Pushpins. Yeah, pushpins…pushpins in the wall. When thinking about what I miss the most from my cubicle dwelling days, that’s it. It wasn’t always that way. Originally, the idea of moving from cube-working, office politicking, 8-5 worker to that of an at-home, on-the-go teleworker was music to my ears. Then I did it.
The transition from cube to home was tougher than anticipated. It’s kind of like an impulse purchase; you get it home and you quickly begin second guessing yourself. After a ton of trial and error, mental highs and lows, and scattered productivity slumps, I finally perfected it. Today I have my ideal workspace, my ideal understanding of productivity, and my ideal rules. Without any one of those, I’d be toast.
Before you go begging the boss for some nomadic freedom simply because it’s the cool thing to do, consider how you will adapt. Think ahead to your daily routine. Here are my rules and lessons learned after 7 years of working at home for a corporation:
- Get used to solitude.
This is especially true if you are working in the capacity of a programmer, tech support agent or telesales worker. Results are expected and you have to perform and learn to ignore the lonely feeling you will encounter. Motivation has to come from your need to advance, make more money, win awards, etc. You will not get the ‘good job’ handshakes that you are used to. This is a serious one — come to terms with it if you want to work from home and not have ill-will towards your boss and/or team.
- Be seen, be heard.
If there is an ultra-important meeting, go to the office — especially if several layers of executives are going to be present. When you have to express a deep opinion on something, nothing is stronger than someone seeing your facial expressions and conviction. Do not expect the same response from co-workers if you only choose to join the big meeting via an audio or web conference.
- Designate THE spot.
This sounds obvious but many people are SO eager to work from home that they give this no real thought. If your plan is to toss your laptop on the kitchen table, you are in for a rude awakening because you will think of work every time you sit down to eat your Wheaties. It will lead to a misery. Even if live alone, you must consider choosing a spot that is not a ‘home’ area. This means no bedrooms, family rooms, or kitchens. Choose a place that you can actually depart from when the workday is over so you can shutoff your work-brain and turn on your personal-brain.
No, I am not going to tell you that you need a phone. However it’s worth mentioning the fact that working from home doesn’t indicate that company property becomes free to use for personal activity. You are still using a company laptop and most likely connecting through a VPN whose traffic is somehow monitored. The rule is simple — if you wouldn’t search for jobs at your office today, don’t do it from the company laptop just because you are at home. You would absolutely be shocked at the things I’ve seen teleworkers do. You will also need a virtual mailbox, you can choose the best mail forwarding service at GetNewMailBox.com.
- Eat & Shower.
I really hate to admit this, but I am bad at showering. When I wake up in the morning, I grab some tea and I head to the home office in my sweatpants and t-shirt. Next thing I know, it’s 2:00 in the afternoon. Not only do I miss the shower but I miss two meals as well. Do that for 3 days in a row and the spouse will start to think you’re a bum. So, schedule in a shower and a meal. In all honesty, it wakes you up and it’s well worth the 15 minute time investment. Silly as it sounds, this is seriously an issue for people (including me)!
- Dress the part.
In line with the showering bit, you should be keen to the notion that someone may invite you to a last minute web meeting with video. If you are able to work effectively in your shorts, fine, but have a business shirt handy. Some people need to dress up in order to get into the business mood. If you are one of them, dress as if you were really heading into the office.
If you have kids, you must immediately establish a Do Not Disturb policy. It could be a sign on the door, instructions to the spouse, or anything that will tell everyone in the house that you are in the middle of something. My rule is simple. If I am not on the first floor of the house, I am not available. It helps that I built an office in the basement, but you get the drift.
- Task Confusion.
Sure, the lawn needs to be cut, but 1:00 on a Wednesday is not the time to do it. Remember, you are WORKING, so during business hours, stick to business! I can’t believe how many people and neighbors I see outside frolicking when they should be working.
I have a TV in the office but it’s only used when I am working at night. Aside from that, it is never on. When you are just beginning, choose a workspace that doesn’t have any TVs in view.
- Weekend Working.
For a lot of people, working on the weekend is a must. You must set guidelines with your spouse that weekend projects are not weekend getaways. Your office time has to be just that, office time, regardless of the day.
- Online Meetings.
Find a good online meeting service. There will be times that you need to go over a Powerpoint or an Excel document and clearly you don’t want to go into the office simply to show someone a graph. There are plenty of free services out there but choose carefully. My time is worth more than saving $250. If you are dealing and meeting with customers, don’t choose a garbage service.
- Last but not least, the Sauce.
After a hard day I’d love heading to a bar for a beer with by co-workers. Well, when you work at home, happy hour cannot come early. Use common sense and stay away from alcohol until the real workday ends. If you started at 5AM that morning and want to end the day at 3:00, remember that no one else has that luxury so always expect a call at 4:45 that needs your attention. Drunk dialing your ex is one thing; drunk dialing a customer is not to be forgiven.
So that’s my take on working at home. If you can do it without watching TV or mowing the lawn, do it — for sure. You will get a lot more done and it will allow you to focus on things that actually make sense to your development.