7 Tips for Working from Home
May 10, 2016
When I started my career over 30 years ago, I never would’ve imagined I’d be working remotely from a home office in the mountains out West for an East Coast-based company. Cell phones didn’t exist, the Internet didn’t exist, and personal computers only existed in the imaginations of entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. But now, all these years later, having spent a good amount of my career working from home, thanks to numerous advances in technology, I’ve become an experienced—and, I believe, productive and successful—remote worker.
For the most part, many of the habits and processes I now go through as a remote employee are designed to circumvent distractions that can take place when you’re working from home. That’s not to say there aren’t distractions that take place at most offices every day (if you’re an unproductive employee working remotely, it’s likely you’d be no different if you were in the office). But the habits you need to maintain to be productive at home are different than those you need to keep in an office.
To that end, I’m convinced that the below seven tips and practices have played an important part of my remote-working success. And I’ve discovered that many successful remote workers share many of these same habits.
1. Establish Concrete Working Hours. This sounds pretty straightforward, but it might not be as simple as you think. For example, my colleagues are two time zones away, so I need to pick a schedule that makes me available at the same time the rest of the team’s on the job. As a result, I get up early every morning so I can be on the job by 9 a.m. Eastern time (7 a.m. my time), which is about the time most of my colleagues out East are getting off the train and walking into the office. I treat this the same way I would if I had to be in the office. I also set a time that I stop working every day, and since I start and stop work earlier than most people out here in the Mountain Time Zone, I sometimes have an extra hour or two in the afternoon that my friends don’t have.
2. Get Dressed. I’m sure the thought of rolling out of bed and working in your pajamas might sound appealing. And I’m sure there are people it works for, but it’s never worked for me. I get up and get dressed as if I were going to work—I even put my shoes on. For me the shoes are important—it’s the signal that I’m not hanging out at home but going to work. My wife thinks I’m nuts, but the morning routine of getting ready for work is important for me to get focused. Fortunately, I’m a morning person and the extra early hour I spend getting ready to start my work day is pretty easy for me.
3. Go to Work. I work out of my daughter’s old bedroom these days—but it doesn’t look anything like a bedroom. It’s been repainted and remodeled to look and feel like an office. I don’t know how anyone could successfully work from home without a dedicated workspace. On rare occasions, my wife will work from home and creates a makeshift office someplace else in the house. Those days, since I’m normally home alone, my office door is shut. It helps me separate work-life from home-life when someone else is in the house. For me, it’s about the mental cues that remind me, “I’m not at home right now; I’m at work.” The rest of my family understands that I’m at work, and treats the workday accordingly.
4. Keep Track of Time. It’s important, for me at least, to keep track of what time it is where I’m working and where it is where everyone else on the team is working. It might be easier for you to just calculate in your head, but to make it easier for me, my computer is set to Eastern time—which makes it easier to stay on top of meetings and deadlines. I also have two big clocks on the wall, one with work time and the other with local time. And my watch is a chronograph that allows me to see both times. This way I always know what time it is and I don’t need to waste time thinking about it. My phone adjusts to wherever I am.
5. Be Available. In addition to the phone and email, my team uses a chat app that’s always open anytime my computer’s on and I’m working. It’s a nice way to see whether or not the person you want to talk to is available, and I’ve found it to be an almost tangible connection to the rest of the group. It also makes the cross-functional conversations I have with other teams easy and convenient since we’re all on the same system.
6. Connect with Your Tech Team. Fortunately, if I have a technology issue, I have a support team that can access my computer remotely and take care of whatever issues I might have. They are just an email, chat or phone call away.
7. Don’t Avoid Face Time. I visit my company’s headquarters at least once every month and spend a week there. Technology just can’t replace personal interaction. Important meetings are scheduled for the weeks I’m there—sometimes even team social gatherings are scheduled for when I’m in town (which is incredibly considerate on the part of my team’s management). Some meetings are just more productive with the group in front of a white board. That said, there are a lot of conference calls and other meetings that take place over the phone or by screen sharing.