Sanely working at home day-in and day-out isn’t easy. In the midst of so many people suddenly thrust into the world of working from home, I’ve had a number of people ask recently how long I’ve been officing from home and what I thought was a key to doing so effectively.
I had to stop and think before realizing that, to varying degrees, I’ve been working remotely for 22 years and managing remote teams longer still. Combining that with my work with so many great brands over the years, and I would distill it to these top four keys:
Shut the Door
I don’t recall the source, but I had heard early on that remote workers either become slackers or workaholics. Slackers because of distractions from all that needs to be done at home (yardwork, laundry, dishes, etc.). And workaholics because work is always right there, and it’s easy to slide back in to check the email!
Now, I’ve been fortunate to have dedicated office space at home. I can close the door when the workday is done and not continue to see my workplace. If you don’t have the luxury of a door, at least shut down the computer and put your work away in a drawer. I still keep a “clean desk” folder at my desk to clear everything away into at the end of the day.
Bonus: Be sure to shut down or mute your computer so you don’t hear the alerts – better, set a do not disturb schedule. Remember, you’re not at the office after hours.
A door can also be a great signal to family members. If the door is open, I’m handling something light, like email, and can be disturbed. If the door is closed, I’m in a meeting or head-down in work. Just don’t let the latter be all day.
Keep Your Commute
This took a while to get. When you commute to work, regardless of the mode of transportation, you’re spending that 15, 30, 60 minutes or more psyching yourself up for the workday ahead of you. It’s important time that prepares you mentally for the workday. The same applies on the way home; it’s a time to decompress from the workday and mentally prepare to engage your loved ones (cats and dogs count… especially dogs!).
It doesn’t matter whether you listen to podcasts or music while driving, or you read the paper on the train. It’s important that you maintain these routines. It’s okay to replicate this at your desk. It’s perfectly fine to sit in the car in your driveway for your commute time. And these days, it might just save your sanity to get out of the house and actually drive around the neighborhood for 15 minutes while listening to your playlist.
We regularly encounter our colleagues around the workplace when we’re physically there. These informal interaction are meaningful socially and help us get to know one another better than we ever will in meetings. Plus, these engagements strengthen our ability to work together effectively.
Over the years, I’ve gone so far as to actually schedule “water cooler” time on my remote teams’ schedules. This was not to talk shop, but to talk about weather, sports, the latest episode of whatever folks were watching, etc. It was our virtual break room. Sure, it would feel a little forced at first, but people got to enjoy and appreciate it.
As easy as it is to videoconference with our tablets and smartphones, consider planning to have lunch with your work friends. It can be wonderfully satisfying to break bread together with your lunch mates right across the virtual table from you.
Bonus: Leave your desk and go to your at-home “break room” (aka the kitchen table)! Have a physically different space from where you work.
Early in my telecommuting days, some would occasionally be put off by the background noise of children playing, a dog barking or a lawnmower outside my office for a couple minutes. Now that we’re all at home – many of us with a spouse or significant other and the kids – we’re all experiencing the delightful distractions.
First off, make the most of this time (and your mute button)! Second, be sure to extend grace to others. We all need it!
We’re all in this together!