I’ve worked from home on and off for the last 8 years. Lots of us romanticize working from home. You can work in your underwear! You can run errands! You can lounge on a back patio and work at the same time! Your house will be clean, you will have an awesome tan and people will ask if you’ve just gone somewhere tropical. You will smile and announce “No, I get paid to tan!”
A couple weeks in to your new dream job, you are lonely, unfocused, and (still) wearing your PJs. Your skin is pale and you’ve forgotten how to talk to people you meet in person.
The reality of working from home sets in. It’s difficult to be present in your job while doing errands. Multi-tasking doesn’t work. The sun glare on your monitor ruins the “working from outside” dream. (BTW as soon as that problem has been solved I will amend the working from outside statement – I’m never giving up that dream!). Your coworkers aren’t sure what you’re doing all day, and you can’t shake the feeling that you should be working – 24 hours a day. Unless you are lucky to make a living doing what you love, being at home does not make your job suck any less. You’ll just be at home with nobody to complain to.
However! Give it three months, stick the these rules, and before you know it you’ll forget that most of your interaction with other beings involves your cat.
Video Conferencing – Use it
This is the best tool I’ve discovered over the last couple years, and has greatly altered my perspective on WFH. Yes, the same techology once associated with “cam whores” now powers my productivity as a WFH employee. I’ve got a camera on me at my home office, and a stationary monitor at the main office displaying my video. My coworkers always know where to find me, and when I visit the office in person, I sit at this same spot. This is my “virtual head” that keeps me in mind. It works, I promise.
Before I get in to the general WFH tips, here are a few specific to the camera-from-home lifestyle:
- Be nice! Remember it is probably more uncomfortable for the folks on the other end of that camera than it is for you. Speak up, smile, invite conversation and interaction.
- Get a buddy. Ask (nicely!) your manager for their support, and a coworker to conference in to meetings or other events.
- Camera Etiquette. Keep your camera on mute unless you’re talking. Always remember when the cam is on. You will forget at least once, but probably never again after that.
- Use it. Keep your camera on during business hours. This will communicate to your coworkers that you are available and interested in engaging with them.
General WFH Tips
- Create a space: Just as you would at an office, create a dedicated, clean space with your necessary work tools and put a door on it. Preferably this is a room that isn’t used for other activity – you want an area that won’t distract you with thoughts of house chores or projects. Close the door at the end of the day.
- Routine: Just as getting up, dressing, eating, coffee, commuting and saying hi to coworkers is part of a “normal” work day – do as much as you can at home to recreate this. Say hi to your coworkers virtually.
- Boundaries: Keep business hours. In my job, “business hours” extends to on-call, during which time I’m not on camera. However, when my co-workers are in the office, I am too. At the end of the day the camera goes off, the laptop closes, I shut the office door and am “done” with the day. Sometimes going for a walk or taking a bath helps the transition.
- Hallway Conversations: This is one of the loudest and strongest arguments I’ve heard against telecommuting. You miss out on “hallway conversations” when you’re remote. This is an area where you do have to reach out more than your fellow coworkers. It is much more awkward for them to ask you personal questions when you’re at home. Asking personal questions of your coworkers while they’re in their work space, however, is natural. Ask how their weekend was. Share something about yourself, your space. My coworkers know more about my cats than anyone else, but I’m now a part of their water cooler conversation. It is easier to bounce ideas off of my virtual head because of this connection.
- Dress for success: OK, I admit over the years I’ve become more lazy. But doing my hair, putting on makeup, dressing like I would in the office are parts of the routine that can get me in the mood for a full day of concentration. Plus, you never know when Lady Gaga or Suze Orman are going to stop by your virtual head.
- Light-meetings: Meetings and telecommuting continue to be a challenge. I’m able to do this work remotely in part because my meeting schedule is light. While I can conference call to a meeting, it is difficult engage in the rapid fire discussions that occur. Whether in disagreement or a brainstorm of great ideas, having to interject myself can take some of the excitement out of the moment. This is a bummer. My suggestion: ask for notes sent out afterward, and book your calendar solid with in-person meetings when you’re in the real office.
- Go to the office: Plan on this at a regular interval that will let you maintain some order in your life, but often enough that you don’t use it a as a vacation. When in the office, walk around, visit coworkers at their desk, schedule meetings – formal and informal. Eat lunch with strangers. Have coffee with people from other teams. And go out with your own team after work for those drinks you would have done if you were in the office regularly.
Don’t watch TV. Don’t skip meals. Don’t disappear without letting your coworkers know where you are. Don’t assume you’ll be included without gentle reminding/nudging. Don’t take it personally when you’re forgotten.
Be present. Know what’s happening in the office. Communicate. Make up for your lack of physical presence with email, chat, phone calls and anything else available to you.
Everybody has a bad day. At the office, you can signal these bad days by wearing headphones, keeping that “F off” body pose or finding an unused conference room for the day. Thankfully for us, it is as easy as turning off the camera for the day and putting yourself in email and IM mode only. Block off your calendar. Take the downtime you need, because that IS a perk of working from home. And if you didn’t stick to all the rules today, forgive yourself and try harder tomorrow.
Take advantage of the advantages
My coworkers are fed catered lunches (and sometimes breakfast and dinner) every day. I miss that. However, I use my lunch time and afternoon breaks to prepare scrumptious meals that I would otherwise have no time or energy for if I were doing a regular commute. My “commute” time is a few minutes, so I sleep in longer than my co-workers. And sometimes I really don’t have to wear pants.
This is what works for me. Do you have your own tips you’ve learned through experience? I’d love to hear them!