The governor of Massachusetts, where I live, just closed schools for another month. After just a couple weeks of this, my teenage boys are already restless and actually want to go back. I love my kids, but, like most of us, I am used to spending at least 8 hours a day away from them. No longer having that time apart can strain any family.
I’ve been working from home almost every day for the past 8 years and have learned a few ways to make it work well. Before sharing these tips, I must acknowledge a few important factors that are out of many people’s immediate control. I’m very fortunate to have a supportive spouse, trustworthy and independent kids and an employer that supports working from home. I’m starting off with a leg up here, but I hope these tips make working from home easier for you.
Tips To Increase Productivity While Working From Home
- Set Expectations – Setting expectations about when and how your family can interrupt your work and when you’ll “be home” is important. This may be new for them too. Your child may be excited by the opportunity to show Mom or Dad the drawing they just finished. Work with your kids, spouse and anyone else in the house to define when these interruptions are OK. I enjoy the flexibility to join my family for lunch and quick check-ins when I refresh my coffee but have set the expectations that these are OK times to have welcome interruptions.
- Noise Levels – One of the hardest aspects of working from home is often noise levels. Conference calls do not get along with loud kids or vacuum cleaners. While my coworkers are understanding, I try to warn my family when I’m on an important call so they can choose appropriate activities (you may need to “help” them choose these appropriate activities). It’s also good to let them know when you’re done so they can “let down their guard”, or get back to their activities they have put on hold for you.
- Over the Ear Headphones – When the noise level from the rest of the house starts distracting me, this is my go-to solution. Ear buds don’t cut it. Even basic headphones that fully cover your ears will block more noise than buds.
- Create Your Own Space – I worked at the dining room table before I had dedicated office space and it was extraordinarily hard. Friends and coworkers have converted tiny spaces into offices: Closets & basements are the most common, but you can also carve out part of another room with dividers or curtains. If it’s your bedroom, make sure you can “close up” at the end of the day and not be looking at your work when you head to bed.
- Use Video – This is something I’m just starting to do, but I now default to using Microsoft Teams with video for as many calls and meetings as possible. It makes it easier to connect with folks, gauge engagement and tell when someone wants to speak but can’t. I could write a separate blog post dedicated to setting up the technical aspects of a home office, but the important part is that you can be seen and heard.
- Expect Less Formality – On those video calls, I may be in a sweatshirt instead of a dress shirt. You’ll see my home office and old toys in the background. Expect to see some pets, kids or kids with pets on video calls. If you’re meeting your employer’s expectations, this should be okay, but follow their lead.
- For Managers – Working from home is often more productive than working in the office. There are fewer water cooler chats or office “drop-ins”. However, folks may also need to step away to deal with family issues (especially in these times) or to take care of themselves. My favorite perk of working from home is taking a mid-day bike ride. If you trust your employees (and you should!), they should feel a responsibility to get a full day’s work in, even if it is not between 8am and 5pm. They also have more time in their day since their commute is eliminated and the company is often a beneficiary of this extra time.
- A Good Chair – Don’t cut corners buying an office chair. The chair is key to your setup and important in how it fits with your desk in an ergonomically correct setup. You’ll spend hundreds of hours a month here so a configuration that supports your needs will help avoid health issue while improving your work-from-home experience.
Working from home provides flexibility that is a nice perk, and sometimes required by circumstances – especially in these unprecedented times. It takes some getting used to, but once you get yourself (and your family!) into a routine, it is a more efficient and relaxing work environment for many people.
If you would like further suggestions or help getting set up, please contact me.