working from home “newbie” – two and a half setups

We’ve been seeing a lot of posts from people who are experienced and enjoy working from home. I am not one of them. I’ve been working from home for three days so posting how it is going so far. (I think three days is long enough that there probably won’t major changes to my setup for the duration).


I live in New York City in a studio apartment. I don’t have any rooms with a door (except the bathroom) and I also don’t have a lot of space.

Why I don’t like from working from home

These are the problems I needed to mitigate with my setup for telecommuting from home until further notice:

  • I often do things in Manhattan during lunch and after work. [that’s no longer a problem. Everything is cancelled]
  • It gets me out of the apartment/not feeling cooped up. [I’ve been making sure to take a walk both during lunch and after work. I’ve also gone outside to stand on the terrace a few times a day. I’m lucky in that I have a small terrace. Maybe 18 square feet of space all to myself]
  • Seeing other people. [As long as we are allowed to leave the building and go outside, I at least see people in passing]
  • I have one nice place to work and it is occupied by my personal stuff. It’s a good amount of work to switch and I’m unwilling to do this daily. (Both physical objects and Mac vs Windows cords/keyboard/etc).
  • On the rare occasions I telecommute, I either spend the time moving all my personal stuff or work on the kitchen table. The later is physically uncomfortable. The former is a cost of almost an hour a day (moving stuff back and forth).

My Mac/personal setup

This is the setup for my personal Mac. I use it for email, browsing, CodeRanch, working on my book, etc.


  • Second monitor
  • Computer desk with keyboard tray.
  • Riser to get laptop screen at right height
  • Printer
  • Lamp (off for picture to avoid glare).
  • Room for my papers to the right of the computer.
  • A utility desk to the left with books and more papers that I use frequently.
  • A whiteboard with various notes
  • A magnet holding book deadlines. [all of these deadlines are no in the past. I really should re-print the next set of deadlines]
  • Motivational snoopy poster. (There’s another one off screen with Charlie Brown, Lucy, the footbal and “Never ever EVER give up”

This is a good setup. It is ergonomically comfortable and optimized for my productivity. It’s a little messy. But I organize myself spatially. The locations of things means something to me. Which increases the problem with moving all this stuff daily to make it my work desk.

My “temporary” work from home setup

Below is the best I could come up with for a work setup. It’s not great. Aside from being hacked together, the things that I normally store in this spot are now in the living room. Oh and I now see my work area every time I do anything which is bad for work/life balance.

Also, you might notice there’s no laptop. That’s because I moved anything that belongs to my office for the picture (the laptop and papers)


  • I bought this “computer desk” a couple weeks before COVID-19 showed up. My plan was to use it for browsing PDFs while watching tv. Or to put papers on that I wanted to look at while standing. And also, to get a feel for how I felt about a standing desk.
  • I quickly learned that the problem is working on just a laptop. I can’t find any positions where the laptop screen and keyboard are comfortable to both my wrists and back. (It was fine for just browsing PDFs though)
  • I also quickly learned that the table doesn’t stay perpendicular to the floor. That’s what the Kendoku book is for. It keeps the laptop level.
  • I “borrowed” a table that I used to use for other things to be a keyboard tray for the duration. Since the “computer desk” is adjustable, this let me get the right height offset.
  • The next problem with my adhoc setup was that the mouse didn’t fit on the “keyboard tray”. I bought a mouse “potato” to deal with that.
  • Mostly offscreen is a bench/storage thing that I normally use for other things. It’s too low to be a good table for papers so I put Murach computer books under my papers to make them higher. (Murach books are the thickest I have.)
  • Post it notes so I can make a quick note.
  • A phone (also off screen)
  • A coaster to put a water bottle on. (I tend to sip during phone calls)

There’s also a couple of other items you might not expect in a work setup:

  • A beanie baby duck. This is our “Jira” duck for when Jira (or the network) is slow. I was specifically requested to bring it home on our last day in the office.
  • A pink hat. This hat says “Scrum Master” on it. (I’m the team SM as 25% of my job. I don’t use that often, but do sometimes do differentiate when I’m speaking as SM vs team member)
  • A stuffed bunny. On day one of telecommuting, I was frustrated at the speed of screenshare and some other stuff. So I got a personal stuffed animal. I’ve pet it a few times since working remotely so it is staying on the desk!

And the bonus setup

Today I needed a dual monitor. (I’m ok without one most of the time. But there are a few meetings (sprint planning in particular) that would be really hard without. While I was grumbling to myself about the effort to move all my personal stuff/Mac peripherals, I wondered about the effort to just move the monitor. I found a box the right height. (I bought two laser printer cartridges when my last ran out because they were on sale and have been too lazy to open the box. So I moved it from under the pile of books that gravitated on top of it and put the monitor on top.

That actually worked! It’s a reasonable height to go with my laptop and I can see my teammates and the JIra board at the same time. Not keeping the monitor out all the time as it takes a third of my “desk”. And also because I’m a bit worried it might tip over.

Again: there’s no laptop in this picture and the monitor isn’t showing anything so I don’t accidentally get any work in the pic.

I then upgraded with a temporary piece of furniture. I’m going to need to open the toner box at some point. The external monitor is shared between my personal Mac and this setup so I carry it back and forth when needed.

The temporary piece of furniture is because I had to move the garbage can and recycle can to a less convenient spot. I also had to move a chair (so I can’t have anyone over.) Which isn’t a problem at this time anyway.

In conclusion

This is a totally hacked together solution. But it’s the best I could come up with. When I do video conference calls, I’ll use my personal setup and stick the work machine on top of my personal mac for the video conference so I have two screens. I don’t do a lot of typing during a video conference so that should be ok.

speaking at the NY Java Sig and including remote attendees

This week, I spoke at the NY Java Sig reprising my QCon Java 10/11 Release Train talk.It was fun.  Last time I spoke at the NY Java Sig, I was the unplanned “opening act” for the main talk. This time, there were two planned speakers and I was one of them. I went second.

The NY Java Sig was hosted by Credit Suisse. They had 12 remote attendees from their Raleigh, NC office. We were able to hear, but not see them. They were able to see me.

I work on a distributed team so dealing with remote people I can or can’t see is just a part of me. I didn’t realize how much so until this presentation though.

When I present, I try to involve the audience a bunch of times. They raise their hands, vote on stuff, etc. Almost every time I did that, I asked someone in Raleigh to comment on how the vote looked there.

I got feedback at from the NY Credit Suisse representative that this was the first time that a speaker included them. (To be fair, most speakers don’t involve the NY audience either.) The really cool part is that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. It was just part of me; they were attending so I asked.

For this particular presentation, I had offered a couple “free conference level training” available to any of our offices remotely. So I had practiced with people I couldn’t see as well.

working remotely successfully – brad greenlee – qcon

This is part of my live blogging from QCon 2015. See my QCon table of contents for other posts.

Etsy does remote better than anyplace else he worked. Alot of people in Brooklyn office and other offices and people working from home office. He uses “remotes” as a noun as shorthand for “remote employees”.

Advice for Organizations
Number one factor for success is critical mass. Having one remote on the team doesn’t work. Having enough makes communication happen in a remote friendly format. Using chat/email/video conferencing rather than in person/physical whiteboards.


  • Chat – like IRC or Slack. They use channels; not just one on one chat like Sametime or Lync. Have #remotes channel. Virtual water cooler.
  • Shorter, more frequent interactions build stronger bonds than longer, less frequent ones.
  • Etsy is a “reply all” email culture. Use ignore/mute feature so not reading all.
  • A/V – 4 full timers work on A/V. Google hangout wasn’t enough. Switched to Vidio. Remotes type in name of room to join video conference. Remotes never late to meetings so a remote showing on screen reminds the previous meeting to end
  • Make it easy. Don’t want resistance from on sites to including remotes

Info sharing

  • Can attend talks remotely or watch them later
  • Too many people for monthly all hands to attending in person

Other tips

  • For larger meetings, have remote advocate in room – make sure speaker repeats qustions, remotes are header, et
  • Weekly one on ones are more important. Might be only (virtual) face to face. And chance to give inside info everyone in the office knows.
  • Daily standups. Video conferencing in hasn’t worked well because clustered around computer in open office. Async check ins worked better because cross time zones. [we have remotes by phone and it has been smooth. We have a room with a door though and don’t try to do video
  • Make visits special. Take time to talk, have lunch, etc. Make sure to have seat/monitor/etc
  • Try to go remote once in a while to see what person is dealing with


  • Remotes can visit any time they want and company pays for. He visits quarterly. Goal: appreciation
  • Local employees aren’t free. Company pays for desk. Should pay for remote to have good space too.
  • Responsive IT group.
  • Mailed hoodies in advance so everyone got on same day
  • Be mindful of decisions and how they affect remotes. Ex: Friday afternoon beers exclude remotes


  • Open office plans suck – not many quiet spaces to speak to remote
  • Remote collaboration is hard – ex: pair programming. Haven’t gotten enough experiencewith a tool to get past this. Don’t have a good virtual whiteboard tool yet.
  • Fear of remotes/fear of unknown

Advice for remotes

  • Visit at least once a quarter. Socialize when there. Visiting to talk to people; not to sit in corner and code
  • Make sure have proper work environment at home or find a co-working space
  • Some people need a dedicated space for work at home
  • Don’t forget to go “home” at end of work day. If start at 7am to sync with East Coast, don’t feel bad about ending at 3pm.
  • At disadvantage in being heard/seen, so put extra effort into being noticed.
  • Support each other; talk to other remotes
  • Mixer app – created app to randomly pair people and suggest they talk


  • With open office, do headsets help with noise? Sometimes. Other times, cut in and out. People often don’t have a quick call to avoid disturbing neighbors
  • How do you evaluate remote people? Same as in office. What do you get done
  • How look for workers and find those good fit for remote culture? Networking. % of remotes depends on job function
  • If all remotes used to be in person and are now far away, don’t have critical mass. How address? People at company a long time to handle being only remote person better. [presumably because already have network]
  • Agile and remotes? There was a presumption this can’t work. [I disagree and commented to that effect.]

Good talk from both points of view (company/team and remotes). I also saw an underlying theme that Etsy supports remote to get the best employees. Not to save money on office space. Good intent.