A couple years ago, my employer piloted a “Work from Anywhere” program. With a new baby and a 75 minute commute, I was a perfect candidate. Now, two years in, I can’t imagine making the daily trek to the office. My productivity has soared and I have a much better work/life balance.
But, working from home is a serious adjustment. It took me six months to develop a solid rhythm. During that time, I learned these key strategies to make working from home more productive than working in the office.
Create a dedicated work space — When I first started working from home, I portioned off a part of my bedroom as a work area. I had everything I needed and thought it was working well. A few months ago, however, we rearranged some rooms, bought a new desk, and I designed a dedicated work space. I hung some pictures I’d taken and painted the room a warm color. Now, when I “go to work” in the morning, I enter a comfortable space dedicated for work. When I’m done for the day, I leave that space. The physical separation provides a level of mental separation I didn’t have before.
- Follow a morning routine — Over time, I’ve learned my work day goes better if I start it right. For me, that means getting ready for work like I do when I go to the office. I wake up in time to shower, put on makeup, and prepare for the day like a normal human being. Although the wardrobe consists of a flannel shirt and yoga pants (let’s not go crazy here), I still start my day as if I were going to the office.
- Communicate well with coworkers — I’m fortunate to work on a team in which several members work remotely. This supports a culture where team meetings have a virtual as well as a physical, presence. Make use of all the tools at your disposal: email, instant message, team tools (slack, spark, etc), video conference, and even the telephone. In a large organization, you’ll likely find pockets of people who do not embrace a work from anywhere culture. Check meeting invites in advance for an online meeting room or teleconference bridge. If there isn’t one, offer to set one up. Be proactive, but not pushy, to be sure you’re included in conversations and make a contribution where your input in valuable. Over time, others in your organization will learn to account for contributors who work remotely.
- Develop household boundaries — I have 4 children ranging in age from 17 – 2. Just as if I were at the office, my children who require childcare are cared for by someone else during work hours. My school-age children arrive home before my work day is done but we’ve developed some systems so they know when they can come in the room and when they need to be quiet.
- Get familiar with your mute button — Household noises like the doorbell or a barking dog can be a distraction in meetings. When you’re not talking, develop the habit of using your mute button. However, be mindful that your mute button can fail you. While you should always be kind to the people with whom you live, understand that discipline or harsh words to your family while you’re on a call could have professional consequences as well as personal.
Working remotely, while not for everyone, has improved my productivity and my home life. I can’t imagine going back to my extended commute and the inflexibility of working at the office every day.
What about you? Have you ever worked remotely? Are there other strategies that have worked for you? Next week I’ll share a specific trick I use with my elementary-aged daughter to reduce conference call interruptions.