Keeping up with our series on Zags working remotely, we pick up with David Machado ‘10. David and his wife, Christine (you probably remember her from our first week of Fired Up Friday) are fellow Spokane dwellers, where they’ve lived for about seven years. David works at Automattic as a Business Analytics Engineer, helping transform data into information that can be used as input in decision-making scenarios. Automattic is the parent company of familiar brands like WordPress.com, WooCommerce, and Tumblr, and has embraced distributed work since its founding, 15 years ago. David studied Accounting and Finance at Gonzaga and earned a master’s degree in Data Science through Lewis University. He is also a Certified Public Accountant.
How long have you been working from home?
David: I’ve been working from home since I started my current job with Automattic in May 2018. I also completed my master’s degree via an online program. So, all-told I’ve studied or been working from home for about 4 years.
David: Broadly speaking, I’d say that the greatest benefit to distributed (remote/work-from-home) work is that it expands the realm of possible job opportunities that are available—it democratizes opportunity. Narrowing the focus to the day-to-day realities of working from home, I find great benefit in the ability to focus more deeply than I could in an office. Other things like no longer having to commute, not having to worry about planning for lunch, and having my own coffee readily available are certainly positives in their own right, as well.
What are the most challenging aspects of working from home?
David: The most challenging part of working from home is probably the added layer of friction to communication. Without the ability to just swing by someone’s desk (or room, in the case of residence halls), bump into colleagues in the hallway, or hop into a conference room to brainstorm on a whiteboard together, some of those serendipitous solutions to problems are a bit harder to find.
What three tips do you have for individuals who are new to working from home?
David: First, make sure to take breaks, as needed; but also protect blocks of focused time. Because you’re at home, there are generally fewer natural breaks and, where there are natural breaks, they’re shorter than normal. As some examples, your kitchen is closer than the dining hall and your bathroom is probably closer than the one in your residence hall or academic building. It’s easy to not take enough time for your brain to recharge. The flip side of taking breaks as needed is to avoid distractions when you are focusing on work/class. Because there’s less socially-enforced etiquette at home, it’s easy to have your phone out and distract yourself. Sometimes I’ll leave my phone in another room to avoid distraction and help direct my focus on the task at hand.
Second, find a routine that works for you, and use that routine to your advantage. I’ve found there are certain parts of the day where I’m more or less productive. For example, mornings are my most productive time for work that requires a lot of heavy thinking, so I try to tackle my really complex tasks before lunch. Mid-afternoon is my least productive time, so I use that time to catch up on communication/messages from around the company. Depending on the day, the end of my day either comes with a second-wind of focus or continues that mid-afternoon slump, so I’ll react accordingly.
Third: Communicate, communicate, communicate— even to the point of over-communicating. Communication is challenging in a distributed work or learning environment. All the extra cues we get from being face-to-face—things like body language and tone—are absent in text, and only partially apparent on video. Thinking about a classroom environment, in normal circumstances, your professor can “read the room” and see cues that students might be experiencing confusion. In a distributed classroom experience, that extra data for the instructor disappears. Definitely ask questions or provide feedback more frequently than you otherwise would normally.
What technology platform(s) do you find especially helpful to as you work from home?
David: I’m a big fan of both Slack and Zoom. We use these pretty heavily throughout the week, particularly Slack. Slack is great for quick text-based communication or 1:1 calls. Zoom is great for video chat, particularly for groups of three or more. I haven’t used it, but I believe Microsoft Teams offers similar functionality to Slack.
How do you create community with your work colleagues without actually being in the same location?
David: My company recognizes the importance of bonding with colleagues, so over the course of a given year, we meet up with our teams in person two to three times per year (obviously, we’re not doing this at the current moment). Because of those times we’ve spent together in person, I’m able to regularly joke around with my colleagues in Slack and Zoom. GIFs and emojis do wonders for making text chat fun and creating inside jokes and deepening the feeling of community. At its core, the maintenance of community ties back to that mantra of “communicate, communicate, communicate.”
David: I do find having a dedicated work space in my house (just a table in a corner of a room, not anything super fancy) helpful. It is beneficial to be able to treat a particular space as “the place where I do my work.” That way, I can feel like I’m away from work when I’m not in that space, as opposed to feeling like there’s no separation between work and everything else at home. With that said, sometimes I feel the need for a change of pace, so I’ll periodically work from my kitchen dining-counter or, when the sun’s out, my back patio.
Do you usually dress for work or comfort?
David: I’m going to cop-out and say both. I dress in clothes that are comfortable, but not what I’d necessarily call “traditional” work clothes. Usually something like jeans and a flannel or shorts and a polo. Sometimes a bit more casual. With that said, I do always get dressed for the day (no rolling from bed to work in pajamas). That’s part of my routine that helps me prepare for a productive day.
Do you have any funny stories related to your work from home experience?
David: I don’t think I necessarily have anything laugh-out-loud funny. But I have experienced a lot of joy with my colleagues as a result of the way that working distributed gives you a window into each other’s lives beyond work. My coworker on my immediate team works from his backyard shed (and accidentally ruined his WiFi connectivity once when he tried to insulate the shed). Another coworker lives and works from a 400 square foot apartment with her partner, who is a professional alpine climber—there are Patagonia coats everywhere in that apartment. You see colleagues’ office setups change as they move house or give up their old office to be a nursery for a new baby.
I wish all the current GU students the best. The current situation is certainly not ideal, but I hope that it can still be a time of productive learning and living in community.
We, hope so, too, David! Stay tuned next week when we talk with Gonzaga and Career & Professional Development alum, Shelby Wells.