Hello everyone! Today I’m sharing tips that have helped me be successful working from home.
Now, I did originally intend on writing and sharing this post for BirthMay, my annual month long blogging challenge during May in honor of my birthday. However, with the Covid-19 and the rise of people working from home in the US recently, I figured I’d share my own experience working from home and what has helped me be successful.
I do want to start by acknowledging that working from home is not for everyone. I personally do really enjoy it. For me, it cuts down on almost two hours of commute time per day and allows me to be very flexible on the days when I do work from home. I work from home 2-3 times per week, and I do go into an office the rest of the week, so for me it’s maybe a little different than someone working from home 100% of the time. The team I work on currently is also about 50% remote employees who do work from home 100% of the time and I never see face-to-face. Because of this I’ve learned quite a few tips on interacting with them, as it can be difficult to build a working relationship with someone you maybe haven’t met or just don’t see often.
Even so, here’s what I would say have helped make that transition easy!
Separation of Work and Home
Try to separate your work space from your home. I know not everyone can afford a whole extra bedroom to turn into an office, but at least have a specific area for your desk and office things. A lot of my co-workers who have a house do end up with a spare room turning into their office, and I have a spare room that I turned into an office at my parent’s house (thanks mom and dad!). However, for those of my team members who rent an apartment, oftentimes their desk has ended up in the living room, or even their bedroom. Personally, I wouldn’t suggest the bedroom because that’s where you want to relax and sleep, and I think having your work stuff so close would be too distracting. However, the same could be said for the living room, so honestly I understand this will end up being a personal preference.
One thing I absolutely do not suggest is the kitchen table! You’ll likely end up shuffling everything off and back on the table and it can be hard to get into “work mode” as it won’t be a stable work environment. I would say definitely get a desk, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, and set it up somewhere that can be dedicated only for work.
I will admit, my desk and stuff all double for blogging, writing, and journaling, but I know when I sit at my desk it’s to focus on the task at hand.
Oh! And don’t forget to decorate the area around your desk. I have mine facing a blank wall, which isn’t the best. However, on either side I have windows so I’ll open the curtains up to see the outside all day, which is super helpful.
Figure out your preferred desk set up
This is where the flexibility of working from home can really come in handy. At the office it can be hard to set up your desk exactly how you want to, as some offices can be more strict than others on how creative or customized you can get with your desk. For example, if you want a stand up desk at the office you will likely need a doctor’s note. However, at home there’s nothing stopping you! If you want to use a work out ball as a chair, you might get safety concerns at the office, but at home you can do as you please. There’s no one that can really stop you!
One thing that ended up not really working for me was that I only had one monitor. I ended up getting one for free at work and brought it home to use. I connect it to my laptop when I need another screen, which is quite often once you get used to it or you’re looking at multiple spreadsheets! At the office, my monitors are set up side by side. At home though, I have my laptop on my desk closer to me so I can type, and the other is propped up behind my laptop so the screen is above my laptop. I’ve had them side by side before, but this is what’s working for me right now and I’m loving this set up!
Figure out your preferred computer set up
Now, this only applies if you’re using your own computer really. I think these days, if you work for a company that is flexible in their work from home policies and can adequately accommodate, you will likely have a laptop provided by your employer that you can’t really customize. Unfortunately, my work is not like that at all so I use my own 2009 MacBook Pro laptop. This comes with a ton of challenges on it’s own but one of the pros is getting to use my preferred browser for work. Now, my favorite browser is Chrome, but I use that for personal things and blogging. I do NOT want my work stuff mixing with personal stuff for many reasons so I mostly use Firefox for work things. Sometimes there are certain programs that work says have to run in Chrome otherwise there are too many errors (lazy programming if you ask me, but clearly no one did), or sometimes I’ll use Chrome to save passwords so I can access stuff from anywhere, but when I don’t have any restrictions I stick to Firefox. That way, I can keep all my regular tabs open in Chrome and completely close out of Firefox when I’m done for the day. It makes it so fast to get out of “work mode” seeing all your work stuff completely shut down for the day!
Be available to your team
Remember to log into your work’s preferred IM/communication systems and keep your status as up to date as possible. It’ll really help your coworkers see if you are available or in a meeting or even away as they can’t just look over to see what you’re up to. Try to remain on available as much as possible too, as sometimes your coworkers may refrain from reaching out if your status says busy, taking it to mean that you aren’t available at all. Of course, if you are set to busy and someone IM’s you, you don’t have to feel obligated to drop everything right away. You can wait as you did “warn” them you’re busy and you’ll get to them as soon as you can. Same actually goes for available (although try to reply within a few minutes at least if you are available). Some people do get confused with the “instant” part as they expect a reply right away but you can always get back to them with “sorry I was busy, but you answer your question…” and reply to them when you can. Also remember, it can be hard to interpret tone through IM so if you don’t know the person too well, err on the side of caution and remain super polite and professional!
One of the downsides I personally have is that my laptop is too old for our main IM system, Microsoft Skype for Business, so I haven’t been able to IM on my laptop for months. I’ve had to download Skype for Business onto my phone so I can be available and that has a ton of other problems as I can’t share screens or video in for meetings on Skype. It also puts me as “inactive” if I don’t touch my phone every 3-5 minutes (it varies and I can’t figure out why) so that is also annoying as I feel I can’t focus on anything or it’ll look like I’m not working. I’ve brought this up to managers before but as my employer doesn’t provide me with a laptop and because one manager made it so I could claim discrimination if they don’t let me work from home (yeah… he said I shouldn’t work from home because I don’t have children… HR was NOT thrilled about his comments as that could easily be a big liability for them), we all just kind of make it work. At the end of the day, I am on Skype even if it doesn’t have full capabilities, and I also make myself available on Slack and Microsoft Teams, which we use as well (just not as much as Skype).
Meetings can be annoying enough in person but video brings a whole new dynamic. Try to video when possible, especially with larger teams. That way you can see everyone, know when to jump in a little easier instead of people talking over each other, and even have an occasional pet appearance (when appropriate). Don’t forget to dress appropriately for the video meetings. I do tend to dress more casually at home than I would in the office, usually athleisure or a hoodie which are not allowed in the business casual office, However, others that work from home do wear them so I haven’t gotten told off for it or anything. Of course, it can vary what someone might think is too casual. I’ve had coworkers who wore workout tank tops (male and female) which I personally wouldn’t but no one said anything to them. I’ve also had a coworker who got one of those fuzzy “teddy” sweaters when they were popular because her apartment was cold. Of course all the girls knew what she was wearing but one manager (same one that judged me for being childfree actually) told her she shouldn’t wear a robe (???) on camera. That was straightened out quickly and she was able to keep wearing it but it just goes to show that sometimes what one person deems appropriate someone else might not necessarily agree.
Oh! And make sure you have a tidy background. It could be a blank wall (although that is quite boring) or something simple but at least make sure your background isn’t a mess to look at. Something interesting is my favorite because I love to see the backgrounds of others but mine is literally the closet doors on the wall behind me and the flowers in a vase on top of my bookshelf.
Keep your preferred office habits
This one is more like your routines. For example, go to get coffee/water or go to the bathroom before a long meeting just as you would in the office. Or take the first 15-20 minutes going over your calendar and to-do list when you log on to plan out your day. At the end of the day don’t forget to allocate your time if you are required to track it so it doesn’t pile up at the end of the week when you don’t remember what you did. These are all things I do both in the office and at home when I’m working. If it works for you at the office, it will probably work for you at home. And if it doesn’t, change it!
Be clear that you are working
When you make the switch to working from home, it can be difficult for others to understand that you’re, well, working. As much of a transition that it can be for you, your family members might need some time to get used to it too. For example, when I started working from home a few days a week my parents would regularly burst into the office during meetings and talk so loudly (thankfully I’m always on mute unless I’m speaking), try to hang out in the office with me, or ask me if I wanted to go with them to the store. Eventually we were able to clear up that sometimes I’m in a meeting so I’ll have the door closed so I won’t be interrupted, that I can’t chat for long periods of time because I’m busy, and I can’t go to the store because I’m working! It’s about being clear and communicating that you’re doing the same thing as you would at the office, except maybe doing a load of laundry here and there too.
Remember to take breaks
I still struggle with this one. At the office, it’s easy to get up to get more water in the break room, the bathroom is farther away, and there’s always someone to chat with. At home, it’s so easy to just get in the zone and there’s no interruptions to remind you to get up to stretch your legs and such. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with taking a meeting while going out for a walk (if not videoing or otherwise need to be on a computer), calling up a coworker same as you would if you walked up to their desk (just be sure they’re not busy first), and just taking a bit of a break if you need it. You’ll be a lot more productive when you come back rested and refreshed!
I wanted to include a few other tips that I’ve seen or heard from other coworkers that either didn’t make it in above, or don’t work for me.
First up, is noise vs. no noise. Some people prefer to have the TV or music on, some don’t. For me, it can vary. I tend to put on YouTube videos for background noise but I never end up actually listening to it or paying attention, so it’s always something long that I don’t quite care for. At the office I normally put on a podcast but for some reason I don’t really like putting on a podcast at home.
Next is about dressing completely as if you’re going into the office, having a separate work “closet” to pick from and then also some people have work shoes for working from home. I don’t find that works for me at all, but I’m not sure if that’s because I have to still work from the office a few days a week so it’s not that important to me. I do make sure to at least not wear pj’s all day but nit a fully office ready outfit.
Working out of a coffee shop or another place that isn’t home or the office is something that I know people who do work from home all the time do. Personally I don’t but I’m not sure how I would fee if I was 100% working from home. Of course, people shouldn’t be doing that if there is a pandemic in their area but I think it would be fine when everything is back to normal to try out for a morning and see how you like that experience. Since I don’t work from home every day and do get to go to the office part of the week then I personally don’t think I’ll try that.
That’s all my tips for working from home! I know others may have good tips so feel free to share them below. Working from home is a great perk if your job is able to let you enjoy that so make sure you still work hard to be exactly as productive as you would be in an office setting. And as an added note, I hope everyone affected by the pandemic stays healthy!
Thanks for reading!
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