Unless I’m on a plane, these days I work from home full-time. I know that sounds like a dream to some, but I think working from home is not for everyone. Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way.
To successfully work from home, I’ve found that being organized, self-motivated, and conscientious is a requirement. I have to understand what’s expected of me, and have to motivate myself to get it done. No one’s there to babysit me. In large part, it’s up to me to either goof off all day, or get my work done.
I go to bed at night and get up in the morning such that I can be at the keyboard at a fairly predictable time each morning. When I break from my routine (such as the last week or two when I was getting my home lab off the ground), I’m just not in a very good mental state. So, even though my commute consists of a walk across the hall, I still stick to a schedule. This goes hand in hand with being self-disciplined.
I’m not in the office, but I’m in the office. I have a job to do, and part of that job means being accessible to my co-workers or equipment that need my attention. So, I’m in a chatroom with co-workers all the time. My IM client is up with an accurate status when I have the presence of mind to set it. When people call me, I pick up the phone. When I’m scheduled to be in a meeting, I’m there (unless I space it, which happens once in a while). If I forget, I feel like a tool, because being responsive and participatory is important to me. If a customer or vendor pings me, I respond. I believe that being responsive is key to demonstrating that you’re engaged.
Stay in contact, initiate contact
The trouble with not being in the office if everyone else is in the office is that they can forget about you. Physical presence can make a difference if you’re a quiet person. Which I am. So, I have to force myself to initiate contact with my co-workers through e-mail, remember to fire off an IM once in a while and see how folks are doing, participate in chat rather than lurk, etc. I am not very good at this. I always feel like I’m bothering someone, or that folks are probably too pressed with things to do to want to interact with me. That’s my introverted nature. At the same time, I know that I need to stay in touch with folks I don’t see in person more than once a quarter or so. I believe the contact matters by helping to cement the working relationship by demonstrating I’m engaged in the organization.
There’s a stereotype that folks who work from home are in their jammies and bunny slippers, looking like they just got back from a bender. I can’t function well in my bunny slippers. So, my co-workers might be glad to know that I follow a standard hygienic regimen working from home or not. I don’t just roll out of bed and gollum my way across the hall to the office. I get up and get moving, just as if I was about to get into the car and commute. Most days, I even wear a collared shirt. Not every day, mind you. But most. I find that going through that morning routine makes the work day to be clearly the work day. It puts me in the right frame of mind. And besides…video chat.
Separate space – the “chamber of isolation”
I took the smallest room in my house and converted it into my office. I have gone to a lot of trouble here, because I’m in this room for hours a day. I invested in good office furniture and wall-mounted monitors on articulated arms. I have invested in decent lighting. I ran extra network cable in here, and need to run some more now that I’m working against a different wall than when I first moved into this space. Yes, it cost money. That said, it was money I consider well-spent. I enjoy coming in here to work every day. And importantly, this room has a door. If I need to, I can block out the rest of the world. I know not everyone will be able to set up such a space. Perhaps I’m fortunate. I know I didn’t always have my own space. But I can say that if you work from home a lot, that office space can make a big difference in your frame of mind and productivity throughout the day.
I find it’s very easy for me to work ridiculous numbers of hours if I so choose. I’m comfortable. I like what I do. So, part of my routine is to leave the office at a set time and go into a different room. That breaks the “I’m at work” mindset, and allows me to pay attention to my family.
And finally, a picture of my workspace…
Yes, the shelf is sagging a bit. I can fix that. I *will* fix that…soon. Very soon.