Remote Working: Lessons from PC Days (Pre-COVID19)

Remote working has become more and more common, and in my career, it has been essential (in a pandemic, vital).

Robert McKeon Aloe
6 min readMar 19, 2020

Essentially, I have been working remotely since college, and living remotely from family and friends all my life. Remote working has been particularly key once my family started to grow. At the same time, there are negatives to working from home even part time, and some potentially dangerous pitfalls.

This article was mostly composed pre-COVID19, and I published a previous article about working from home with kids. This gives more of my history and some lessons I learned.

A common sight in my youth

Growing up, I was always away from family. When I finally felt settled in Texas, we moved to France for my last two years of high school. The next two years as a lot of AIM and just trying to stay connected to my friends back home.

Maintaining relationships through the later years was key considering no matter where I have lived since, I have had friends and family far away. First it was AIM, then MSN Groups, then LiveJournal, then Facebook, then iMessage/WhatsApp, and now a lot of FaceTime or Webex. It went from less personal to more personal over the years.

College with Mobility

Thanks to technology, I had a computer and the internet, so much of my course work and projects were done at home instead of an engineering lab. A USB drive resolved moving work from one work station to another. My single flash drive was my most cherished possession. 128 Megabytes that contained everything I had ever worked on; I have files bigger than that now. I was blown away that I could walk around with essentially my life’s work up until that point. I wrote some 1,000 pages of philosophy that year, plus my journal, and school work.

When I went to grad school, I got a laptop making me ever more mobile. On top of that, my department used AFS (Andrew File System) so that my files were accessible from any computer connected to AFS. This meant I could work from many computers and even switch my work machine without much impact to my work.

Working Remotely at the Start

During my first job, I worked from home in Pittsburgh and traveled often to the office in DC. I logged into a server with multiple external hard drives to support my data habit. It allowed me to maintain a clean environment while I traveled back and forth, and when I was running long experiments, I didn’t have to worry about closing my laptop or running out of battery power.

When I started at Apple in 2014, they were just pushing this collaboration idea where multiple people were able to work on the same document. It relied on the Cloud, and it took some time to get really good. Suddenly, we stopped passing documents with revision numbers over email, and instead, we all got tagged in a collaborative document. This was amazing because we could also see the additions to the document live as people were editing it.

Initially, at Apple, when there was a meeting, nobody would call into the meeting. Everyone would show up, and many projects didn’t require large audiences or people that were physically located somewhere else. This is the same reason calling into meetings at my previous company was difficult; it was the old way of doing things.

Cultural Shift

When I started on Face ID, this meeting culture began to shift slowly and then suddenly. The project was so large and required so much collaboration, calling into meetings and video conferencing became necessary. Then it became comfortable.

The project involved so many teams in different buildings and around the world. Meeting times had to take geographic location and local culture into account. For example, Israel has a work week equivalent to Sunday through Thursday because of the Jewish tradition. This meant that one day for their week and one day for our week involved no overlap.

Moving into a building like Apple Park brought some new and interesting video calling norms. Often teams would call in from the other side of the park because when you have back to back meetings, it’s hard to plan for a ten minute walk in between. It became more normal for people to work from home or call into a Webex.

The most interesting effect of the Corona Pandemic 2020 is that suddenly, everyone that can has been thrust into working from home for some unknown period of time without much training. For people that have worked from home before, the discipline and expectations are easier to manage. For others, they make the fundamental mistakes that give remote working a bad name.

Here are some tips for success at remote working, which go from something more optional to vital when there is a pandemic:


  1. Overcommunicate: text, call, FaceTime!
  2. Respond faster than you normally would.
  3. Don’t wait as long (i.e. a few days or a week) for a response before following up. Text, then call, then FaceTime, then escalate.
  4. You lost random office interactions, so you have to make them artificially.
  5. Build relationships by small talk, getting to know your co-workers, and general check-ins.
  6. Force yourself to participate more in virtual meetings because you don’t have the normal body language and presence to help communication.
  7. Try to meet face to face if possible.


  1. Learn to share and work on documents with others; most document apps have a collaborative functionality
  2. Don’t wait until a document is finished to share it with your manager. It allows them more insight into your work and more opportunities to course correct that normally are covered by random interactions

Office Visits (You know, when the pandemic ends):

  1. If you’re remote working and occasionally coming into the office, then you have one priority during your visits: talk to people.
  2. Put your face in front of others so you don’t seem invisible, but during a pandemic, stay six feet away.
  3. Get to know new people; wash your hands afterwards.
  4. Use every chance you have to interact.
  5. Office visits are concentrated relationship building times.
  6. Be present in meetings and participate (even online!).


  1. You have to work the same whether you are around people or not.
  2. Remove distractions, turn off social media, and keep the tv off.
  3. Take breaks, work appropriate hours, and end your work day to help separate work from home.
  4. Keep a task list to allow you to task switch quicker.

Working from home or remotely can give a flexibility in your work that many are grateful to have, but it is the double edge sword especially when you have other people not working on the same thing as you. Whatever the case, without active examination as to what allows you to succeed working from home and what doesn’t, working from home will fail.

Some times working from home is mandatory as you’re trying to do your part to combat a pandemic.



Robert McKeon Aloe

I’m in love with my Wife, my Kids, Espresso, Data Science, tomatoes, cooking, engineering, talking, family, Paris, and Italy, not necessarily in that order.