Articles offering tips for working from home tend to cover the same points. Get dressed, have a dedicated workspace, a time to start work, set boundaries between work and personal life and have a clear ‘to do’ list for the day ahead. These all make sense. As someone who has worked from home for nearly 20 years, here’s what I’ve learned, including the hidden pros and cons, as well as some suggestions for how to make working from home work for you.
Without travelling to and from the office you have retrieved the time you spent commuting. For some people this can be as much as 3 hours per day, accumulating to an extra working day per week. Leaving aside the positive impact on the environment, what a boost this is to quality of life. I know many people who state they’ll never to return to the office 5 days a week.
However, we can forget that the traditional commute acted as a buffer, a boundary separating our work and personal worlds. The evening commute was a way to decompress from the day’s work and transition into personal life mode. I still endeavour to have a similar decompression time at the close of my working day, whether that’s going for a walk, meditating, listening to music, taking a shower, or even on occasion replacing the hour’s commute with a cocktail hour!
Offices are busy, noisy places full of distractions. Less time in the office means there’s less oxygen for office politics. Not being in the office means the ‘can I have a minute’ merchants cannot park themselves at your desk. You no longer have to tolerate the loud voices of colleagues and the drama of their personal lives. If there’s no watercooler, there’s no watercooler gossip. Whilst these chats and huddles can be beneficial, bolstering a sense of camaraderie, community and belonging, they’re a distraction when you just want to get stuff done.
When I started working from home, I couldn’t believe how productive I was as I could just get my head down and focus. Removing your commute, the traditional lunch hour, the sanity breaks and the chit-chat means you’re probably able to get your work done in a fraction of the time it would normally take you.
If you’re an office veteran in all likelihood you’ve been indoctrinated into a conventional way of working, one that is time focused. You have certain set hours, you clock in and clock out. The trend in recent years, accelerated by the Covid 19 crisis has been away from time focus to task focus. It’s about the work you do, what you produce, the value you add, not the length of time it takes you to do it.
Companies whose culture supported autonomy in their workforce have transitioned more easily to this new world of work. Working remotely has forced many employers to be more trusting than perhaps they generally are. I know business owners and managers who struggle as they grapple with their belief that instead of working, their out of sight staff are stretched out watching daytime TV.
A new world of work requires a new mindset and fresh thinking will always stimulate new conversations. Conversations to clarify expectations, to demonstrate deliverables, to provide transparency, to manage workflow and ultimately to build trust.
Everyone’s situation is different and there’s no one right way to work from home. However, we do have an opportunity to ask ourselves questions that prior to Covid 19, and the routine of ‘business as usual,’ would not have been relevant. Pondering these questions invites you to find wiggle room within existing routines, to personalise and create new work habits.
For me, another plus in working from home is being able to design my workspace in a way that works for me. Some people have used the money that they would have spent on commuting to create an office space in their home, from converting garages and bedrooms to simply buying a screen to divide a room. If you can, invest in a good chair. Dining room chairs were not meant to be sat in for 7 hours!
Prior to Covid 19, the reality was that technology-supported working from anywhere anytime. If you want to send emails at 2 am go for it. There are no rights or wrongs. A hidden benefit of having your workspace steps from the couch is that you can act when inspiration strikes irrespective of the hour.
Being aware of the motivation behind your behaviour is key. There’s a difference between getting an hour of proactive work done between 9 & 10 pm when the children are in bed and being afraid to ‘switch off’ in every sense of the phrase. There will always be trade-offs, just be clear what they are. If you are saying ‘yes’ to checking email at 10 pm what are you saying ‘no’ to?
One of the tips I’ve shared at my time management and organisational skills workshops over the years is making use of small pockets of time. In the past, this might be clearing an email when you are waiting for a meeting to start. Now, those small pockets of time can be used for household chores. It’s not about not working, it’s about maximising the fact that the routines of living are all under one roof.
Years ago when I managed a department we had a spreadsheet for noting holidays and sick days. There were more sick days taken on a Monday than all the other days combined. For many people it’s not the work itself, but the thoughts of work, and the commute to work that fuels Sunday night syndrome. And if you can bring your duvet into your workspace, is there still a motivation to take a duvet day?
Weighing up the pros and cons I know I could never return to a traditional office environment full-time. In the midst any discussion about working from home, or as it is now described, living at work, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are blessed to have work and a home to work from.
I hope this post gives you some practical tips if you are working from home and you may also be interested in my article Resolve, not resolutions to read 5 ways to lighten the January blues.