Slightly more than a decade ago, I moved from one of the more out there parts of Hamburg back into a more central part. And I loved it. I gained about one to two hours of free time thanks to a shorter commute, I had all the shops and places to eat I wanted in walking distance, things felt more lively overall.
Back then, I vowed I would never go back to that awful place at the periphery.
Two years ago, I moved back to that part, and I love it. What has changed?
Well, for starters, I work from home full time now. That means that awful commute has completely disappeared.
The other reason is that I moved not into the same house as before, but to a place that has all the necessary daily needs within walking distance: Supermarket, bakery, hairdresser, doctors, pharmacy, public transit connection. It is all there and can be reached by less than 5 minutes of walking. Most of them actually under a minute.
At the „awful place“, I had to take a bus (that would leave right from my doorstep admittedly) to the city, but there was no direct connection, and it didn’t leave as often as one would love to.
The new place has a bus and a train, and it is a more direct connection too.
But the cincher really is the fact that all the important bits of infrastructure are right here. That is what people need — not more car lanes into the city, but infrastructure for daily life in walking distance. Really, learn this lesson, dear city planners!
A part of my job is asking people things along the lines of „can you look up if XYZ is feasible“ or „what would you need to do XYZ“ or „can you make me a proposal about this?“.
And there are always two things I give them along with the task:
how much time I expect them to spend on it at most
the level of detail I want for the answer
This is not to set pressure on them, but to take it away: With this information, they will have a better understanding on when the task is done, how much effort they can put into it. Asking things this way is a part of the SMART set of goal criteria. In case this term is new to you, here’s the breakdown of this acronym:
SMART is a mindset that helps specify goals and tasks in a way that ensures they have a decent chance of being met with success. And it allows the persons you give this task or goal to measure themselves against that yardstick, so they don’t start second guessing themselves. This lowers anxiety, is compatible with Auftragstaktik-style of management (which I highly recommend) and also ensures that your engineers aren’t nerdsniped.
That last thing is a real danger if you’re engineers are any of the following: Competent, inquisitive, enthusiastic, intelligent, willing-to-learn, new to the field, experienced…
This approach is especially important if you work remotely: You want to trust your team to work without close physical supervision (which is a bad idea anyway if you have any kind of knowledge workers). And as you’re working remotely, you’re missing a lot of small cues that you could pick up in an office: Are they nervous? Are they burying themselves in research, as evident by the books and open browser tabs? Is that topic you’ve given out as a backburner research task eating up all their mental cycles, because it is all they talk about when fetching coffee?
The micromanaging approach would be to check in with them often, ask about progress, and so on. Which not only increases anxiety, but also keeps them distracted from the actual work. (And probably pisses them off too — I’ve threatened to quit over micromanaging more than once, with the full intent of following through if it didn’t stop. Thankfully, I had enough standing for that to be effective.)
Instead you need to preempt the nerdsniping and anxiety and communicate clearly what is expected, what is out of bounds, and the time you expect them to spend on the task — as opposed to the deadline where you need the result.
So when I ask someone to research a topic, I say things like this:
I need this in a week, but you really shouldn’t spend more than 4 hours on it, spending more effort on this would not be helpful. If you cannot provide a thorough answer after that time, that is an answer in itself for me!
If you add this task as part of the normal duties, and not on top of them, you take out most, if not all anxiety, you make the result a reliable measure, ensure that the other tasks won’t take a hit, and give the engineer an understanding of what they are looking into.
About a year ago, I shared how my home office setup looked. It is now not only a year later, but I also moved back to Hamburg and moved everything into a combined office&hobby room. And with that, I also upgraded a few key features of the space.
Let’s start with the room itself: It is a rather small one, so I had to think of space economics. In the end, I settled for the traditional center aisle with desk, workbenches and storage along the sides, keeping the window free so I could move about the room at ease.
That meant that I had to get rid of the door, as it opened to the inside of the room and would have been blocked by the storage shelf. As a replacement, I fulfilled that inner nerds dream and built a secret door!
The room now houses not only my desk, but the printer, the filing storage, a workbench, all my tools and hobby supplies, two 3D printers, a borrowed laser cutter and all my roleplaying games and comics. Pegboards on the walls keep the more frequently used items in easy reach. Otherwise, I took full advantage of the laser cutter to have nice labels on all the drawers, so I don’t have to remember where the different tools are.
And yes, the motordesk and treadmill are still there, and I also managed to put the remote control holder into a fitting place on the workbench. That green button is a Logitech POP button that I use to switch the treadmill and 3D printer on or off.
But to the actual desk setup: Since last we met, I added and swapped a few things.
I ditched the Bluetooth headset for a DECT one. That has a lot better range and audio quality, while also sitting quite easy on the ear. It is a Yealink WH67 with built in speakerphone. As soon as I put the headset into the cradle, it switches from headset to hands-free operation. This happens entirely on the device, any computer or phone connected to the WH67 not seeing that change. I love this, as I never have to twiddle any software settings. And yes, the WH67 also has Bluetooth, so it connects to the computer and the phone at the same time.
Also, I’ve splurged for the QI-charging module, so the phone gets juice without any hassle too.
The SLR camera is now hidden behind a black box that acts as a teleprompter. I rarely use that for the usual purpose of reading a script, but to be able to make eye contact during conference calls. It is entirely self-built from foamcore, wood glue and black paint, with the only bought addition being the 12″ USB‑C screen and proper teleprompter glass, that reflects from the front surface of the glass instead of the back, providing crisper contrasts to me. It does eat some of the dynamic range, but not too much to be a bother. (Eventually I might update to a brighter screen to compensate, but that’d need some more serious budget).
Also, the standard webcam is right now a Lumina, some crowdfunded, allegedly more intelligent camera with better colour calibration and more processing. Might go back to the Logitech BRIO eventually, but for now, I am giving the makers a chance and see what the software updates bring…
Lights and Buttons
On the other side there is an Elgato Stream Deck. This is mostly a toy / luxury purchase, but it does come quite useful when hosting online events. Routing my camera through OBS I can easily blank my video feed, swap backgrounds, pipe in waiting music, etc. Just having a hardware button to mute myself or blank my video is already a godsend. Also, it controls the room light!
Speaking of room light: I splurged and installed a light-up ceiling. Six 4m RGB zigbee powered lightstrips that are hidden behind a semitransparent white cloth. They could be a tad bit brighter, but for now, this is pretty good to keep the winter depression at bay. And I have a button for „Red Alert“ :D
Ich wohne ja seit Februar 2015 in Berlin. Ist schon schön hier, aber wann immer wir meine Eltern besuchen, oder zum Nordcon fahren, fragt die Freundin mich „Warum wohnen wir eigentlich nicht in Hamburg?“
Gute Frage. Wahrscheinlich wegen dem Job (der ja lange Zeit erforderte, dass ich wochentags in ein Büro in Berlin ging). Und weil die Miete in Tempelhof halt supergünstig ist. Und weil ich hier mit grünen Haaren gar nicht mal so sehr auffiel.
Aber das einzig Stete ist der Wandel, und so ziehen wir im Sommer zurück nach Hamburg! Nach Schnelsen, knapp vor der Grenze zu Bönningstedt, eine Gegend die ich eigentlich meiden wollte, aber die Wohnung ist bezahlbar, hat eine begrünte Dachterrasse und einen Balkon für die Kater, und vor allem: Zwei Büroräume, so dass ich nicht mehr das Wohnzimmer als Büro missbrauchen muss.
Denn das ist mein persönliches Fazit aus der Pandemie: Es ist egal von wo ich arbeite, solange ich vernünftiges Internet für Email, Webanwendungen und Videokonferenzen habe. Denn polypoly hat den Sprung zu einer 100% verteilten Firma geschafft, im Endeffekt haben wir alle Neueinstellungen seit Februar letzten Jahres komplett virtuell durchgeführt.
Insofern freue ich mich jetzt wie Bolle, wieder nach Hamburg zurück zu kommen, näher an meinen Rollenspielspezis zu sein, und auch Freunde zum gepflegten Brettspielabend auf unserer Terrasse einladen zu können…