The past year has seen a lot of change in my professional life. After spending 17 years working from home on my own business, my involvement in our startup Health Wave, has meant that I’ve returned to an office environment after nearly 2 decades of working alone.
While there have been some adjustments on my part in getting used to working in the same room with others, in an open space environment no less, for the most part the transition has been pretty seamless. Amongst our team, the subject of working from home has come up a few times. Braatzy (our CEO, who is used to working in ANY environs thrown at him, be it office, train, airport, taxi) suggested I impart a little wisdom and guidance on how to do it the right way (or at least in the way that it works for me).
First off, let me opine that I don’t think working from home is for everyone. There are some people who need the externally imposed structure of an office, set hours and someone checking in on them offering guidance. And for those that will be successful at it, it’s still a learned process. Looking back to 1995 when I suddenly had to start working out of my house, I realize that it probably took me at least a year to get disciplined and do it correctly.
So here are my thoughts about how to make the transition:
- Have a dedicated space for work. I can’t stress enough how important it is to pick an appropriate place in the house to work from. Working from the kitchen table or from the couch isn’t going to cut it. While some people may have a small apartment and don’t have the luxury of a free room, if you have an office, spare bedroom or some other space (preferably with a door), stake out that spot and consistently use it as your work area. For me, I’ve almost always had either a spare bedroom or an actual office with a proper desk.
- Respect the bounds of the office. Again, this may be difficult if you have limited space, but as much as possible, treat that space and your presence there as “work time”. It’s important to let your family or housemates know that when you are in your “office”, treat it like you aren’t home. The same goes for you when you are finished working for the day. Close the door, leave the space and put work aside.
- Always shower and dress for work. I’ll bet some people laugh at this because one of the romantic notions of working at home is “hey I can work in my pyjamas”. I never sit down to my desk without first having showered and dressed for the day. It just puts you in the right frame of mind to treat home and work as separate places, even if the trip to work is 10 steps down the hallway. As to dressing for work, I’d say you’d look pretty silly wearing a suit, but dressing in a manner that would be presentable (even if casual) in front of a client or co-worker will put you in the right frame of mind to do better work. Check out what this recent Cracked article had to say about it.
- Have consistent hours. As much as possible, start and end your workday at the same time. It’s very important to keep work and personal life separate. When I first started working from home, it was very tempting to just work on into the evening every night. Eventually it takes a toll on you and you’ll actually become less productive. There’s nothing wrong with working til 5 or 6 and having dinner and then “going back to the office” from 8 to 10 some nights. Just don’t try to combine the two, like working in front of the TV in evenings. When you are working, you are working. When you are relaxing, relax. You can’t cheat the system.
- Get rid of distractions. One of the big pluses in working from home is many office distractions are eliminated. There’s a lot of time wasted in offices with people socializing beyond a reasonable amount; with excessive meetings; and from just spacing out because of the lack of airflow or some other comfort complaint. The advantage of working at home is that you have complete control over the environment. Don’t squander that opportunity. I personally like listening to music or possibly some talk radio while working, so long as it doesn’t break my train of thought. Is a TV a great thing to have in your office? Probably not. Tempted to try to do laundry and kill two birds with one stone? Not a good idea. Being a stone’s throw from “home” makes it really tempting to try to multi-task household duties. The stop-start of juggling work and home will eat away at your time in small chunks, but more importantly will interrupt your train of thought while trying work through whatever task is at hand.
- Get out of the “office”. I mentioned that traditional offices have a lot of time wasted with excessive socializing. But we are social creatures and do need that on a regular basis. I’ve found it really a great break in the day to schedule a coffee with a friend or a Skype session with a colleague. You will go crazy if you are cooped up all day, every day alone. I found that I needed to schedule a coffee, lunch or some other break on a regular basis to keep me from sitting in front of the computer for extended, endless sessions. Go for a bike ride at lunch or play a sport (I play ball hockey) to break up the day. You’ll find after the break, you’re excited to get back into work.
- Don’t be a slave to technology. This one extends to any work environment. I’m astounded by how many people jump every time their phone rings, when they get a text, when they receive an email, an instant message comes in and on-and-on. Instant communication is a blessing and a curse. If you allow yourself 5 or 6 different mediums to be distracted, you’ll take hours to accomplish what you could have in single hour. Computers can multi-task; human brains really can’t most of the time. If you need to be available, pick ONE means of access and tell those who need to get you what that is. Turn everything else off. Resist the temptation to hawk over your email and instead check it at timely intervals through the day – most of it doesn’t require your immediate attention.
I’d love to hear comments and feedback from others in their experience working from home. It’s great if your employer gives you that freedom to do so. Make the most of the opportunity and prove to them that you’re capable of making the most of it.