After four years of (mostly) working from home, I thought I had done it enough to add my thoughts to the pile of home office advice. Rather than playing off and parroting advice we have all been hearing for years, I thought I would simply write down what worked for me and what didn’t, bust a myth or two, and perhaps hear from some other folks’ experiences in the comments.
The Experts Are Right
You need a routine in a home office. No distractions, no housework, no TV. When I started working, I was working. Laundry, dishes et al can wait – with reasonable exceptions (if my son had a game that evening being home meant I could get his uniform in the wash if I had to).
Part of that routine is setting a space; I have an office in the home, which creates a boundary and a place to be away from other noise and distractions in the house. When I started working from home I thought that with a laptop I would work from wherever was comfortable. That proved to be only a part-time indulgence, particularly in the summer when I might work in the backyard on a sunny, quiet day.
I did not set up a single-purpose office, though, so I often had office -mates (my wife working, or my son doing his homework at the family desktop computer).
One piece of flexibility I took advantage of sometimes was that I could work from coffee shops. If I needed to get out of the house or wanted to be closer to the school for an afternoon carpool, I would spend some time and use the new surroundings to refresh my mind. Camping out at a coffee shop all day? No thanks. I found I risked being obnoxious, even slightly creepy, and totally annoying if I had to take a phone call there. The coffee shop office has its limits, but the change of scenery or simply cutting down some travel time for later errands made it worth it.
Productivity is a Wash
I did have the frequent opportunity to work in an office over the last four years as well. When I did, I noticed that productivity was no better or worse at either location. What was different was how I felt about the productivity gaps. In the solitude of a home office, it meant forcing myself to get up and take a walk rather than stare at a screen and not get anything done. Some days, I felt as if I had spent hours not getting something done when the real time “wasted” was never anywhere near that.
At the “proper” office, it meant getting up and talking to colleagues, possibly disrupting their work flow as well – or having that done to me in turn. Was I more productive in one setting or the other? I don’t think so. The socialization took up as much time, maybe more, than the occasional breaks a solo worker needs.
On/Off Switch (The Experts Are Right II)
One skill I had to acquire early on was being able to change from “work” mode to “home” mode while not changing buildings – or sometimes, rooms. I found that while in the past I would tote around my laptop at night – because if I was not at the office then it wasn’t work (right?) – working from home I needed a fresh break and would put the computer away completely in the evening. That rule (it wasn’t a rule, really) softened with time, but only after I got comfortable compartmentalizing “work” and “home” mindsets.
The main gain in flexibility working from home had to do with the lack of a commute. This meant I could start work early some days, or go to the gym later than I otherwise might (no more 5:45 dates with the elliptical machine); on the other end, it guaranteed I could make earlydinners or school pickups and events. I took advantage of this found time frequently, no question about it. Working from an office again will mean readjusting again and managing time and commitments like everyone else does.
I also have a cat. Cats rule as office mates.
I Wore Pants
No, I did not work naked. Or in my pajamas. I did wear shorts on hot summer days, where I tend not to dress like that in the office. Getting dressed is part of the routine mentioned above. While I did have the flexibility to wear whatever I wanted, it is important to inject a little civility into my demeanor.
Mind you, I’m not saying I never broke that rule.
One strange thing I did notice, however, had to do with footwear. A few weeks into my first summer, I noticed my feet were calloused in ways that I had never noticed. It turns out the culprits were sandals; never in my life had I worn sandals, but I had just bought a pair for summer wear. I started wearing them every day around the house, much more than I might have anticipated (I never said “getting dressed” for telework meant strictly confirming to business casual).
Aside from dressing up, managing remote teams was another adjustment; however, remote teams are now much more common, and I don’t consider my remote communications skills to be unique to the home office, certainly not anymore.
…working from home required some adjustments, but for the most part I don’t consider it radically different than working in an office. As I get back to a daily office grind soon, I may have some different feelings; we’ll see.
Those of you who work from home or do both – what is your take?