How to Work from Home Successfully

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Well, it’s been a week, huh? I live in NY and while my particular community has yet to be hit by the Coronovirus, our government has issued guidelines and rules for handling (and hopefully slowing) the spread of the virus. As of about an hour ago, my kids schools are closed through mid-April, as are our local colleges and universities. The impact this is having on our economy both locally, nationally and internationally is staggering.

If your job allows, there is a good chance you’ve been asked to work from home if not out right ordered to do so. I’ve been working from home for almost 18 years now, basically for all but 2 of my professional years. Working from home can be a dream come true – but it can also be a nightmare. You have to set yourself up for success and that means discipline, utilizing the tools and resources you have and communicating with your employer, coworkers and family about your needs.

Here are a few things I’ve learned to be successful over the years:

1) Set a schedule. Get up at the same time every day- whether it’s 5:30 am or 8 am, pick a wake up time and stick with it. Once you’re up, set your new routine. When life is normal, I feed the kids and make lunches while Scorch is in the shower, then I shower and we’re all out the door within an hour. I drop the kids off and have roughly an hour until I have to go to work. I either hit up the gym or I run errands, but once 8:30 comes around, my day starts. Now, I’m guessing I’ll be up by 6:30, exercise, shower and get dressed before the kids roll out of bed at 8. Then I’ll help them with breakfast and try to start my normal day at 8:30 am.

2) Get dressed. When I started working from home, the Hubs made me promise to get dressed every day. I thought he was silly – but he was spot on. Even pre-kids when I didn’t have to actually leave the house every morning, I would still get up, eat, shower and get dressed. I don’t put on dress clothes, but I damn well get out of my PJs and put on clothes I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in on a video call. Jeans or legging, bra, decent shirt. I do my hair and throw on a bit of makeup in the winter. I’m on 1-4 hours of video calls a day, sometimes with a minutes notice, so looking like a professional keeps me in that mindset.

Chris Farley meme - Chris is wearing a suit and tie with his hair all messed up.

3) Have an office.  Or something akin to it. I don’t have an office- I haven’t had a separate space just for me since the Bean was born. But I do have my corner of the couch and the kitchen table. During the day, that’s my domain. God willing, when our addition is done, I’ll have my own space but until then, my mind knows when I sit down at either of those designated spaces, it’s time to work. When I work with my headphones on in the common areas, my kids know they can get my attention and chat with me. When I move into my bedroom and close they door, they know I’m in a meeting / working on something important and it’s time to leave me alone. It’s not ideal, but it’s what we’ve got for now.

4) Be transparent. If you’re going to step away from your desk longer than it takes to make lunch, run to the bathroom or change out the laundry, put a notice up and/or tell your boss. I have a weekly chiropractor appointment- that’s on my calendar for all to see. If I need to run to the store or take a kid to a last minute appointment, I ping my boss. Last Thursday, the Bean got sick and I had to take her to the doctor’s at 9 am, then I had to pick Scorch up at school at 11:30 because he had a half day. All those things happened before my coworkers, most of whom are on the west coast, started their day so chances are, they’d never know. But I know working from home is, most of the time, a privilege and I’m not going to abuse that.

5) Be in contact. Use allllllll the tools at your fingertips, especially if you’re used to being in an office. Slack, Zoom, Hangouts, Jabber – there are a ton of tools that allow you to stay in contact through chats and video meetings. If you’re used to seeing your coworker for a 5 minute debrief every morning over coffee, schedule that meeting to catch up! Set up a Slack channel to share what you’ve been working on so your team knows what you’re doing- then set up a channel to share funny memes to help keep you sane.

 

6) Cut out the distractions. As awesome as all those chat tools can be and as awesome as the freedom of working from home brings – sometimes it’s too much and it cuts into your productivity. You’ll find you can most likely get more work done at home once you’re in the groove- but you have to find that groove first. For me, that means making sure my living / work area is neat, and any chores (like putting food in the crock pot, starting laundry) are done. It’s putting up a 2 hour block per day (if I can) to just work- which means silencing my notifications and, in some cases, turning off the wifi.

 

7) Set limits. Just because you can work at all hours of the day, doesn’t mean you should. Your work hours may have to change (more on that next), but that doesn’t mean that you should regularly be putting in 12+ hour days if you normally don’t. If your usual hours were 8 – 5:30 in the office, that’s still your work day. Unless your job requires it, there is no need to be answering emails at 1 am or responding to chats. Set limits so you can still have a work day and a personal life – when the two bleed too closely together, your house can feel suffocating.
Maurey Povich meme that states: You said that working at home will give you lots of free time. The face that I haven't got up from this chair in 7 hours determined that it was a lie.
 

8) Ask for flexibility. So all these tips and tricks are AWESOME – but there is a big wrinkle if you’re a parent. Honestly y’all, I don’t know what in the world to tell you if your kids are little. I know we’re practicing social distancing, but for the sake of your employment you may need to reach out to another family and see about trading childcare. I’m not talking about a gaggle of kids and families- I’m talking 2 – 3 families max when everyone is healthy and precautions are taken. My kids are older, so they don’t need someone to watch them, but they still need meals made, time outdoors and some nudging to do their school work. I’ll be working with my boss (who is home with her kids in CO) and her boss (also home with her kids in CA) to figure this out. My work day may go an hour longer so I can take small breaks during the day to check in on the kids. Or on days Spring is really shining here, I may knock off early and then work in the evening to take advantage of the sunshine.  We’re all in this together, so ask your employer, see what you can work out and be frank about your needs.

9) Talk to your family. A lot of the time, when you’re home, your kids think it’s free time. It’s not. This is still your work day and you are expected to get your job done. Have age-appropriate talks with your kids about what you expect from them and how you’re all going to have to pitch in to make this work.  Set up a sign, have a signal- something that tells your kids when it’s time for them to leave you alone and when you’re open to breaks. I try to talk to my kids every morning to give them an idea of what my day looks like – for example, if there is time for outdoor play, it’s got to happen before 11 am or that I’m in meetings from 1-3, so if they need help cooking, it has to be before or after that time.

That’s what I have so far. Working from home can be more than doable- but make sure you put the parameters in place to help you be successful. Be flexible, be kind to yourself and your family and settle in- we’ll get through this.

Please reach out if you have any other great tips – I’m happy to add them to this list!

About Heather

I adore my family, writing, books, cats, lazy mornings in bed, and chocolate. I'll never say no to breakfast for dinner, long talks with friends and lazy summer days at the pool with family. I've somehow morphed into a crazy sports mom, a skier and someone who lifts weights. My life is often crazy, always awesome and one I'm so happy to be living!

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