most simple scenario, it's likely that two people will have a different takeaway when faced with a lack of information. In a worse scenario, people are going to fill in the blanks with something negative. And this isn't because they're negative people, it's because this is human nature. When we don't know something, when there's uncertainty, humans tend to fill in the blanks with negativity. This is called the negativity bias, and it's something that humans have done for a long time. And there's a functional reason for this. If we assume the worst, or if we imagine the worst, then we can prepare for it. And so this simple environmental input to your day-to-day life has had a major effect potentially on your relationships with your coworkers. So what do we need to do to uncover some of these hidden inputs, these implicit inputs? You no doubt have received a lot of advice about working from home, working remotely, how to keep your team productive and sane when you're working at home. It's important to think a layer higher, to rewind from the problems that you might face. This is one recommendation I have for you. Imagine doing a premortum, but specifically about your remote work, or about your working environment in general. If you were to fast forward two months, and imagine that you've experienced some drastic, negative experience, some drastic negative thing, as a result of your environment, what was the thing? What can you do in your environment now, or an ongoing way, to avoid that drastic negative event? This can be a helpful exercise, but it also relies on your intuition to know what may go wrong. In reality, sometimes our intuition is not enough. For example, as it turns out, cleaning up the clutter in your house when you're about to start working remotely may have a major effect on your productivity. Even if that clutter isn't in your way, even if you can operate effectively, you think, with the clutter around you, there have been studies that show that working with clutter, or an environment that has clutter, the people who are working in that environment are more likely to procrastinate. That might make sense before you start this working from home policy to set yourself up for success, start by cleaning. The underlying theme of these implicit or hidden inputs is the idea that we take cues from our environment. And we can add information into our environment to change the cues. For example, the experiences that we have in a given environment are likely to change our perception of that environment. For this reason, it might make sense to designate a specific place for your remote work. Instead of working wherever you feel comfortable, which might seem like good advice, you may instead want to designate an area of your home for that remote work. Starting specifically on this idea of cues, there are a lot of habits and patterns that can help you use cues to your advantage. Use those environmental cues to your advantage. As it turns out, this is, in fact, one of the most powerful ways to develop new habits to create new cues for yourself. Be mindful of your environment and the cues that you're creating and the cues that maybe you aren't even aware of on a day-to-day basis. Seek those cues out. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. If you enjoyed today's episode, and you don't want to miss out on future episodes, subscribe and whatever podcast app you're currently using. Today's episode was produced by Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan K. Trell, and until next time, enjoy your tea.