Work from home tips are like a cottage industry now, but I’ve got a real head start on you and I think I can offer solid concrete advice. I transitioned out of being in the office every day back in 2014, and I’ve worked from home and on the road ever since. It’s the best decision I ever made, but it isn’t for everyone and it isn’t ‘natural’ for someone that isn’t used to it. Some people thrive, and others flounder.
When George Clooney was grounded in Up In The Air he didn’t know what to do with himself in Omaha. He got himself a new apartment, went grocery shopping, bought himself a Chrysler Sebring from Hertz. You’re grounded and you’re not going to be going out as much as Clooney’s Ryan Bingham even. You’re going to have to learn how to adjust your life to be productive at home.
In the hopes that you aren’t going to find yourself simply playing Working From Home During A Global Pandemic Bingo I’m here to help. Based on my experience these last 6 years, and preparing as part of a leadership group to extend remote work at my job, here are some work from home tips to make the transition work better for you.
- Have a dedicated office space, and boundaries. This may be difficult to do with more people at home, especially if schools are cancelled and even more so if you’re a primary caregiver. For most people ‘the couch’ isn’t sufficient and you need a space and agreement from others in the household where you can avoid distractions. Figure out where calls will take place that limit noise.
- Be understanding of co-workers and plan meetings accordingly. Something we’re doing at work is limiting group meetings to 9 a.m. – Noon. Individuals can schedule their own meetings based on agreement and availability, but we aren’t insisting people drop everything outside a three hour window. Beyond those three hours it’s up to staff to figure out how to organize their day to be productive.
- Establish a routine. Get up at the same time you’re used to. Take a shower. Get dressed. You can wear more comfortable clothes, but it’ll put you in a frame of mind that you’re ‘starting your day’. Plus you may be doing video calls and want to maintain your reputation with co-workers (at least from the waist up, I’ve done TV interviews over Skype in a button down shirt, jacket and gym shorts).
Here’s one piece my work from home tips offer that you aren’t as likely to read somewhere else: make your bed even if you didn’t used to. It takes just 60-90 seconds. And it’ll help make ‘home’ a place you come home to.
- Maintain connection to your co-workers. A lot of creativity happens during informal reactions and just shooting off, or bouncing problems off of other people. You may be isolated inside. Hop on the phone don’t just IM, and don’t just interact during scheduled meetings.
- Be indispensable. There’s a recession coming (it’s probably already here). Businesses seeing less revenue will lay off employees. I really like the 8 year old classic So Good They Can’t Ignore You that even more important when decisions are going to be made about whom to cut. Many people are going to see working from home as an excuse to take a break, or will let themselves slack off. Those people are easier to cut.
That means managing your public persona as well as your productivity. You may be ‘friends’ with some of your co-workers across social media, or perhaps they follow you on Instagram. Consider when you are posting and what you are posting, and whether they evince the seriousness with which you are taking your work day or makes it appear like you aren’t taking work seriously. Managing your online brand is always good advice, but even more so when your online brand is your brand even with people you used to interact with in person.
- Go outside, walk around, stay active. This is easier for me since I have two dogs and they need to be walked. I’ve also got a home gym and I’ve been doing an hour down there at least twice a week – treadmill, lifting weights, lunges, etc. I bought the cheapest weights I could find on Amazon with free shipping, and ‘Amazon Basics’ bands and other items were surprisingly inexpensive.
- Make use of your old commute time. Over a decade ago I moved from Alexandria, where I had a 45-60 minute commute to work, to Arlington where I had less than a 10 minute walk. That gave me over an hour of extra time each day, and I used it to start an award booking business
- It actually has real benefits. I love being able to drop in on my daughter during the day, to see her routine, have lunch with her sometimes too. Everyone’s going to feel more cooped up but remember that the opportunity to be closer to your loved ones is something to cherish, too. Consider yourself lucky to have a job you don’t even need to leave your family for.
- Figure out your tech. It can be tempting just to ignore the things you don’t understand or have access to. And that may even make sense if you’re home working for just a day or two. But if this goes on a long time, the up front investment in being able to access and use the tools that your coworkers have it going to be crucial for keeping up – and weeks from now you aren’t going to want to ask for help, admitting you haven’t been using them all along. One of the most important work from home tips is to take the time now, even if it seems like a pain.
- Check in regularly with your direct reports, and your boss. Don’t just assume everyone knows what they’re doing, or knows what you’re doing. Your team may not be used to working from home, and may not be reading (or following) these tips. They’re going to need help carving out the right time and prioritizing even more than they usually do and they don’t have the benefit of seeing you to help them do it on a casual basis. Not everything is decided, shared, and fully understood in meetings.
In the early days check in with team members daily, then perhaps twice a week, ultimately going at least weekly. Check in with your boss weekly to norm on your own priorities and make sure they’re in sync. Your boss should know what you’re up to, also, and know that you’re delivering. If value is created in a forest, and no one is in the office to see it, does it make a sound?
- Eat and drink. There’s no corporate pantry, but you have a kitchen. Don’t get sucked into home life in the kitchen but you still need to eat and especially stay hydrated. Creating boundaries from the rest of home life can’t mean boundaries from nourishment.
- You’ll be more easily misunderstood. In-person discussions are easier to glean nuance from, and build personal relationships through. It’s one reason why business travel still matters and videoconferencing can’t replacement human-to-human contact. To the extent we’re sending off more in written word than before (and ‘before’ includes all the slack channel discussions you were already doing, sure) there’s more opportunity for misunderstanding.
A throwaway line gets teken more seriously, a sarcastic aside gets blown out of proportion. Be careful what you write. It may come back to haunt you. I frequently dash off an e-mail – and then wait to send it. I re-read it with a clearer head, make sure it’s understandable, and space from it gives me perspective to make sure it was wise.
- The work never will be done, but you should be. This one is the hardest for me because I love what I do, both my ‘office job’ and when I’m wearing my frequent travel hat. When you go to work there’s an end to the day, even if you’re someone that works late. There are people to come home to, but now you’re already home. There are social obligations, but there will be fewer of those. It’s important to end the day. As long as you’re following the rest of these tips you’ll be productive enough even if you do.
- Even when it ends, this won’t end. Work is changing, and this experience will change work. Companies are being forced into an experiment, even ones that were averse to remote work, and they’ll see where it’s gone well and where it hasn’t. The best companies will learn lessons, iterate and improve going forward. There will be more remote work after this, not less, so learn from the experience now because you’ll be better situated for the future.
Those of you that have done it before, too, what are your best work from home tips?