I have been working from home for some 16 years now. Indeed, I feel I could lay claim to be a working from home pioneer. For me, it became a necessity when a child popped into the serene life of my wife and myself. My wife, being a college lecturer did not have an option to move her office to home. That left me to work out a system whereby I could do it. All those years ago the ‘home office’ was a rarely used model. Remember, for many an internet connection was a dialup process; Skype was a product recently launched and used by geeks like me with an interest in VOIP. Furthermore, WhatsApp, Viber etc. was were ideas germinating in the brains of some geniuses, somewhere. When I told my colleagues what I was planning I got a lot of ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ responses. For some it looked like I was pulling off a masterstroke. Thankfully, my boss had the same vision as me. He trusted me and knew that there was no technical reason for me not to work from a ‘home office’. He put faith in me, and I set myself the target of not letting him down. And so, it began and so it continues.
Setting a New Work Culture
From the start I set my own protocols to guide me to success in this new, laissez faire world. I want to share these with you as many of you have now been forced into the same environment and had to hit the ground running.
One thing I would recommend is having your own dedicated space. Artists will tell you that the beauty of a studio is that they can step away from their work when the juices stop flowing and can just as easily step back into it and pick up where they left off when the inspiration kicks in again. It’s the same with a home office. There’s nothing more disheartening than having disassemble and reassemble a workspace every day. I was fortunate in that I was able to dedicate a whole box room to it. It was complete with desk, telephone, fax and printer. Everything an office-bound worker needs. That meant I could get up at the end of the day and pull the door closed behind me. My trip home was a simple walk down the stairs. I only entered the office room to work. Mentally, it may as well have been the office I had left many miles away.
Impose a Self-Discipline
To reinforce this mindset, I found it important that when I got up every morning I would shower, shave and put on formal working clothes. Now that didn’t mean I put on a suit and tie, but by the same token I didn’t pull on sweatpants and a tee-shirt. The temptation is strong to slip into loose, causal sports clothes, or worse, simply stay in your pyjamas. I don’t recommend that approach as part of going to work is getting psychologically into the mood for a shift in your day from one of rest and leisure to that of energetic pursuance of your work objectives. Dressing appropriately demarcates between the two stages of your day. Believe me, it does work.
One other advantage of following a proper dress code is the fact you will be ready at any time to take a Skype call from a customer, your boss or another work colleague. It is important that you look fresh, clean and professional. Remember, if you are talking to a customer you to them represent the company’s ethos. If the customer encounters someone who looks like the have just stepped out of the gym it will plant the seeds of doubt in their brain.
Work Office Hours
Remember that you are part of a larger team. A cog in a well-oiled independent machine full of similar cogs. Working set office hours makes sure that important symbiotic relationship that exists within teams is not interrupted. The team thrives on knowing that every member is where they should be when they should be. These days a message is only a nano-second away at any one time. If you decide to work hours that suit only you then you are removing a very important cog from the machine. We all have experienced the frustration of somewhat not be available to answer an important question, or to sign off an important requisition, or someone to look at a bug so that the build can be kept on schedule. Being remote from your team does not mean you can act removed from the team.
The obverse side of this coin is the danger that you become a workaholic. That is not a good thing for either you or the company. A clued -in boss will look warily at a workaholic and identify that person as a possible future glitch in the system. A benign boss will step in and tell that colleague to slow down and to take care of themselves. If overtime work is required then the team will step up to the challenges as a unit, and step down again when the objective is achieved. Workaholics inevitably burnout. It always happens. The body and especially the brain need regular rest periods. I suffered from burnout on one occasions many years ago. I was out of work for a month. No-one gained from my over enthusiastic approach to work.
So, as you purposefully ‘go to work’ in the morning so too must you purposefully ‘go home’ in the evening. And don’t be tempted to sneak back to your desk later to look at an email or write a line or two of code. That is the slippery slope to your life becoming one of working with an occasional rest. Your brain needs a rest. You function better when you get regular rest. A brain-dead worker is no use to anyone.
Tell Friends to ‘Go Away’
One thing I learned very early in my life as a home office pioneer was the tendency of friends to assume that because you were at home they could call in for a chat and a cup of coffee. That cup of coffee became an hour-long break. It is an unwelcome interruption at a time when mentally you should be immersed in some work task. Think of it this way – how often do friends drop into an office to have a chat and a coffee with you? Never, I’d wager. So, you need to politely explain this to your friends. They will understand. It simply just doesn’t occur to some people that working from home is exactly the same thing as working from an office. Only the location is different. The good news is there is no need to be a total recluse, that is not healthy either. There’s no harm in taking a break and leaving the house to go off for a coffee somewhere. It is needed. It is healthy. In fact, it is recommended. You as a professional can best judge when that should happen. As long as you let your colleagues know where you are. These days having a smart phone at hand is enough to keep you in the loop.
It is also important you take a lunch break. I don’t mean a coke and sandwich at the desk. Get up, leave the office and go and have lunch somewhere else. Fresh air and different surroundings allow you to relax, it lets the brain have some welcomed down time and allows you meet other people. You will feel recharged after it. Just try and stick as close to the routine you would follow in an office environment.
Finally, talk regularly to your colleagues by Skype, WhatsApp etc. It removes the sense of isolation. Workspace is a synergetic environment. Trying to recreate that spirit of interaction is a challenge, but one that is much easier to overcome these days with the availability of so many means of instant communications. Make a purpose of facetiming someone every day. Hold team meetings online using Skype or something similar. Open your day with a quick Skype call and a coffee to one of your colleagues. It all helps bond the remote team. And now and again send your boss a funny emoji, but not too often!
Aidan Collins is Marketing Manager at KantanMT.com