There's plenty of our work that's not being done from home

April 30, 2021

By now, we have been working from home for more than a year due to ongoing world and local events. I've wound up with complicated and tangled feelings about working from home in general, but some things about the whole experience are very clear. Back at the start of July of 2020, I wrote about how the work we weren't able to do from home was accumulating. Some of that work has been done in the ten months since then, but a lot of it hasn't been, and in many ways we remain subtly impaired in our work.

We've more or less sorted out ordering physical hardware since last July, with stops and starts. But we're still significantly constrained on what we can order because it still can't be delivered to work. Only some things can be sensibly sent to people's homes and then only in mild quantities. Fortunately we're not in a situation where we have to buy hardware (or perhaps that's unfortunate).

Our use of Ubuntu 20.04 remains low, although it would be higher if not for an issue with the 20.04 version of Exim. Since we upgrade by reinstalling, often on new hardware, Ubuntu version upgrades need someone in the office and we simply haven't had that time for anything except relatively urgent machines. It would be nice to upgrade our user login servers and compute servers to 20.04 so they have reasonably current stuff (it's not the latest stuff any more), but it's far more important to do things like replace our 16.04 servers before 16.04 support ends (a deadline that we only just made).

Every one of us has a backlog of projects that need us to build physical machines. They aren't critical projects but they're ones we have to do sometime, and they mostly aren't getting done. I've gone into the office several times in the past couple of months, primarily to upgrade 16.04 machines but always with the intention of getting some work done on additional servers, and I've never been able to do it. Things always come up once I'm there.

That's another thing I didn't realize ten months ago. When we were in the office all the time, there were a whole collection of small background things that we took care of casually and in passing, the kind of thing that takes five or ten minutes at most. Naturally they aren't being done in passing any more, so a certain amount of my sporadic in-office time gets spent on them instead. We always seem to get less done in the office than we planned and it takes longer than we expected.

(One aspect of that is coordinating any work that needs more than a single person to do something, especially in person. It used to be simple for us to get something racked or the network configuration of a server shuffled around; now, not so much.)

On top of all of the things that are visibly not getting done, some things are getting done slower. We can get the work done while working from home, but it's somewhat slower and more awkward. To the extent that I even consciously notice it happening to me, it can feel like being nibbled by moths.

(I'm quite fortunate to be able to work on a lot of things in a relatively low-friction way, because I can still use my office workstation's VMs. I do a lot of things that require my test machines to be on our networks with good bandwidth, which would very much not work for a VM on my home machine.)

Comments on this page:

We always seem to get less done […] than we planned and it takes longer than we expected.

But is that new? (My experience is that this is true for everything, everywhere – only tasks of the reliably scriptedly repeatable kind, like cooking, can be exempt.) Maybe not, but it is in fact more pronounced now? Or could it just be more visible due to the acute time constraint on office time?

By cks at 2021-04-30 14:44:28:

I think it's somewhat true in general, since the tasks still existed and got done when we were in the office all the time. What's different now is that they pile up undone instead of getting done bit by bit every day. And when we did them everyday, sometimes they got done when we were otherwise waiting for something else, wanted a brief break activity, were walking by the machine room anyway, or whatever.

Written on 30 April 2021.
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Last modified: Fri Apr 30 00:19:35 2021
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