Sunday, March 22, 2020

So You Have To Work From Home --- Now What?

The work from home (WFH) experience is going to be new to a whole lot of people, but not for me. I've been working from home (off and on) for more than 30 years after having a few kids in the early 80's. In the late 80's, I was asked if I could write some software (to interface with cash registers and produce back-end reports) and I said sure (with no experience at all with cash registers)! When I was done writing that successful product, I started my own software business from home.

Everything was quite different in those days. I connected to "chat rooms" for technical information using a modem. Those chat rooms eventually became "forums" (where I made many friends). The Internet was there (although it was typically referred to as the World Wide Web), but it was nothing like it is today!

My business morphed into software contracting and finally (after being tired of being a "starving programmer"), I worked as an employee at a number of companies over the next 20 years ... some companies insisted that everyone work on the premises, others (the enlightened companies) allowed work from home. All in all, I've worked from home much more often than not.

In the last 30+ years, I've learned a lot about being productive in a home environment. These things apply to everyone who has to work from home, whether you're an office worker, in management or in the tech industry.

Get A Room!

First, you've got to have a space dedicated to work. A separate room is preferable, but not always possible. I've been lucky to have a separate room that I could dedicate as my "office space" in every house (or apartment) that I've lived in. Sometimes, you just *have to* be able to shut the door!!  ;0) 

At the very least, you should have a space where you can spread out all your work stuff and keep it there. Setting up your work stuff on the dining room table, that needs to be used for eating dinner every evening, is not an ideal set up. But, if it's all you've got, you've got to at least be organized. Maybe keep your stuff in a large Rubbermaid container, or something similar, that can easily be moved.

Get Connected

Every job these days entails having a computer, if only for email if nothing else. You'll most likely need a way to connect to the company network from home. The best way is through a VPN (Virtual Private Network, which is highly recommended for security purposes). There are other methodologies for connecting, such as TeamViewer and LogMeIn. Your company IT people should be able to help you get going with the setup for remote connections.

Endless Meetings? Nah!

You'll also need to be able to conduct and/or attend virtual meetings. It can be done solely with phone conference calls, but frequently a meeting needs to have the ability to share screens or have a camera to show a whiteboard or other things that aren't on a computer (and also, to see your co-workers "face-to-face"). There are plenty of virtual meeting software options, such as Skype, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams and more.  

The up-side to this is that you and your co-workers can probably do away with a lot of excess meetings, since a lot of the communication can be easily accomplished with email. If that's not working for a particular problem, for whatever reason, then don't hesitate to have a phone call or use the meeting tools.

There are a lot of distractions in an office environment (people popping their head in your office ... hey, ya got a minute for a quick question?) These kinds of distractions interrupt your work, but they're so common in an office environment that people don't even think about them as disruptive to your concentration.

The company that I currently work for (we all work remotely) has instituted  "Office Hours" from 9:00-10:00 AM and from 2:00-3:00 PM ... during each of those one hour time slots, everyone is fair game for interruptions with work-related questions. And when you're really busy, you can ignore email outside of those two time slots and address them only during the appropriate time slot (unless, of course, it's an urgent matter that needs addressing immediately).

Balance Working Hours With Private Hours

Figure out what will make you feel like you're "at work". Some people like to get dressed in work clothes every morning (well, maybe "Casual Friday" kind of work clothes). For some, it's that first cup of coffee, or sorting through your email or reading a work-related website. For me, it's the coffee ... I usually work in my bathrobe for a couple of hours first.  (I know, TMI ... ha ha)

You should figure out what your work hours will be and then stick to it! If you don't, it can impact you in two different ways:

One way is distraction ... oh, I just need to do this one thing first before I start work (which may balloon to a few more things), etc.  Well, think about it ... when you actually had to drive to the office every day, that "one thing" didn't get done before you went to work, did it? So, don't make it any different now that you're home all day. (Although, granted, you might have to be more flexible if you have children who are home from school).

The flip side of distraction is working too much. It's an easy trap to fall into ... your work is right there at home and it's easy to be tempted to keep working longer than you would at the office. Don't do it ... at the end of your self-appointed office hours, that's it. Don't even think about work. Now is your personal/family time and work will wait until tomorrow morning. 

Bottom line: it's all about good work habits. In other words, discipline!

Make Time For Yourself

Take a lunch break. A real lunch break ... don't make a sandwich and take it back to eat at your desk. Eat lunch in the kitchen, or on your back deck/balcony/whatever if it's a nice day.

Exercise. You'll be a lot more sedentary working from home (without those trips to the water cooler to gossip with your co-workers). Take a quick 10 or 15 minute walk, run or bike ride at lunchtime or mid-afternoon. If the weather's not cooperating, just walking around your house will work too (especially if you have stairs you can go up and down).

And Finally ...

This emergency situation won't last forever (hopefully). You may find that working from home suits you just fine! You may find that you're way more productive at home than you could ever be at the office (without sacrificing your "me time"). And your employer may discover that many of their employees *can* work productively from home and start allowing it on a regular basis.

Stay Safe!  =0)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Bonnie,

    I absolutely agree with everything you wrote.
    ... And not only during this new situation.