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4 Tips to Help You Love Working From Home

Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

Whether you’ve been forced to work from home, or are doing it voluntarily, it can be daunting at first. But with the proper mindset and environment, it can be the single best thing you’ve done in your work life.

That’s been my personal experience and also the experience of many people and teams that I’ve worked with over the last several years.

I’ve been a full-time remote worker for several years now. Not only doing my thing but leading a team of people, some of whom are remote and some of whom are in the office.

Working remotely gives you more time in your day, helps financially, and can make you the most productive that you’ve ever been. It can help you realize the dream of working smarter, not harder.

It’s almost like having a teleporter, getting a raise, and installing the Maxwell Smart’s Cone of Silence.

But to do it effectively and be happy, you need the mindset of committing to the workday, an environment that fosters that mindset, and you will need to stave off the feeling of isolation that can occur without the physical office.

My Journey to Working From Home Full Time

My journey from office to full-time working from home started about 15 years ago, in the middle of the night.

At the time, I was a programmer on a software development team that had a lot to do, in a short period of time. To keep my head above water, I’d sit down at my home computer in the kids’ playroom after they went to bed and write code for a couple more hours.

One late night, lamenting the little sleep I’d get before having to commute into the office in a few hours, it struck me: I sure am productive by myself, in the silence of my home. Wouldn’t it make sense if I eliminated the distractions of the office and the hour and a half of commuting per day?

So I tried it one day a week, and it was a disaster. My internet speed sucked, I was constantly distracted by what was going on in the house, I felt isolated from the team, and by lunchtime, I was totally unmotivated. In fact, within a few weeks, I abandoned it.

I didn’t know why I couldn’t translate my late-night productivity into full-day productivity. What was wrong with me?

Over the next few years, I occasionally tried again for various reasons with mixed results.

Fast forward a couple more years, and now with an oppressive, 3-hour per day and expensive commute from my rural town to center-city Philly, I tried again out of pure self-preservation. I would spend 1 or 2 days per week working from home.

By this time, several changes had occurred. My home internet speed was just as good as the office. The team I worked with was geographically diverse, so we had a culture and toolset that supported remote working. I now had my own space in my home. And most importantly: I was mentally committed…this HAD to work.

It was bumpy at first, but soon I was loving that day or 2 at home. Within a few months, I looked forward to my 2 days per week at home and dreaded the days I went to the office. That got me thinking…could I do this full-time?

As it turns out, I didn’t have to wait long to find out. I got laid off, and with the new opportunity I found, I was able to choose to either move my family or stay where I was and make it a full-time work-from-home position. Bolstered by my recent positive experiences, I chose to stay where I was and work from home full time.

That was one of the best decisions of my career.

Not only do I work from home, but I lead my team from home. Some of my team are in an office, and some work from home like me. In fact, part of my team’s role is to enable our entire company to work remotely.

So I’ve learned some stuff that I can share with you.

I’ve learned what works for me, and what keeps me happy and productive. I’ve also learned what helps other individuals and remote teams be happy and productive when working remotely.

Here are my 4 tips to help you love working from home.

Create a Space

Creating a physical space helps bridge the mental transition to the workday, and sets boundaries for the others in the house.

Working from home full-time, or even just for a full day, is not the same as sending a couple of emails after dinner. It can’t be done from your bed or the couch.

Effective working from home requires a mindset commitment to the workday, just as if you were going to the office. Having a physical space helps transition your mindset, just as your commute did before.

Once you set some physical boundaries, your mind can transition easier, and you will be able to more effectively stem outside interruptions.

At the office, everybody’s on the same schedule, but at home, the schedules clash. You can’t run your day interrupt-driven from your family and expect to be successful. Boundaries must be set, and a dedicated space helps set them.

This may be your biggest challenge, but it’s worth sacrificing something else (den, bedroom space, workshop, rarely-used living or dining room, etc).

Find a spot that you can go to each day. Set up your big monitor and docking station. Layout your favorite pen and notebook. Leave this stuff there just as you would at your desk in an office.

When you go to this space and sit, you are going to the office.

Find Your Routine

When you commute to an office, you have a routine.

What does that look like for you now?

Get up, take a shower, get dressed, get the tea or coffee, grab the laptop…get in the car, queue up the podcast…35 minutes later you’re at the office.

This routine is critical in transitioning your mind and body into the workday in the morning, and out of the workday in the evening. These transitions occur naturally when you commute.

One challenge of working from home is the integration of home and work thwarts that natural transition. You’re unmotivated to start your workday, and that turns into difficulty staying engaged throughout, which then leads to a challenge in being fully present with your family in the evening.

It took me a while to find what works for me, and it shifts around a bit. My routine currently doesn’t look exactly like it did a couple of years ago. But when I’m on my game, it always involves these 4 elements:

  1. Intention to start the day
  2. Priming my mind
  3. Priming my body
  4. Creating a ToDo list with a clear head prior to the firefights and distractions of the day

How do you find what works for you?

Try different things. Start with something similar to what you do today. Start with taking a shower and getting dressed as if you were going to the office. Maybe even keep the travel piece, but substitute a walk.

Honestly, some days I don’t do it. I feel hurried and pressured to get started, or I don’t particularly like what I’m reading, or I don’t want to take the time to make my ToDo list…or I just don’t wanna.

But these are the days I struggle.

Give yourself some time. Test different things. Know that somedays you’re going to struggle, and that’s OK.

Take Breaks

Like a commute creates a natural routine, the office environment naturally provides mental breaks in your day.

Lunchtime…watercooler conversation…meetings…a trip to the coffee machine…a walk around the block or out to the car…

When you first start working from home, many of these critical natural breaks won’t occur. You have to design them into your day intentionally.

Done right, breaks can be your superpower. Not taken or done wrong, and you can derail the rest of your day and leave yourself mopy or agitated.

How do you design breaks into your day?

Like your routine, try stuff and adjust, but start with a lunch break.

If you don’t normally take a lunch break, start taking one. If your normal thing at the office is to take a walk at lunch, do it at home. If, like me, you typically workout at lunchtime, then do that. If it’s running an errand or two, then do some of that.

A warning: there is a fine line between productive breaks and unproductive distractions and interruptions, especially when working from home. Setting boundaries helps with distractions and interruptions. Taking physical breaks does as well.

You’ll figure it out. Like the other tips, it may be a little awkward at first, but you’ll find the kinds of breaks that help unlock your productivity.

Work Socially

This is the MOST IMPORTANT one.

It is the single biggest factor in helping me remain productive and happy, as well as building a productive and happy remote team.

This is the one that will help you stave off those feelings of isolation, keep you engaged and productive, and make working from home something you come to love.

The great news is that it’s also not that hard. In fact, for introverts (like me), using your remote toolset to work socially can be better than sitting in an office full of people.

What does “work socially” mean?

Fostering conversation and community around work, but also around life.

It means communicating with your coworkers as if you, and they, were physically together. It means participating in the community. It’s definitely oversharing (I don’t mean in the TMI way) work stuff, but also watercooler conversation.

How do you do that?

Through technology, awareness, and intention. Use the tools and platforms that have been provided to you to participate in the community.

It’s likely that you have tools such as Slack, MS Teams, Zoom, etc. Use them instead of email for conversation (oh please gawd…NOT email). Email is the enemy of fostering community in a healthy remote workforce.

Email itself is great and a perfectly fine tool. But its purpose is not conversation and community. Email is for documentation, publishing, and formal communication. All stuff you need to do in the course of your day. But it’s not a tool for working socially.

These other tools are perfect for conversation, community, and informal communication. They make real-time conversation effortless. Real-time conversation helps develop a community similar to the office environment.

Which brings up…the big one. And you’re going to have to get over it…

Turn your video ON in meetings and in 1-on-1 conversations. I get it…that totally wigs you out. It did for me initially also. But once I committed to getting over that, I found that it not only helped me, but it helped the others on the calls also feel more comfortable turning their own video on.

When everyone has their video on, it’s like you’re sitting around the conference room table. It’s almost like you’re in the office.

And the potpourri of weird stuff in the background of your video? That just enhances the conversation.

Fostering and participating in conversation and community are the keys to working socially. And working socially is the single biggest factor that will help you love working from home.

A Warning For Leaders

If you are a leader, “working socially” is NOT micromanagement.

It’s NOT hounding your people every hour, or several times per day for status updates so that you can convince yourself that they are actually working. It’s not checking the VPN logs to ensure so-and-so was logged in the appropriate number of hours today.

Working socially is the fostering of conversation and community. A healthy community requires trust.

Even when proper boundaries have been set, working from home is an integration of home life and work life. It has to be, and quite frankly, that’s one of it’s biggest benefits.

Embrace and understand that integration for your team. Productivity results from the tips above. Help the members of your team implement these.

Micromanagement will have the opposite effect of working socially.

In Summary

Give yourself some grace.

This may not be easy, especially if it was forced on you.

It may take a few days or a few weeks, but if you’re committed you’ll figure it out.

You may even find that you’re more productive and happy in this situation. That’s certainly true for me now, but it did take time, and it took figuring out how to build my mindset and environment to work for me, instead of against me.

Hopefully, with these tips, you can get there quicker.

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John Macdonald

John Macdonald

Obsesrver, Life-Curious, Beginner — Writing to try to figure out the stuff in my head