Further ramblings on remote work and accoutrements

tea

Chris was pretty much spot on regarding what remote work is like. Really, any workplace takes adjustment: your kitchen table or a cube farm or (ugh) open concept office.

However, further recommendations for working remotely (or at home)…

  • Regular lunch buddies are great. Gets you out of the house, good food, tasty beers, and a chance to talk about… anything, really. (Going too heavy on the food or beers will want to make you sleep all afternoon, so be careful.)
  • Coffee was covered, but some of us in Commonwealth countries drink a lot of tea, too. I am not a fan of the one-cup-at-a-time method, but have used one of these steeper/filters for years and love it. Fits pretty much any pot, too.
  • Brewed loose tea tastes better. Keep a variety on hand (with caffeine and without), but I recommend buying in small quantities to keep it fresh. Old tea tastes like dust. I fell in love with this lime green tea in New Zealand. And while I’ve tried many flavoured black teas, this raspberry one is one of few that doesn’t taste like old gum to me.
  • Good mugs are also more satisfying for soup than bowls are. I am a fan of hitting up potters’ sales to support local artists and get unique and funky designs.
  • If you’re not into drinking a lot of water, trying it “spa” style like they have at Google with citrus, cucumber, basil, mint, etc. might appeal more.
  • I’m a fan of adjustable (sit/stand) desks. I know people with super fancy ones, but I’ve had my IKEA one about four years and it’s been great. Reasonable price, sturdy, and it was nice being able to customize the top.
  • If you’re standing, get a good anti-fatigue mat. Mine’s a pretty basic Costco number, typically used in kitchens. Friend of mine looked into one of these, but I suspect I’d hurt myself with something like that.
  • Your back will thank you for having a decent chair when you start getting old. Decent doesn’t have to mean some $1000 spaceship. Just solid support, sturdy build, fits your body size/shape. (Also, a rolling office chair is super handy for getting around at home if you break your ankle…)
  • I don’t bother with weights, but am well indoctrinated in “10-10-10” from years of krav maga training. 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, 10 squats. Do them however is safe for you. Repeat hourly or as needed and sculpt that desk jockey physique!
  • Get a dog! (Cats do not help with fitness.) Dogs need to go out. Taking my dog to run around in the country is an excellent break in my afternoon, gets us both fresh air and Vitamin D, and I do most of my best thinking or head clearing then.
  • If you don’t like dogs or can’t have one, then just walk yourself. Explore a new part of your neighbourhood, walk to a coffee shop farther away, head out of the city if it’s not too far, or just wander around the block. Even 15 minutes of perambulation will do you good.

Essential remote working gear and stuff (a rambling list)

fences

  • a good coffee machine and grinder - I really like my Bonavita Coffee Maker, kind of like my Breville grinder (I think I’d prefer a mid-level Baratza), and have some pour-over gear if I’m feeling ambitious
  • a coffee subscription - If you live next to a coffee shop, great. But for the rest of us, a subscription is a perfect alternative. Right now I’m subscribed to Cartel’s Edition (shout out to my local Phoenix coffee scene)
  • good coffee mugs - Don’t be a dingbat and drink out of terrible mugs — get something nice from a place like Heath Ceramics. You’ll just feel better about your day.
  • food supplies - I never go a day without apples, bananas, blueberries, sourdough bread, eggs, peanut butter, honey, and muesli.
  • a good toaster oven - Splurge and get yourself a Breville Smart Oven. Love it.
  • a good speaker with a music subscription - I have Sonos stuff paired with Spotify, but you be you.
  • free weights and/or a pull-up bar - It’s way too easy to become a remote-working sloth, so you should probably get some weights and set out to use them. Personally, I have 20, 30, and 50 lb. dumbbells and I try to do five lifts a (week)day covering all the body parts. Some days I’m more successful than others, but I’d say I’m in pretty good shape with minimal effort!
  • wool slippers- Not too hot, not too cold. I wear my Glerups every day.
  • candles - Good smelling ones.
  • low ABV beer - What, you’re going to leave all the beer to the trendy startups? Sometimes you just need one — I tend to go with session beers during the day, and usually only after 3pm.

Remote working is exactly like you think it’d be

work from home

As a writer, I like to leave little mental notes when I find interesting topics online. Usually they’re tied to a specific moment or a series of moments, but one constant is remote working. I find blog posts about remote working all the time, and I’m always surprised by the conversations around them. Perhaps because, in the scheme of things, remote working is a fairly new concept. And occasionally people go off on these crazy digital nomad adventures that lead to their own blog posts.

So let me just clear something up, as someone who has been remote working for the better part of a decade — it’s exactly what you think it’d be.

You wake up. Getting dressed is optional. There’s no commute unless you give yourself one. You take breaks when you need them. You go places when you feel like it. And you end your day when you get everything you set out to do done. If you have children, remote working is perfect because you’re infinitely more flexible. In a lot of ways, remote working is magical — but it’s not perfect.

The downsides are predictable. You’re all alone for most of the day unless you make your way to a coworking space (or coffee shop), but then you find yourself in the equivalent of an open-concept office (ugh) where everyone is in random states of madness. Some people thrive in these settings — particularly founders who are deeply passionate about the brand or the community — but as a writer, I’d get more accomplished on a city bus. At least there the noises are consistent and I only have to worry about one person sitting next to me at a time. Perhaps I’m just easily distracted — if you’re not, coworking might be perfect.

Otherwise you work from home. Some people have home offices, and some (like me) just work at the kitchen table. It’s lovely. The lighting is just how I like it, the music is all chosen by me, there’s always coffee and snacks, and the restroom is never full. But the downsides of home are pretty obvious: your partner/roommate will inevitably resent you from leaving the place in any state other than perfectly clean, it’s really easy to get distracted by things like TV (and getting enraged by US gun control debates, as I am right now), and sometimes it gets a little lonely. If you’re not with someone and/or don’t have a social group to lean on when work is over, you’ll be miserable unless you’re an extreme introvert. But that’s normally the case, isn’t it?

Setting aside, the work is much like a normal office in that it entirely depends on the company you’re working for. Meetings can be really useful or really useless. Getting things done can be really easy or really hard (sometimes I miss just having a bunch of people together with a whiteboard, but online video chats are usually fast enough to make that happen now). Getting traction of a new idea can be really easy or really hard (especially if you’re crossing multiple time zones). Productivity tools can be really useful or really annoying. Leadership can be very dynamic or very passive. Remote workers probably tend to have less direct oversight that your average office employee, but whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on the situation. And biggest of all, the pressure to work outside of work hours is no different. Sure, I have to set and stick to self-created office hours now, but my last office job expected me to answer any and all communications, no matter the hour. Having a boss that tells you 40-hours-a-week is minimum effort isn’t a remote/non-remote problem, it’s a management problem.

From the company’s perspective, having a remote office isn’t any sort of magic bullet. It widens the hiring pool and decreases the overhead of office space, but it really changes nothing in terms of business outcomes. Good companies would be good regardless of where their employees are working, and bad companies would be bad regardless of where their employees are working. People that would’ve had watercooler chats will still have them, but they’ll be on something like appearin or zoom.

I guess what I’m trying to do here is pull the curtain away from this remote working mystique. If you’re starting a business and want to prioritize remote working, do it! And if you happen to get a remote job offer and are a little nervous about accepting, don’t be! The quality of your experience won’t be any different because of where you’re working — it all depends on the business itself.

Not quite a blogroll, but maybe a start

voices

Getting a real, old-school blogroll up is going to take some ongoing legwork (I’m working on it… send me your blogs!), but in the meantime, I think we have another way we can highlight a little corner of the blogosphere — company blogs. Like this one.

Lots of companies are producing blog content, and some of it is really good (not just company PR). The problem is that these company blogs are usually buried in footers and only unearthed by curious customers when they want to see what’s going on. But for the most part, they just sit there. Unloved and unlinked to.

As a company, we’re in an interesting spot because we offer quick setups to dozens and dozens of platforms in a bunch of different market segments. We touch blog platforms, e-commerce platforms, marketing platforms, email platforms, etc., etc. So why not highlight their blogs while we’re at it?

It’s just a start, but here’s my quick and dirty solution, as seen on the FastMail plugin page (I’m starting with email platforms, then moving on from there). Once we have all the plugin pages linked to their corresponding blogs, we can figure out how to highlight the good ones from there. (For instance, should we just have a blogroll, or maybe a content aggregator to find the best of that content? I’m still not sure.)

Speaking of “good ones,” here are a few good company blogs I’ve found in the plugins list (I haven’t checked them all out yet, so this is just a small quality sample):

Read them. Love them. Then let’s figure out how to extract the good stuff on a regular basis. I personally want to live in a world where good, thoughtful voices get the attention they deserve on platforms they control (not the walled social gardens we’ve come to rely on). Maybe this is a start.

There’s no such thing as a weird name choice

Ni!

TechCrunch recently posted an article titled “Startups are (still) making weird name choices”… and meh — I think the entire premise is wrong. There’s no such thing as a weird name choice, and there’s barely such thing as a wrong name choice.

The computer I’m typing on right now was created by a company called Apple. I send newsletters through a company called MailChimp. My search engine is called DuckDuckGo. My refrigerator was made by Whirlpool, a concept that has nothing to do with refrigerators. My kid’s bed sheets were made by a company called Land of Nod, a possibly unintentional Biblical reference to the place Cain was exiled to after murdering his brother, Abel (sweet dreams!). Kentucky Fried Chicken is the world’s biggest fried chicken chain, and I’m sure someone out there would tell you not to pigeonhole your brand to a location if you want to go international.

The point I’m trying to make is that there are no rules in naming. You just have to find something you like — something that slots into that satisfaction area of your brain — and own it.

With that out of the way, it’s important to identify the two naming mistakes brands tend to make. First is focusing your naming efforts on a trend. Sometimes trends are great, particularly the apparently new trend of naming brands “nerdy names” (as TechCrunch puts it) (although maybe it just slots in nicely with how I’ve always named things — my computer has been named Fred since 2003).

But sometimes trends have the unintentional effect of dating your brand. Just look at the countless brands starting with e, like eBay, or i, like iPod. Or the stock of brands in the late 2000’s that cut vowels to seem more modern or something. Or the current trend of using crypto words like coin, bit, and chain. Those trends fall out of fashion quickly and rarely recover. It’s one thing if you’re a trend originator, but you don’t want to be the 50th brand to join the party.

The other mistake comes from trying too hard not to “be weird.” It’s one thing to use something timeless like your last name, but it’s another to just punt and call your brand Oath. Oath is what happens when a naming firm is hired and the final decision is made in a boardroom full of people who are terrified of making the wrong decision. Perhaps this is more of a business rule than a naming rule, but decisions by committee are rarely the best decisions because they aren’t coming from a place of excitement or love. Committees exist to make sure things don’t go wildly off course.

So stay loose, don’t follow the pack, try your best (you should come up with at least 50 good names before landing on one for your brand… seriously), and find something you love.

Crypto like .com

investors

I’m endlessly fascinated by cryptocurrencies… not so much for their actual intended use, but for their investment stories. It’s hard not to see parallels to the industry I’m in, which is packed with opportunity, but (very arguably) low on real money-making opportunities.

Let’s start here. The (simplistic) dream of the crypto coin is to create a global currency unencumbered by governments and boundaries. It’s a neat concept, but the first big coin, Bitcoin, is hampered by limited supply and slow transaction speed. As a currency, it’s pretty terrible — so society started calling it internet gold and the price/Bitcoin went nuts.

In a way, Bitcoin is a lot like .com — the supply is limited, and investors, seeing an opportunity, created an unintended (I think?) demand. There are probably thousands upon thousands of .com domains just sitting in people’s accounts as investment properties. These are the OG internet hodlers.

Then the options came. In the world of crypto, there are countless currencies you could invest in now. There are coins that are copies of Bitcoin, coins that solve little problems with Bitcoin, and even coins designed to eliminate the artificial supply constraints, which theoretical would normalize prices (good if you want people to actually use the coin). That hasn’t stopped people from parking money in these coins as an investment, but longterm, I have to imagine it dampens returns. Eventually, the winner of the coin wars is going to be the one that mirrors the original dream — to be a currency people can/will actually use. That means low price fluctuation and limited investment opportunities (more like a fiat currency than a gold rush).

See the .com comparison there? The goal of domains is to use them, and when you have a gold rush bringing all the investors to the yard, the supply/demand balance gets tipped and the usefulness of the product goes away. But now we have hundreds of TLDs covering almost any possible use case. Going forward, why would someone spend a lot of money on a domain someone’s been parking as an investment when they could get a “better” version of the same domain in a more applicable TLD?

All that said, I won’t pretend .com, or Bitcoin for that matter, isn’t the one you want in the near future. Both are still the most identifiable versions of what they are, and that almost always means there will be some sort of FOMO. But for those playing the long game — perhaps there is no long game. The goal for both domains and cryptocurrencies isn’t for investors to make a boatload of money, it’s for the most possible people to be able to freely use the technology in a way that most benefits society. Or something like that.