How to Work from Home When You Don’t Work from Home
I have been working from home for years and it has been through that time that I set up parameters for myself. I am not a “set in stone” schedule person but I do have guidelines that help keep me focused. For those of you who are just entering the work from home territory and are struggling, it is OK. I’d hazard a guess that your colleagues are also struggling. I will share some of my early learnings, as well as tips shared by others, that may help you settle into your home office with a little more ease.
Let’s start with what you truly need; technology. If working from home is new, you may not be sure you have what you need. Your employer should set you up with the basics like a laptop, charging cable, headset, virtual private network (VPN), and the handy “help line” phone number for technical difficulties. You will also need a strong internet connection and you can verify the speed of your internet service here. If you are an independent career development practitioner, the above tools will also benefit your initial work from home set-up. Over time, you will learn what works and what does not.
Now that there are so many of us working from home, what about virtual office etiquette? We have all been on those calls where the dog is barking, kids are screaming, or a phone is not on silent and causing all kinds of background noise. Although this may be annoying, this is life. Most people I know are now at home and have a make-shift office that is far from perfect. How can we help each other through this time of change?
To minimize distractions, if possible, set up a separate home office. The ideal workspace is one where you can close a door for privacy, but we also understand if your office is the dining room table. If you have kids at home, you may consider a “working rule” of sorts. For example, you have the left side of the dining room table and they have the right side of the dining room table. You may also want to consider scheduling “Quiet Time” where your children could be working on a puzzle or reading a book while you participate on a conference call. A friend of mine taught his 13-year-old about planning and together they created a matrix to schedule his day between homework, screen time, exercise, and family time.
Other ideas, especially if you have children at home:
- Play outside with the kids just before you need your quiet time.
- Set up a “novelty” bucket of activities or toys that are new and for use when you need to hold “Mom/Dad Conference Calls.”
- Virtual baby-sitter — teens need a job, too! They can use technology to sing a song, play an instrument, or read a book out loud. This would help both the teenager and little one stay occupied while you make that important call without distraction.
If you work with a team, it will be important to set standards. Working in an office allows for quick cubical conversations but how do we simulate that environment when we are scattered across the city or around the world? How do you know when your colleagues are available?
- Determine what the “normal” hours of work are. Is there an opportunity to flex this time? We also need to be cognizant of time zones.
- Block a regularly-scheduled meeting to touch base with your team.
- Use calendars to know when your colleagues are available.
- Discuss with your peers when to call versus sending an email. For example, if the team has a standing meeting every Friday, can any questions wait until then?
- End meetings 5 minutes early to allow for back-to-back calls and potential connectivity issues. For example, a 10:00am – 11:00am call should end at 10:55am.
Scheduling your time may also help with planning and accommodating family obligations. Your work may dictate this through mandated conference calls and virtual meetings, but you can also block your time. It is important to include buffer time for ad hoc meetings or personal issues that may require your attention. When there are distractions (personal or work) ask; can this wait? One colleague uses a white board for her kids to write on rather than blurting out what is needed. This allows her to stay focused while her kids have a way to communicate their needs.
Flexibility with your time is important, but starting with a schedule may be helpful to keep your workday on track.
Here’s an example of a partial-day Monday to Friday schedule:
Working from home can leave us feeling isolated and alone. What can you do to create virtual inclusivity for you and your colleagues?
- Set up video calls to humanize communication. Tools for consideration: Zoom, Skype for Business, Cisco WebEx
- You may also benefit from impromptu SMS messaging. Tools for consideration: Slack, WhatsApp
- Acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, and other family milestones.
- Celebrate work wins like project completions, contract negotiations, and other success stories.
- Have fun with the situation. For example, my sister jokes with her daughter about the annoying office colleagues who drink all the coffee, eat all the snacks, and leave the kitchen a mess: she is talking about her daughter’s Stuffies.
Years ago, I felt like I needed to over-compensate for the benefit of working from home. I thought it was necessary to be online at 7:00am and still check emails after 7:00pm. What I have learned is that without office socialization, water cooler talks, and other chatter, my time is quite focused. I often come to realize that I’ve been at my computer for 2.5 hours without a break and that is not healthy! In summary, we often work longer and are more productive once we get into a flow at home. To support balance, here are some tips that you may find helpful:
- Take breaks. Taking more small breaks will benefit you and your productivity.
- Background music or white noise might benefit, especially if you have kids or pets at home.
- Dress comfortably but put yourself together. Respect dress code policies.
- Take stretch breaks, get some fresh air by going for a short walk, or meditate for a few minutes.
- When you do pause, step away from your desk. Take lunch and snack breaks away from your work area.
- Have a hard start and end to your day.
- Create a mental commute — what can you do to transition from “work” to “home”? My “commute” involves preparing a small snack that my husband and I enjoy after our workday and, on occasion, it also includes a nice glass of wine.
If working from home is new for you, be kind to yourself. There are many helpful resources available online. Remember that structure can be good and helpful for making this transition, but flexibility is also important.
Michelle Precourt is a Career Coach, Recruitment Expert, and Registered Yoga Teacher based in Vancouver, Canada. In addition to providing first-rate career coaching, she draws from her yoga and meditation expertise, instructing clients in calming techniques for better interview performance and workplace success. When Michelle is not working, you will find her practicing yoga at a local studio or hiking in nature with her husband. Learn more about Michelle and her work at https://michelleprecourt.com/