My Experience of Remote Work – Interview with Denys Tsuman

Remote work became a new temporary reality today. Denys Tsuman, RoR Developer at one of Daxx’s clients store2be, told us how he (as a full-time employee) copes with remote and home-office work and those challenges it brings to us.

Denys Tsuman

1. Tell us about the project you’re working on. What is your area of responsibility?

I work for store2be, a German company located in Berlin. We build a B2B platform to help businesses organize live marketing events for their projects. Basically, it’s quite like Airbnb, but around marketing events of all kinds.

I work in the engineering team as a Senior Back-End Developer. But speaking of responsibilities, it’s not that straight in here. Our platform team works with an approach, which slightly differs from the typical  Scrum one. But that’s only on paper, in practice it ends up with dynamically changing sub-teams, areas of responsibility for each member and the whole workflow in general, from cycle to cycle. You can read more about it here, it’s worth it.

2. How do you feel working remotely? Have you had such experience before?

I worked remotely or half-remotely during my whole experience as a programmer, which is more than 6 years. So I do have what to say here, and I believe that remote work is often overrated. To say more, last time I was looking for a job I didn’t even consider remote-job options, whatever conditions they offered.

However, I can agree that it depends on a person, but I all-hands for work in the office with flexible (but still with some boundaries) working hours. My productivity in the office and within the “normal” office hours is way better than during the “remote working hours”.

Moreover, it’s really nice to be able to divide work and personal life, which you can’t when you work remotely. Hipster blogs are telling about the wonderful flexibility you’re getting, but actually that leads to the fact you just work the whole day. And that’s even worse when you’re paid hourly.

3. What are the pros and cons of remote work personally to you?

The one I already mentioned, if you’re not an army-like person, the workday will probably take at least several hours more, compared to the office day, and up to the whole day.

The productivity depends on the discipline, but I would say it’s lower anyway. I believe that even the best remote workers would do better being in the office. Of course, there are exceptions, but for a majority, it works.

Another obvious thing is social isolation, which is easier to handle for introverted people, but still, in the long run, it may have a strong negative impact on the psychical condition. I am not really a social person, but still, it’s quite hard for me to be out of society during the day, and the longer the worse.

But of course, it couldn’t be that bad. There is just one pro of remote work, but it’s huge — an ability to travel, not just to take vacations, but actually live in other countries. I believe it’s the best way of traveling the world, exploring other lands and cultures. During the last couple of years, I “lived” in 5 countries: 4 months in Portugal, 3 months in Sri Lanka, a month in France, a month in Germany, 2 weeks in the Netherlands and a bunch of short trips — which would be barely possible with usual office work.

Speaking of myself, it’s hard to overestimate this benefit. Working remotely while long-term traveling allows you to live almost like a local, to build your daily routine, to get a lot of friends and acquaintances (several of which I have a strong connection with, through years) and to find the spots and impressions which really hard to get being there for several days or a week.

The challenging part of that, though, can be building a working place in the new city, which is a topic for another article, but in short, there are many possibilities: classic ones like co-workings, hubs, public areas, libraries, and more inventive ones, like a corner at the friends’ restaurant, closed pool bar and so on (not to mention short-term ones, such as buses, beaches, cafes, trains, roofs, etc).

Pics of some nice remote workplaces with locations they are based at:

Portugal, Praia da Luz. Self-organized co-working place at the pool bar.
Remote work - Portugal 2
Portugal, Lagos. Co-working in the former ancient monastery.
Remote work - Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, Mirissa. Hidden restaurant at the beach.
Remote work - Sri Lanka 2
Sri Lanka, Ella. Hotel public area.
Remote work - Sri Lanka 3
Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay. Dedicated full-day work-desk and evening work at the friends’ fish restaurant.
France, Capbreton. Co-working place near the ocean beach.
Remote work - Berlin
Germany, Berlin. Store2be office (a deployment hat).

4. How did you organize your workplace?

To be honest, I didn’t. My workplace is pretty ascetic, I don’t use any fancy tools, multi-monitors, standing desks, ergonomic chairs and so on.

I know many people do, especially multiple monitors, external keyboard and a mouse. But I don’t know, I tried several times — it just doesn’t work for me. So my setup is as simple as possible, just a laptop and a paper notebook (and an old table and a chair belonging to the apartment).

Work from home space
Denys’ work-from-home space.

5. How did your working routine change? You also don’t need to commute to the office now. How do you spend this time?

Speaking of pros of remote work or, in particular, half-remote — during normal times (it’s quarantine these days) I used to start a day at home, slowly, and then around 10-11 am, I drove to the office. I feel completely awakened, and traffic is much lower. But now, when I’m fully remote at home, the traffic is not a problem anymore.

I usually wake up at 8 am, make coffee, work about an hour, have breakfast, work till lunch around 2-3 pm and then finish my workday around 6-7 pm.

Regarding those spare hours, I wouldn’t put it that way. I used to have time issues, tried different time management techniques, but still, I always have daily plans which need way more time than a day can fit. Now, during the quarantine, it became simpler, but even in these conditions, it turned out I still don’t have enough time. So for me, there is no such question as what to do with 1-2 extra hours — there is always some stuff expecting for this time.

6. What about communication with the client and the team? How did the process set up? What digital tools do you use? How often do you have sync-ups?

From my experience, remote work can really differ depending on how a company organizes it. Store2be is quite good in this perspective, that is the first company I work for, with such a developed and well-organized remote workflow.

Moreover, eventually, this works not only for remote employees: only a third of our team is remote, but another third is temporary or occasionally remote, and others work from home time to time.

The main points to achieve are the following:

  • quite a lot of meetings of different kinds, regular and occasional ones;
  • Slack channels for work-related and non-working topics actively kept up by both on-site and remote employees;
  • all online and offline processes of the company are well-documented, which allow to quickly join and be up to date;
  • regular 1to1s with the team members and the founders;
  • full transparency within the company, among the employees, founders, and stakeholders;
  • other online and offline activities, built in a way to keep the team united.

In the end, these points actually work. Recently, I had a chance to check it when I moved to Berlin for a month and worked on-site this time. Surprisingly, there was no “communication gap” at all, as it usually happens, and it felt about the same as it was remotely.

Regarding the sync-ups, normally we have regular video meetings: daily stand-ups, tech-training once a week, pair-programming once a week, company-wide update once a week, tech discussions once in two weeks, 1to1s once or twice in two weeks; and occasional meetings if needed. That can sound a lot, but actually, it’s not that big part of the working week, but it definitely has benefits.

7. Do you work out and watch your nutrition while working remotely?

Well, I’m doing sports and trying to follow a proper nutrition course, regardless of working at home or at the office. But for sure, it’s a lot easier while being in the office — mostly because of the cafeterias around and gyms on the way home. Meanwhile, when working from home, you mostly have to cook by yourself and organize your sports activity more intentionally.

Although, the quarantine version of work from home is different. That didn’t change much of my food behavior, but sports time decreased significantly. I’m still doing some training, but it’s way less than usual.

Denys and his cat Piggy
Denys is feeding his cat.

8. How do you balance your work and family?

I don’t have much to say at this point: I assume children are the most trouble makers and I don’t have any. So mostly it’s alright for me.

But still, sometimes we all experience it’s like:

9. What would you recommend to those guys planning to work remotely?

Still, it’s possible to organize your remote workflow, minimize its negative sides and enjoy all the advantages, which it surely has.

My first and main advice is this:  don’t work from home, even working remotely. You should find a place suitable for full-day work.

There are enough of them in Kyiv — for any taste. From the huge library of Yaroslav the Wise (with wi-fi, lots of desks and almost no visitors) to a variety of coffee spots and cafes. Eventually, the city is packed with different sorts of co-workings.

If you got the first one, the next one is to find a person to work with. That will be really helpful so you won’t feel isolated and you both will keep each other disciplined and productive.

With two of these, you’ll get almost the same experience as working in the office or even better one. I used to work like that, with a friend of mine, for a couple of years, and it was a great time: it was efficient enough and really fun and unusual, I still value that experience.

But speaking of actual work from home, I can give just several tips, but they lead to a bunch of positive work habits.

1. Have a strict workday schedule.

2. Create a morning and lunch routine. The best option would be to include going outside, get some food or coffee or have a meeting, etc.

3. Use time-trackers. Not for reports to your employer, but for yourself. It gives two main outcomes:

  • you’re getting noticeably less distracted when you have to start and stop the timer for every YouTube video you get a link to;
  • you know what amount of time you actually work (which can really differ from the feeling you had), and that can be a signal to either boost the productivity or to finish the day, depending on how it goes.

As a result, using a time tracker you work less time, but produce more.

And in the end, the most important bits of advice:

  • don’t work in your pajamas;
  • don’t work in your bed;
  • don’t sleep till 1 pm.
Denys and his cat Piggy 2
Denys and his cat Piggy.

A huge thank you to Denys for sharing his extensive and exciting remote working experience with us!

Before you go, read our remote working tips here.

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