So, You're Going to Work from Home Now

With COVID-19 causing all sorts of disruption, companies are asking their employees to stay home for extended periods. Universities are making classes virtual until after spring break. I’m not an epidemiologist, but these measures are probably a good idea.

I’ve been working from my home full-time since 2000. Prior to that, I also worked from home for about 9 months in 1994. The earlier attempt at telework wasn’t so successful and I ended up returning to an office environment.

Here are some general-purpose bits of advice for those just entering the home-work world and thinking they’d like to do this permanently.

  • Don’t abuse it. It’s awesome at first. Sleeping in, rather than sitting in traffic for an hour each day. Then, you find yourself sleeping in until the first conference call of the day. Next, you have a buddy wanting you to go golfing on a Wednesday. You’re still on the hook to deliver your normal workload, so make sure you do.

    Just because your boss isn’t watching over you, it doesn’t mean that she is unaware of your activities. In this day of social networks and always-on electronics, it’s not difficult to see what someone is up to. A former colleague would tell us she was going to work from home because she needed to focus. She never delivered work on these days, yet her social channels were full of posts of her kids enjoying themselves that day.

    This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take care of personal business during the workday. In fact, it’s nice not having to fight for doctor appointments or having repairmen show up, but I don’t make this a normal routine. I have gone golfing on a Wednesday afternoon, but I made sure to empty my inbox and clean up the loose ends before I left.

  • Set a regular schedule. This is one of those do as I say, not as I do moments. I work in Central Time and my colleagues are mostly in California, so I start work later in the morning. I let my kids get their showers in first, leisurely reading the news in my bathrobe while I have a cup of coffee. When they’re off to school/college, I bathe and get dressed.

    Sometimes, I take a break in the middle of the afternoon if there aren’t calls because I’m occasionally working in the evenings with colleagues in South Korea or the Philippines. Then, there are the late night gab sessions over Slack with my director–usually ironing out project details or reviewing content for an upcoming presentation.

    I would love to get to the point that I’m doing my work from 8-5 and then go to play golf or ride my motorcycle. But, in my current role that’s not likely to happen.

  • Communicate. The burden to maintain good communication falls on you. Don’t be out of sight, out of mind because this leads to higher-up managers thinking your role isn’t contributing to their goals. Set up multiple ways for your colleagues to get in touch with you and make sure they know it.

    Of course, there’s a downside to this–if you’re chatting on Slack all day, you may not be getting work done. I have a colleague whose work is detail-oriented and he doesn’t handle interruptions well. I make it a point to only bother him at certain times of the day.

  • Have a social life. The thing that trips people up about working from home is the lack of human interaction.

    If you don’t have a supporting social circle away from work, you’re probably going to find yourself with a case of “cabin fever” after a few weeks. If you’re working from home all the time, you need to force yourself to interact with others. The first time I realized that I hadn’t left the house all week, I started building in twice-weekly lunches with my wife at a restaurant.

  • Set boundaries. This is going to be hard, but you have to separate yourself from your family in order to get work done.

    Whatever arrangements you had when you were working in the office should continue to be in effect when you’re working from home. With the possible exception of dog-walks at lunch.

  • Spend some money on yourself. Set up a proper workspace.

    Don’t try to repurpose the dining table and chairs. They aren’t made for 8 hour stretches. Buy a decent desk and don’t go cheap on the chair. It’s not necessary to get a Herman Miller Aeron, but you need a chair that will support your body while you work.

Good luck out there and stay healthy!