Tim’s Takeaways: Working From Home–The Benefits and Rewards

A few months ago, when the COVID-19 outbreak first started to impact how we all live and work, I wrote a column titled “Working From Home—5 Tips for Newbies” with my recommendations for being more successful while working from home. Having worked out of my own home now for 17 years, I’ve discovered a few things along the way, and my hope was that my experiences might be helpful for others. 
 
Five Tips
Now that a few months have gone by, and working from home is becoming the new norm, let’s review these recommendations again and see how everyone is doing. Here’s an abbreviated recap of my five tips for working successfully from home.
 
1. Set an Alarm
One of the biggest traps that can derail an attempt to work from home is failing to keep to a regular schedule. It becomes easier and easier to sleep in, and soon, your 9-to-5 workday has turned into 12-to-8, leaving you feeling more exhausted than before. To maximize your productivity, set your alarm, get up, get dressed, and jump into your regular workday schedule.
 
2. Build a Nest 
If possible, set up a spot in your home that you can designate as an office area (Figure 1). Not only will it signal to everyone else in the house that you are “at work,” but you will also be able to step right into your work without having to first search for a quiet corner of the house. Haag_0720_fig1.jpg
3. Manage Interruptions
How do you tell the people that you love and share your home with to “go away and stop bugging me?” The answer is that you don’t. Instead, you gently manage expectations so that everyone understands your schedule. If interruptions happen (as is bound to happen with children in the house), don’t let them frustrate you. Instead, try to look for ways to include everyone in what you are doing so they don’t feel disconnected from you.
 
4. Smile: You’re on Candid Camera
If you are set up for video conferencing, use it. We humans need to see and interact with each other. You wouldn’t hide behind a mask in a meeting at the office, so don’t hide now at home. Even if it doesn’t help you directly, it will probably help others. I know of one engineering manager who has made it his policy to leave his camera on all day long so that other people can see him and know that someone is always available for them.
 
5. Reach Out 
There may be members of your own team who are struggling during this time, especially if they are extroverted and rely on regular contact with other people. Please seek them out and check in with them. If you can help your co-workers to succeed, then you will succeed as well.

I started with these five tips, but there are many others. I would love to hear about your methods for staying productive while working from home, so please don’t be shy about sharing with me. Who knows—maybe we’ll update this list to include your ideas in a future column.
 
The Benefits and Rewards
Now, let’s talk about some of the advantages of working from home. Of course, there are the obvious ones, such as saving money on commuting. I finally put gas in my car last week for the first time in three months. You can also save money on clothing and eating out, too—although, at this point, I think I would give a week’s pay just to sit down in my favorite restaurant again. But what about some of the other benefits that might not be as obvious but are still equally rewarding?

One pleasant surprise has been that, for many of us, life slowed down just a bit. Instead of the day whizzing by in a blur, I’ve discovered I am more focused on my work—and I was working from home to begin with. But with fewer external distractions that used to divert my attention, I’ve found I now have more clarity in my daily tasks. 

Working from home also freed up time for some to invest in online education for both professional and personal development. For myself, I find I am doing more research into new design topics and ideas, with the byproduct of expanding my professional network. 

Haag_0720_fig2.jpgAnd just for whimsy, I took the time to put together a 1,000-piece puzzle (Figure 2). Without my regular lunch appointments or errands to run, I was looking for a new way to take a break during the workday. It took me a month of lunches (along with some additional late nights), and just a tiny bit of frustration, but I got it done. I don’t think that I’ve built a puzzle since I was a kid (not counting board layout, of course).

Our entire industry has had to learn new ways of doing things, and it has been encouraging to see how both individuals and corporations have responded. One example is the increase in design-based webinars and online training sessions over the past few months. Even with the cancellation of some regular conferences and classes, the design information is still available online. 

A second example is observing EDA vendors respond so quickly to those using their software to work at home without disruption to their workflow. And while engineering and other tasks are being accomplished remotely from home offices, management teams are devising new ways to support their at-home staff. There are even resources available for leaders who need help and ideas in this new world of managing teams remotely[1].

Our jobs and our industry aren’t the only areas where we’ve seen some of the benefits of working from home; however, there are personal rewards as well. For instance, I’ve talked to many couples and families who are cherishing the unexpected opportunity to become reacquainted with each other. Families are spending more quality time together, neighbors spend more time talking over their fences, and personal projects are being worked on at a furious rate. My wife and I even put in a small garden this year, which is something we haven’t done in a long time.

Conclusion
The problems related to COVID-19 are not something to be trivialized, and many have suffered greatly. I know that it is a long road to recovery, getting our personal and work lives back into balance. But for the moment, we can look at the silver linings and be thankful for many things. And as could be expected, the PCB design industry has become (in my humble opinion) one of the champions in this changing world in which we work. Well done, designers, you’ve done an exceptional job. Keep up the good work, everyone, and keep on designing!  
 
Reference
1. E. Bailyn, “How to Manage Remote Teams Successfully,” First Page Sage, April 30, 2020.
 
This column originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of Design007 Magazine.

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2020

Tim’s Takeaways: Working From Home–The Benefits and Rewards

07-31-2020

Now that a few months have gone by, and working from home is becoming the new norm, Tim Haag reviews his five tips for working successfully from home and explores the benefit and rewards.

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Tim's Takeaways: Navigating Industry Expectations

05-29-2020

While some expectations are normal—and, well, expected—in the workplace, there are also those that do more harm than good. Tim Haag unpacks negative expectations and shares suggestions for improving communication in the workplace, as well as positive expectations that you can set for yourself.

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Tim’s Takeaways: Working From Home—5 Tips for Newbies

03-24-2020

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many people who have worked in an office environment for their entire career have suddenly found themselves shifted to working remotely. At first, this may seem like it isn’t that big of a change, but it may be a bigger deal than you realize. Tim Haag, who has worked from home for over 17 years, shares five tips for making the most of this situation and working successfully from home.

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Tim’s Takeaways: Clearing Up the Buzz

02-14-2020

My first “real” job in the world of electronics was working at a Radio Shack store back in the late ‘70s. It was a step up from flipping burgers, but it didn’t last long. However, there was one notable aspect of that job; I was there during the time that Radio Shack introduced its first personal computer—the TRS-80. Although it is practically unimaginable now, in those days, there wasn’t much in the way of personal computing available for the general consumer.

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2019

Tim's Takeaways: Realizing a Higher Standard for PCB Design

10-09-2019

To the untrained eye, one circuit board may look pretty much like any other, but as we know, there are major differences between them. Not only are they different in purpose and design but also in how they are manufactured for specific industries. If you are designing medical equipment, for instance, you will have to meet many different regulatory requirements from organizations, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), among others.

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Tim's Takeaways: Clear Communication Takes the Cake

07-10-2019

Whether baking a cake or building a circuit board, it’s all about clear communication. If the person writing the recipe had not made the choice to clearly communicate what their intentions were for baking that cake, I would have been lost. A missing ingredient here or an incorrect oven temperature there and my birthday surprise would have ended up in the garbage in the same way a successfully built circuit board starts with clear communication from the designer. Circuit board manufacturers want to create a perfect PCB for you, but they can only do so to the extent of the instructions that you give them.

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Tim's Takeaways: Rules Keep You from Crossing the Line

06-20-2019

Driving rules are designed to keep drivers between the lines of traffic instead of crossing over those lines into dangerous situations. Similarly, design rules are also intended to keep PCB trace routing between the lines instead of crossing over them as well. But you might be surprised how many people refuse to use the full potential of their DRCs to protect themselves, and in some cases, refuse to use them at all.

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Tim's Takeaways: I Think I’ll Go for a Walk

04-08-2019

Many years ago, my boss at a PCB design service bureau had his own unique way of encouraging us to take a break. He would come through the design bay and call out in his deep baritone voice, “DARTS!” and we would all follow him into the break area for a quick game. In addition to the benefits of taking a break, forcing our eyes to focus in and out as we threw a dart was a great way to relieve us all from the eye strain of older CRT monitors.

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Tim's Takeaways: A Job Worth Doing

02-28-2019

I get it. We PCB designers are made of the kind of tough stuff where we will work ourselves to death if given the chance. But in our all of our efforts, are we really doing it right, or could we somehow be doing it better? Let’s take a moment to consider some other ways that we might help ourselves to improve.

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2018

Tim's Takeaways: Contract Positions—Go the Extra Mile

10-10-2018

For newbies just entering the industry or experienced designers who have always worked for a corporation, the transition to contractor can be a real culture shock. The allure of working from home and setting your own hours can quickly be replaced by the realities of chasing jobs and wondering where your next payday will come from. However, there are some wonderful aspects of working as a contractor that can make it very worthwhile.

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Tim's Takeaways: Where Have All the Designers Gone (and Who Will be Taking Their Place)?

08-17-2018

We have a lot to pass on to the new designers. We must stress the importance of understanding of the roots of our industry and why this design knowledge is important. I have worked with many designers who don’t understand anything about the output of their design files. They go through a procedure, hit a series of commands, and presto: The design files are all wrapped up in a neat little zip file ready to go out to the manufacturer. That’s all well and good, until something breaks or a manufacturer has a specific question. It would be a great thing to make sure that the designers of tomorrow understand what a Gerber file and an aperture list really is.

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Tim's Takeaways: Hiring the Right PCB Designer

06-04-2018

Like the rest of you, I’ve had times of unemployment, when your daily job is looking for work. You find yourself writing and then rewriting your resume, searching online forums and job search sites, and applying to every job that you can find. I’ve also hired people, and I know what hiring managers face. But hiring managers may be hurting their companies by drawing up a list of expectations so tight that highly qualified people may be slipping between the cracks.

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Will Cool Technology Attract the Next Generation of PCB Designers?

04-17-2018

If I had the opportunity to design some boards that went into medical detection equipment like my new blood pressure cuff, I would be extremely motivated to do that. Maybe what we should be focusing on is not just playing with the new toys, but showing the younger generation different ways to think about how they can improve upon these new toys.

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Customer Support: What do PCB Designers Really Want?

03-19-2018

First, let’s throw a leash around the elephant in the room. That’s my way of saying, “Here are some things that designers want, but we in the support business just can’t give it to them.” The first one that comes to mind: Customers have asked, manipulated, and even tricked me in their attempts to get free software.

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Tim's Takeaways: Good Support Isn’t Just for Customers

03-06-2018

I have been working in PCB CAD tools customer support for years and years, and it isn’t that often that the tables are turned and I have someone who is supporting me. I’ve got to say, it was a pleasure being the recipient of some quality support.

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2017

True Design Efficiency: Think Before You Click

10-09-2017

At the captive shops that I’ve worked with, where the designers were more involved in the entire design cycle and had better access to the corporate libraries, staff engineers, etc., the story was often the same. Some designers would jump into the deep end of the pool of design without any thought to drowning while others would be so busy lacing up their life preservers of preparation that they would take too long getting out of the shallows and into the depth of their design. So, what’s the best approach here?

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Tim's Takeaways: It Really Wasn’t My Fault

09-07-2017

I once received verbal instructions from an engineer who directed me to make a certain change. I didn’t think anything of it. Many months later, this same engineer told me that there were troubles with the board and all its successive versions because of the change that I had made. He ended up making it right in the end. But in hindsight, what could I have done to save myself a couple of months of suspense and worry?

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Tim's Takeaways: Stepping into the Great Unknown

08-16-2017

Many years ago, I was given the opportunity to switch my career path from senior circuit board designer to CAD systems administrator. I wasn’t certain that I wanted to give up the comfort of being a designer; after all, I had been one for a long time. But I knew that this transition would help my overall knowledge base of everything CAD-related, as well as better position me in my quest for a management position. So, I pulled the trigger and accepted the new job even though the idea of stepping into the great unknown like that was very intimidating.

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Tim's Takeaways: Design Tools of Tomorrow--A Real 'Marvel'

04-05-2017

Imagine if you could interact with your design as a hologram floating in front of you the way Tony Stark did in the movie "Iron Man." Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could pick a section on your holographic design with your hands and expand it to the point where you could peer into it, spin it around, and manipulate it as you desired? Want to push a trace down to a different layer? Just give it a nudge in the right direction and the holographic display changes it to the next layer. Don’t like the way a certain area fill looks? Then just grab it with your fingers and pull it out and throw it into the virtual garbage can.

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Tim's Takeaways: 'Sparks' to the Rescue in RF Design

01-03-2017

Just like the early days of radio where Sparks the radio specialist was in demand to get the job done, we now need RF specialists to work together with electrical engineers to create the intricate designs required for RF circuits. You are now Sparks, the go-to specialist who will take care of RF design business.

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2016

The Basics of Hybrid Design, Part 3

06-16-2016

The world of hybrid design is growing, and we have lots of hybrid-specific functionality built into our software that helps designers meet and conquer the unique hybrid design requirements that they are faced with. And yet many designers out there (and I used to be one of them) have no idea what is meant when people start talking about hybrid design.

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The Basics of Hybrid Design, Part 2

05-16-2016

In the first part of this series, we discussed the basics of hybrid design from the PCB designer’s perspective, and here we will continue that discussion.

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The Principles of Hybrid Design, Part 1

04-25-2016

What exactly is a hybrid design? We are seeing more and more of our customers exploring the world of hybrid design, and we are getting new customers for whom hybrid design is their sole focus. The world of hybrid design is growing and we have lots of hybrid-specific functionality built into our software that helps designers conquer the unique hybrid design requirements.

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2015

Tim's Takeaways: The Utility Belt

05-12-2015

The utility belt is a great thing to have. Batman would be long dead without his, and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor would be useless without his. But for a circuit board designer, a utility belt is equally important. All of us at one time or another will have questions about the CAD system we use, and one essential tool to have in your utility belt is a list of people you can go to for help. At the top of this list should be your CAD system’s friendly customer support staff (like me).

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DFM: The PCB Designer as Arbitrator

04-08-2015

Design engineering is usually a combination of electrical and mechanical engineers. Although these two groups can have their own dramatic conflicts between each other, they will usually end up working together because they ultimately serve each other’s needs. But the manufacturing engineering requirements usually come from a completely different department or from an outside manufacturing vendor.

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2014

Like it or Not, You're a Role Model

12-24-2014

"During the years that I built my skills as a circuit board designer, many people helped shape my character. Some were impulsively brilliant at laying out a board, while others were steady and consistent in their approach to work, dotting every 'i' and crossing every 't.' But they were all patient with me, answering my questions, showing me the ropes, and setting good examples for me to follow," says Columnist Tim Haag.

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Blink and You Will Miss It

11-05-2014

Tim Haag writes, "Friedrich Nietzsche said, 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' Well, that adage certainly proved to be true in my situation. If I hadn't been ripped from my secure position and forced to contract for a short season, who knows how my future would have eventually unfolded. And if it hadn't been for that brief season of hardship, would I have had the strength and flexibility to succeed later on?"

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Tim's Takeaways: Blink and You Will Miss It

11-05-2014

Tim Haag writes, "Friedrich Nietzsche said, 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' Well, that adage certainly proved to be true in my situation. If I hadn't been ripped from my secure position and forced to contract for a short season, who knows how my future would have eventually unfolded. And if it hadn't been for that brief season of hardship, would I have had the strength and flexibility to succeed later on?"

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There Are No Stupid Questions

09-10-2014

Many of us who have been designing boards for years have had to deal with annoying questions from "the kids." You know who I mean: The rookies, newbies, greenhorns, or puppies just starting out in their design careers. We've all had to answer questions like, "Why is library development so important?" or "Why is solder mask green?"

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Tim's Takeaways: There Are No Stupid Questions

09-10-2014

Many of us who have been designing boards for years have had to deal with annoying questions from "the kids." You know who I mean: The rookies, newbies, greenhorns, or puppies just starting out in their design careers. We've all had to answer questions like, "Why is library development so important?" or "Why is solder mask green?"

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Design Rule Checks - For Your Protection

07-09-2014

Columnist Tim Haag writes, "I have designed multitudes of PCBs over the years, but I have a confession to make: It can be hard for me to run that final design rule check. I know that it is important, but at the end of a long design cycle, I just want to be done. I don't want to redo anything, and I sure don't want to look at my own errors. Do any of you feel that way?"

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Tim's Takeaways: Design Rule Checks - For Your Protection

07-09-2014

Columnist Tim Haag writes, "I have designed multitudes of PCBs over the years, but I have a confession to make: It can be hard for me to run that final design rule check. I know that it is important, but at the end of a long design cycle, I just want to be done. I don't want to redo anything, and I sure don't want to look at my own errors. Do any of you feel that way?"

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Customer Support: Not Just for Customers Anymore

06-04-2014

Columnist Tim Haag writes, "In my role as the customer support manager, I have seen plenty of examples of customer support. But my point here is not to focus on customer support as a function of a support technician. Instead, I want to explore the concept of how we should all strive to provide the best level of customer support in our jobs, no matter what we do."

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