Let’s talk about working from home.
So the whole damn world is on lockdown, or should be, and those of us that can work from home are doing so. This is good! It’s better for the economy — which is absolutely going to take a hit, so having some portions able to continue to function and those employed in those portions able to keep spending money will help the recovery.
(And, let me just say this out loud: If you’re in a job that isn’t impacted, and you expect to keep getting a check, SPEND SOME DAMN MONEY at places that are hurting.)
But working from home is a new idea to lots of you. You might never have really done it before — sure, that one time little Sally Sue had the sniffles, and you “worked from home” to take care of her, but at the time it meant you called into a staff meeting and sent 12 emails. This, candidly, is not that.
I, on the other hand, have worked from home for most of the last 19 years, in a no-shit home office. Let me tell you a few things I’ve learned about being truly productive away from a communal office environment.
Work your regular day. It’ll be tempting to drift in and out; that just sabotages you. Try to get some shit done. Nobody’s gonna come by and chatter about some stupid reality show! There’s no big play to discuss from last night! You can be hella productive!
Use a chat tool. Doesn’t matter what it is — my company just uses plain old Skype — but by signing in and being available, you signal to folks that you’re In The (Virtual) Office. This is useful. There are lots of options for this; ask a nerdy coworker if one of them seems to mesh better with your office than others.
Get dressed. This varies — not everyone needs to do it — but I’d advise y’all that are new to WFH to go ahead and get up at your normal time, take a damn shower, and put on adult clothes. You don’t need to dress in full biz-casual, but do put on a pair of pants and a decent shirt. Then, you can signal to yourself that you’re DONE working by changing into lounge clothes after quitting time.
Establish boundaries. There’s a real tendency in new WFH folks to let the barrier blur a LOT between work-time and family/personal time. Don’t do this, at least not at first. Again, you’re new to this mode of work, so take care to avoid disrupting either home life or work life by allowing one to intrude on the other. (I do this by only RARELY taking my laptop out of my home office.)
Designate a work space, and keep to it. Not everyone has the space for a true dedicated home office, but everyone can establish a place that is Work. Don’t make it the couch. Use one end of your kitchen table, or put something together in a corner that is now Your Office. Stay there when you’re working. It’s waaaaaay too easy to let “I can work ANYWHERE” get in the way of actually getting shit done, so don’t vary from this rule until you have a pretty good handle on it.
If this becomes an ongoing thing, buy (or expense!) a desk. A chair, too. I’ve seen some WFH setups that made MY back hurt just looking at them. Ergonomics still matters if you’re at home; take care of yourself here. You don’t have to go nuts on this stuff; just get something that’ll work.
Buy a headset. Seriously, buy a damn headset. Don’t be the guy who joined the telecon on a speakerphone and introduces crazy echo into the call. They’re not expensive, and don’t have to be giant heavy affairs. Mine is super light.
Upgrade your home internet. Since I work at home full time in a major city, I have the fastest internet connection you can buy (1Gbit symmetric). This is probably more than you need, but if you’ve only ever been occasionally streaming Netflix and scrolling Facebook, you may find the demands of constant conference calls and screen sharing and VPN connections to exceed the capabilities of your package. Talk with your provider about a bump, especially if your office will subsidize the increase.
Bring your second monitor home, if you’re used to using one. This is self-explanatory — just do it. While you’re at it, grab your mouse and keyboard, too, if you prefer them to your laptop.
Close the door. If you’re not at home alone during the day, close the door to your work area if you can. I realize this may not be possible if you’re also juggling your suddenly un-schooled kids, but if you CAN do this it’s a good idea.
Embrace the flexibility. You’re at home! This means you can, if you want, get a load of laundry done, or put something in the slow cooker, or do something similar with your coffee breaks. Don’t slack off this way, but you absolutely can and should lean into this aspect of WFH — it can be a real game changer. (At our house, if I didn’t do some of the laundry during the workday, we’d DROWN in workout clothes.)
Finally, you CAN and SHOULD (if it bothers you) say NO to video. Video rarely adds much to a conference call, and makes many people feel self-conscious. It also clobbers your bandwidth. Your camera can be “broken” or “for some reason it’s not working” or, if you’re senior enough, you can just say no. Video is great for talking to your mom or other loved ones, but in a biz context it’s mostly sizzle with no steak except in pretty narrow contexts. Avoid.