At the beginning of March I left a snow covered London for a life in New Zealand. Now I work remote, trading the view of a weird hand sculpture in the building opposite for a view of the ocean and a few volcanoes.
The time difference between Auckland and London is about as extreme as it gets. In the British summer it’s 11 hours, the rest of the year it’s 13. That makes for some fairly difficult communication challenges, but it also comes with some advantages.
Lots of people promote flexible working, and for good reason. Being able to choose which hours of the day to work can drastically improve productivity. Many people have to juggle other parts of their life around work, whether that’s picking up kids from school, taking the car to the garage, caring for a sick or elderly relative, or just taking a long lunch with a friend.
When work is rigid these things become difficult, often creating a lot of stress for the employee. Stress makes people unhappy, and being unhappy in your job is a good reason to leave.
When work is truly flexible, this source of stress disappears. However, having a policy of allowing flexible working doesn’t always mean people will take advantage of it. There can still be the expectation from others that a person will be available during the standard working day. That can be a difficult cultural hurdle to break, particularly when a company’s go to communication method is synchronous, and instant feedback is the norm.
So here’s an “easy” way to solve that problem: move to the other side of the world. People expect you to be asleep. On a typical day I have 0 hours of overlap with the office in London. Which means synchronous communication isn’t expected, allowing me to shape my day how I want.
So what does a typical day look like for me?
7:00 — Get out of bed
Yup. Much to the horror of my partner, I’m a morning person. I don’t (often) feel the temptation to sit around in bed, so I get up and get going.
7:20 — Start work
I used to spend 2 hours a day commuting when I lived in London. I would typically leave the house at 7.20, spend an hour in the vicinity of a stranger’s armpit on the tube, and get into the office about 8.20. These days my commute is about a 5 second waddle to my desk. So I get all that commuting time back. Being a morning person, and knowing I’m most productive first thing, I use that early morning time to work instead.
7:20–11:30 — Super productive work time
This is my prime time. First thing I do is catch up on slack and any messages that people may have sent my way. I plan the day ahead, crack out the tomato timer, and by 8 I’ve got my head down. This is when all my hardcore coding is done. Without the distractions of an office or other people I can easily get into the flow.
11:30–14:00 — Whatever I want
After 4 hours of reasonably intense work I need to unwind a bit. This is my time to do whatever I feel like, and eat some lunch. I’ll (semi-frequently) go to the gym. Or (more frequently) go grab a pizza. Or read a book. Or go for a walk. Or just play Xbox for 2 hours. Whatever I do it gives me the opportunity to refresh ready for a few more hours of work. In my opinion everyone should get well away from their desks at lunch time and go and enjoy themselves a bit, it makes the afternoon so much more productive.
14:00–17:30 — Work some more
The afternoon stint is a little different from the morning one. I’ve always been able to focus better in the morning. Some days I’m still good to crank through another few hours of focus heavy work, other days not so much. So I let my brain do its thing, and on the afternoons it isn’t doing so well I get through my list of things that need slightly less brain power. I’ll see if anyone in London is waiting for a code review, help out with hiring, study up on some tech thing, or any other number of things on my to do list (like write this).
17:30 onwards (4 days a week)
Enjoy life in New Zealand. Living in a place where winter doesn’t really happen has its advantages. In London it would take me an hour to get home. Here I’m 10 minutes from an OK beach, 35 minutes from stunning beaches, 30 minutes from a mountain hike, or 10 seconds from that xbox I mentioned earlier.
20.30–22.30 (1 day a week) “Face to face” time with London
As great as asynchronous communication is, an important part of being in a team is talking to them. So 1 evening a week I show my face via the magic of the internet. Time is limited here, so the focus is really on discussions that have to be had synchronously. Every other week I take part in the retrospective. Sometimes I help to define and break down work items. Whatever it is it usually involves multiple people, and is a much needed time to ensure I’m still socially connected with the team.
So there you have it, a typical work day of mine from the other side of the world. It’s important to note that this is just what works for me. The key when working flexibly is to throw the preconceptions of 9–5 out the window and figure out what works for you.