by John Biggs
I’ve been working from home for twenty years. At this point in my career, I actually like going into an office once in a while, if only for the free snacks, but I would never commute nor would I go in if I didn’t have an absolute need, like a video shoot or something that required my physical presence.
Working from home isn’t for everybody, but it may soon be. Given the vagaries of real estate, the growing failure of office startups, and the general post-millennial attitude that a job is a lifestyle, you’ll probably be sitting at home sooner than you think. Plus, there are mass plagues that will kill you if you get on the train.
So we’ll stay home. But staying home is hard.
So how did I survive?
Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years.
Make a place for yourself — You need a place where you can go in your home. You cannot work from home on your dining room table or from bed. Never post up on the couch. Working from home isn’t a vacation, it’s work. If you don’t have any space in your home then go to a cafe that is lax about their loitering privileges or even head out to the library.
The bottom line is that you need a spot that is your own, disconnected from family, pets, and distractions. Don’t do anything in this space you wouldn’t do at work. Don’t turn on the TV, don’t blast heavy metal. Put yourself in the same mental state you’d be in your office.
Use tools — Use Slack. Use Trello. Write your own scripts to notify folks what you’re working on. I’ve connected to multiple services using the Slack API in order to post news to special rooms so everyone knows what’s breaking. Further, I like to create alerts based on market movements. These things help share knowledge with everyone. In the office days, you could shout out “Wow, look at what happened.” Now, using tools, you can tell everyone what happened instantly.
Notify everyone of your whereabouts (or don’t)– There are multiple schools of thought when it comes to working from home. Some companies create Slack rooms called “Whereabouts” and ask employees to write exactly what they’re doing at all times. This is a bit oppressive for my taste but feel free to use these kinds of rooms if they help you. Being available is vitally important when you’re working from home, as people won’t be able to wander down the hall to jibber jabber at you for an hour.
Don’t nap — Like I said before, don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in a cubicle. Don’t nap, don’t drink booze, don’t shoot smack, or indulge in cosplay. If we’re going to survive working from home and remain productive, treating your home office like an office is important. Imagine your webcam is always on and your co-workers are watching you. Are you going to doze off with your pants off? Nah
Create a healthy environment — Get a standing desk. Put a treadmill under it. Don’t hit the kitchen every five minutes. Go for walks. The problem with working from home is that you never have those brief interludes between home and car, parking lot and office, etc. Get some exercise in while you work.
Create a cut-off — So this is important. I used to write for TechCrunch until like 4pm and then I’d switch gears to work on a book I needed to get to a publisher within a few months. I’d then work until about 10pm, drinking a little too much wine the whole time.
Guess what happened? The book sucked, I got fat, and my entire world got turned upside down. I didn’t create a cut-off.
The cut-off is a point when you walk down the stairs from your home office and enter your home. Once that happens, everything work-related is off. Don’t check your phone, don’t sit down at your computer. Read a book. Cook dinner. Drink a glass of wine (honestly, this was my cut-off until I realized that it was deeply unhealthy). Go for a walk. Take the dog. DO SOMETHING OUTSIDE OF WORK.
Don’t be afraid of work-from-home employees — I’ve gotten more work done in my home office than I’ve ever gotten done in a real office. If you’re a manager and you need physical facetime, be prepared to be disappointed. Further, the need to have everyone in a room for a meeting is increasingly unnecessary. My take is simple: the tools we have now enable work-from-home employees to be more productive and cheaper than in-office employees. Don’t make it harder on yourself. Embrace change.
There are two extremes in people who work from home — those who work all the time and those who let their life bleed into their work, running errands when they should be on Slack. I recommend finding a happy medium. Find a way to stop working at an appointed time yet be constantly available during the working day. Attempt anything else and you’re cheating yourself out of productive time.
Working from home is great. I’d never go into an office every day. That said, it’s hard for many to feel that they can survive without office banter and meetings. Fear not: your managers will figure out how to do boring meetings online and you’ll still be able to banter in Slack. That’s what GIFs are for.
If you are still transitioning to your home office and need help with your writing or editing, let us know. We’d love to help.
Here is another post you might find interesting: How to get in the mood to write.