by West McDonald, Tigerpaw
I have worked out of a remote office in my home for over 12 years. Until recently, I was part of the minority. Given recent conditions thanks to COVID-19, more and more companies are taking measures to have people work from home. At last check, over 158 million Americans were told to stay home and nobody knows just how long this is going to last. It’s not just workers, but their children as well.
All of this might have you very nervous if you’ve never had to work from home on a regular basis, as your normal set of tools and your routine will be vastly different from your usual day to day. Nothing is ever simple, right? If you want to be fully productive working from home for the first time, you’re reading the right blog! Below are my top seven tips for making the most out of your new work reality, gleaned from my 12 years of doing it myself!
- Create separation: Don’t work at the kitchen table or any other space you associate with your downtime routines. One of the reasons you are so productive at work is because it is a space designed for work. You need to create a space designed for work at home and ensure you keep your family time and areas separate. It doesn’t have to be a separate room, though that is ideal. But most of us don’t get the benefit of ideal. I live in a small home on the lake and do not have the luxury of a dedicated office, but I have commandeered a corner of our sunroom, which is my “work only” space. The key is to make sure that whichever corner or room you decide to use for work, that it is dedicated to work. If you need further inspiration check out some of these awesome home workspaces at Formstack!
- Set family boundaries: My kids are now 13 and 17, so if you do the math, I’ve been working out of a home office since my daughter was 7 or 8 months old and my son was just a 4-year old. We have curtains on the sliding doors to that space, and when they are drawn, my wife and kids know that it has become a work-only zone. If the kids or my wife need something from me, they know to wait until I open the curtains. That thin barrier is the equivalent of me being “at the office” and, although it’s simple, it works incredibly well when I’m head down and working hard. Find your own signal that everybody will understand and respect. There’s a great article on FastCompany that has 11 great tips to help you even more:
- Call forwarding is a must: Forward calls from your office phone to your mobile. I have three phone numbers and only answer on my mobile. Ask your IT folks to set that up for you as you want to ensure that the people who usually call you on your work phone, your customers and coworkers, have the same experience as though you were at your normal desk. It seems like a small thing, but my clients and partners appreciate me answering my phone as normal, and your contacts will too. Your IT department is probably all over this but it never hurts to be proactive.
- Make sure you have access to your email on more than your mobile: This one sounds obvious, but for many, it’s a big problem for remote work. I speak with people all the time who do not have a laptop for work that is configured for work outside of the office. If you have to work on a personal device while working from home and you’re using Office365 or Gmail, you can work with your IT team to set them up for multiple inboxes. I use Gmail and have my personal account, my Tigerpaw account, and another account for my own business all in the same place. I have all three calendars displayed in the same calendar as well - they are color coded by the email address used to schedule the meeting. Head over to the Dummies Guide for detailed tips on how to get synced up!
- Set up instant messaging: Instant Message, or IM, is a fundamental tool when working remotely. Everybody at Tigerpaw uses Slack to ping each other for urgent matters and you’ll need to ensure you have something similar. If you are anything like me, you may have specific windows for when you check your email. At Tigerpaw, we send emails for things that are not as time sensitive. We use Slack when items are urgent or require immediate attention. You can setup your instant messaging app of choice to give you desktop notifications so you’re always available when it matters most. There are a ton of IM options and Wikipedia has a great page that compares them all.
- Use video conferencing whenever possible: One of the hardest things about working from home is that you don’t get any face time with the people you usually see every day. Using a video conferencing app like Zoom or GoToMeeting will ensure that you still get the social aspect of work even when you can’t be there. It may be tempting to just pick up the phone, but for meetings where you’re used to being in a group, video conferencing will ensure that you have the same “vibe” as though you were still in the office. There a lots of options for you and FinancesOnline has a nice write-up with their reviews and customer reviews of the top ones.
- Punch the clock: It is tempting when you work out of a home office to work hours that you normally wouldn’t. Resist this at all costs. If your normal routine is to be home by 6 pm and spend time with your family, make sure you maintain the same discipline for your personal life as you normally would. By far the largest hazard of working from home is the elusive work/life balance. if you’re not accustomed to working from home, this can spiral quickly. Punch in, punch out, and keep as much of your normal routine intact as possible. If you want some advice from people on how they are doing it, check out this page from Remote.co.
If you practice the seven tips above, working from home will be productive and fulfilling, even if you don’t like the idea of working from home! It will also ensure that, when the time comes to go back to the office, the transition is as seamless as possible.