If you work in the High Tech industry, eCommerce or if you’re in Sales you are probably familiar with the work at home concept. Working from home, a coffee shop, a hotel or a client site is second nature to many of us. It goes with the job and it’s kind of a perk in my mind. But if you are in other industries, it may be a new concept for you. With the outbreak of a global pandemic more and more people are finding themselves forced into a work from home position, some not by choice.
Working at home is different. You may not realize how much the social interaction in an office is part of your daily life. As a Manager or presenter, you may rely on the reaction of your audience for visual feedback. The daily change of environment from home to office may be what gets you going in the morning and gets your brain into ‘work’ mode. When you are working at home for extended periods you have to find new ways to replace that stimulation.
If you are a newbie to working at home, here are nine suggestions to help you settle into a productive work at home routine:
- Establish a routine. Just because you work at home doesn’t mean you have to abandon your normal morning routine. Set the alarm for your normal wake-up time. Take a shower and clean up even if you’re staying home. One of my friends even dresses for the office on his work at home days to get his mind set for business. Personally, I’m more a shorts and t-shirt kinda guy working from home. But the main idea is, prepare like it’s a work day.
- Carve out a permanent work space. Sitting on your couch with your laptop isn’t a great setup for focused, productive work. For extended work at home periods, you need to establish a consistent work area. Set up the corner of a table in your dining room. Or, if you have an unused desk, clean it off. If you have an extra monitor, get it out. Grab a keyboard and mouse. Get a headset. Hook it all up. Now you have your work space and at the end of the day, you can shut down and leave it there.
- Take a break. Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean you don’t get a break. Don’t feel guilty about popping in the kitchen for a coffee and a snack mid-morning or mid-afternoon. You’d hit the lunchroom or the food truck at work wouldn’t you? Step out on your porch or patio for a breath of fresh air or walk around the block. One of the advantages of working from home is you’re not cooped up in an office or a cubicle. A short break can do wonders for productivity.
- Eat lunch somewhere besides in front of your computer. I’d apply this rule in the office or working at home. Do not eat in front of your computer while working. It’s a terrible habit to fall into. Give yourself that mental break for 30 or 45 minutes away from work and the computer screen. If you eat a quick lunch, take a walk, listen to a podcast, or sit outside for a few minutes. Just give your brain time to recharge. Normally I’d say go out for lunch once in a while with a friend or co-worker, but during this pandemic that’s not a great suggestion.
- Stay in touch with your co-workers. Working from home doesn’t mean you have to be a hermit or only engage during meetings. Hopefully your company has embraced collaboration tools like Teams, Slack or others. If it hasn’t, use messaging tools like Facebook Messenger, Skype or Google Hangouts to communicate with your co-workers. Before the prevalence of corporate collaboration tools, we all used Yahoo Messenger (remember it?). Short chats are more effective in asking and answering questions than emails and meetings. Quick online calls help you stay connected and feed that social interaction you miss out on when you are used to an office environment.
- Background noise is your friend. When I’m not on conference calls or online chats, I always have music playing in the background. Depending on my mood it can be almost any genre of music, I have pretty varied tastes. When I really want to concentrate, it’s classical or electronic music, something with no vocals. Find out what works for you, a totally silent work environment is not the norm. I never worked in an office that was silent. The idea is to have some type of background noise going. For you, that might be jungle or ocean noises from your smart home device, it might be music, or it could be a white noise generator. Find what works for you and stream away. It will help you get into a rhythm.
- Test accessing all the corporate systems and resources. You need to test access to systems BEFORE you really need to use them. One of the first things to do when you begin working from home is test the access to all the file shares, ERP systems, collaboration tools, VPN’s, email, CRM, SharePoint, etc. that you use in the office. While your IT team may have everything ready to go, your home router or internet service provider could block IP addresses or ports you need access to. Don’t wait until right before that critical meeting to discover you can’t launch or log into a web meeting!
- Which brings us to…create trial accounts. If you don’t have a corporate account, create trial accounts with Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx or FreeConferenceCall.com. You’ll need to screen share somewhere along the way and these tools all work great for voice calls and screen sharing. If you haven’t used them before, do a trial meeting with a colleague before you have to run an online meeting for real.
- Listen and stay engaged. When you’re in a meeting, you don’t have the visual cues to tell you how a meeting is going. You have to listen closely and pay attention to the inflection in people’s voices. Close your Twitter and don’t browse Instagram or Facebook while you’re in a meeting. It’s a distraction and you won’t hear most of what’s being said.. Until you are accustomed to working at home you need to stay focused.
It may feel a little weird at first, sitting in your home, talking away to no one (maybe your cat), trying to be energized and enthusiastic with no audience. If it helps, stand up when you talk, wave your hands around, do the same things you do when presenting in person. Even after all these years, I still talk with my hands when I’m working from home, it’s just how I present and it makes me comfortable.
I hope you find these suggestions for working at home helpful. If you have other tips and suggestions, leave them in the comments section. Enjoy the shorter commute!