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Back To Work From Work - or Anywhere in Between

Empty buildings. The leadership team has to look at those long abandoned rows of workstations with fond memories of the collaboration that they would witness in days gone by. Many parts of the world are relaxing the restrictions and recalling the workforce back to the office. You too could be affected.

Company culture varies and plays a significant role in the return to work wave. In kind of an ironic twist, the first time that I was enthusiastically encouraged to work at home was just before the pandemic came along and made it mandatory. Good times?

When work from home was just a popular option, I was inclined to turn it down out of habit. The office invariably has the faster connection for the network and, if you’re in a larger company expect considerable on-site perks. You can still enjoy the best of both worlds with a hybrid approach.

Separation of Home and Corporate Life is Easier With Physical Boundaries

The biggest benefit of being on site is all of the access to the company’s brain trust on every challenging situation. The quality of the solution goes up with the number of people contributing ideas. I may not know but I do know a person who knows a person who knows. Cutting across those degrees of separation is easier if you can do it on foot.

Did I mention free coffee, snacks, arcade games and everything from monitor wipes to staplers to enhance our productivity? The GoPro headquarters are up on a hillside with views of the bay and the San Mateo bridge. The private homes up here make me wish I had gone into venture capitalism rather than the safer course of PCB design. At 25 miles, it’s a long way to travel but it’s a nice place to be.

Figure 1. Image Credit: Author - The View from Clearview Drive, home of the GoPro hardware engineering team.

The biggest drawback of working on site is just getting there and back. The office may have protocols where you have to certify your health status. There may be limited cafeteria options along with head-count limits. My experience so far is that the overall energy level is lower because there are fewer people but each of us on-site is dedicated to keeping the office torch lit. We’re stoked to be there - every Wednesday!

Tips for Reentering the Office

  • Keep a ready bag for your laptop with all of the items you need for productive work.
  • Let people know about the hours you will be on site through updates to your calendar.
  • While masking is optional, it makes a better impression if you’re covered at least during face-to-face meetings.
  • Obviously, stay home if you have any symptoms.

We don’t have assigned desks so I pick one between two unclaimed desks. This way, if we’re going to collaborate, I can mirror my monitors rather than having a continuous image over multiple screens. The co-pilot can sit at the next desk with a monitor pointed in their general direction. It’s a little more difficult for me to use the laptop monitor with its higher resolution and smaller size without computer glasses. Wearing a mask instead of maintaining our social distance fogs my glasses. That’s the worst of it so, on balance, facetime is enough of a draw to overcome the minor obstacles.

Figure 2. Image Credit: Author - Welcome to my “office office” where endless free coffee is just steps away.

The biggest benefit of working at home is owning the workspace so it can be set up on your terms. All of the comforts of home include the biggest monitor I’ve ever used. It’s nice to have an extra room that could be set up for the purpose though many of us had to locate our home-office in the dining room or elsewhere. You still have your entire wardrobe to pick from after a midday shower - all the comforts of home.

I’m not sure if this would be considered a plus or a minus but work is always available. If a project allows for it, I can put in a swing-shift and have some free time in the middle of the day for personal things. Senior management embraces and supports the notion that we can do our work from anywhere as long as it gets done to our managers’ expectations. Opening the office is an attempt to find out what the new normal will become.

Figure 3. Image Credit: Author - Posing with my fake carbon fiber desk. It requires frequent dusting, reminding me of why most offices are clad in white.

The biggest drawback of working at home is the isolation from coworkers and potentially overexposure to family members who will take your presence as a chance to interrupt your flow. Kids will be kids and spouses will be whatever they got to be at the time. You can hope to set boundaries during normal working hours while acknowledging that home life can be just as hectic as the job. It just seems easier to ignore my coworkers as they go about their business than it is with family members.

Tips for Home Office Setup:

  • Aside from a quiet workspace, the online connection has to be fast and continuous.
  • You need a calendar and a white board or at least a tablet of graph paper and other office supplies, perhaps a USB hub or a dock for the laptop.
  • An air filtration machine is a nice-to-have.
  • Speakers or headphones sound better than the laptop’s equipment.
  • Flexible lighting helps switch between a CAD cave and a closed circuit video production/meeting space.

The takeaway is that after about two years of being a hermit, it is a bit of a rush to set off on a 30 minute drive. Nothing we’ve needed is ever that far away so our essential trips are on the short side. A day pass on CalTrain allowed me to go to work, go to a midweek Giants game in the City and get back home for less than the cost of gas to and from work. If this is the new normal, count me in.

About the Author

John Burkhert Jr is a career PCB Designer experienced in Military, Telecom, Consumer Hardware and lately, the Automotive industry. Originally, an RF specialist -- compelled to flip the bit now and then to fill the need for high-speed digital design. John enjoys playing bass and racing bikes when he's not writing about or performing PCB layout. You can find John on LinkedIn.

Profile Photo of John Burkhert