Working From Home: Not as Easy as It Sounds

As COVID-19 (aka Coronavirus) continues its relentless march across the globe, more and more companies are turning to work from home (WFH) to reduce the chances that the virus spreads within their ranks. WFH has long been a joke amongst those who don’t do it often. They will put “work” in quotes to imply that working from home is more like a vacation without burning a PTO day. However, those that work remotely on a regular basis understand that it isn’t all pajamas and daytime TV. Working from home has its benefits for sure—but it also has its drawbacks.

If there is one thing every Inspirant Unconsultant is an expert at, it’s working remotely. Whether at a client site, a co-working space in Chicago, or in a home office in sunny Florida, we all have years of experience “getting it done” from places other than a corporate hub. So, I asked our team what the hardest part of working remotely is what they do to mitigate it.

Problem: Separating Home from Work

Separating work and home was the most cited difficulty by our team. However, there was an even split between people who had a hard time focusing on work at home and people who had a hard time “leaving the office at the office” when the office is in their home. Luckily, you can use the same strategies to tackle both problems.

Solutions

The first thing you need to do is talk to your spouse, roommate, significant other, dog, cat, gerbil, and/or fish. You need them to understand that you are working at home. Everything should go on as if you were out of the house. I had a dog walker for years before I started working from home. I still have a dog walker now. My daughter has all-day childcare that is not me. I don’t answer the door when the bell rings. For all intents and purposes, I’m not home. It was not always like this. When I first started working at home, I was trying to do everything, and it got exhausting. Pick up the dry cleaning at 10? Sure! Be on the 10:15 client call? No problem! Take the dog for a walk? Yes! Get those numbers to you before lunch? Absolutely!! There is a tendency to feel that you have it easier than the rest of the people in your home because you are working from home. That just isn’t true.

Second, set a routine. Get up, get dressed, get going. It is easy to roll out of bed and stumble down to the kitchen table and start your day. You need to have a routine—preferably the same routine you had when you weren’t WFH. Set an alarm, take a shower, make your lunch, commute, start work… I can hear you now, “Commute to my basement?” The answer is, “Yes… but take the long way.” I work from home every day. On exactly none of those days do I ever go right from the bedroom to the office. Most of the time, I take the dog for a walk. If the weather is bad, I’ll drive to Starbucks. The key is that I leave home and when I come back, I am at work. The same goes for the end of the day. You don’t have to go out but you should, set aside 10 or 15 minutes to mentally transition back to home life. Watch a YouTube video or read a book. Listen to the traffic on your local news radio station. Pretend you are killing time on the train or in the car. (Important: Do not go back until the next day unless you redo your “commute.” If you have more work to do, do it from someplace else. You wouldn’t go back into the office to work at night. The same applies here.)

Finally, find a space that is your workspace and have it set up comfortably for you. Get a monitor, a desk calendar, post-it notes, whatever you have at your desk in your on-site office. This is where you might run into some issues that need to be addressed by the first solution. My wife is not a fan of how clean I keep my office—mostly because I don’t keep my office clean. I do try to clean it but only during work hours. If my desk was at our Naperville office, I certainly wouldn’t be going there on a Saturday to straighten it up. This one takes some work and you may have to give in a little to keep the peace. If you can, follow the commute plan from the second solution if you do have to go to your workspace during off-hours.

Work is work and home is home. The more you can maintain that separation the better both your home and work life will be. 

Problem: Feeling Isolated

Working from home can be lonely. I share my office with my dog Herbert during the day. While he is cute, there are definitely days where I don’t physically speak to another human being between 7 AM and 5 PM. I’m an introvert so that generally isn’t a problem but there are times that I miss telling my old work neighbor a random story or fact. (I’m guessing he probably doesn’t miss those distractions.) At the end of the day, working from home is just isolating.

Solutions

The Unconsultants had a few different ways that they deal with the loneliness of working away from the office.

The most popular advice is “just get out of the house.” What the Unconsultants do ranges from running an errand at lunch, to working from a coffee shop with other friends who WFH, to getting a co-working membership. You don’t have to be talking about your work to feel connected to someone. Once you get out and about you are bound to run into other adults dying for some conversation because they haven’t talked to anyone in hours either!

Don’t have time to leave or trying to stay away from crowds to avoid COVID-19? The Unconsultants have you covered there too. One great suggestion (which I hope we adopt as a firm) is virtual coffee breaks. We all drink coffee and we all have video call capabilities. Schedule a Teams or Hangouts chat with your group every day in the morning. Have coffee, talk about your day. You can even meet virtually for lunch. (Remember to chew nicely, you are on camera).

You aren’t the only one feeling isolated. Find someone else and make plans to meet physically or virtually on a daily basis. 

Problem: Effective Communication

It is really nice to be able to pop into someone’s office or cubicle (or in these open office days just yell across the floor) to ask them a quick question or get clarification. Now you have to weigh whether it is worth a call. Email and chat are great, but text can be misinterpreted much easier than spoken word.

Solutions

Create a camera-on culture for meetings. All meeting software has a video feature. Most large organizations don’t habitually use it. What I have found is that once I turn my camera on, others follow. You are already dressed for work and have a space for yourself hit that video button and turn your call into to a virtual meeting.

Use your technology outside of meetings as well. Yes, email and chat are great but as Unconsultant Jim Boss put it, “any communication (text, IM or e-mail) that goes back and forth more than twice deserves a phone call instead, this isn’t tennis! And, challenging/sensitive serious/difficult/negative discussions should be done by phone.” I would go even further and say video chat whenever possible. Your organization has a video chat solution, I guarantee it. I’m not talking about the whole “schedule a meeting and add a WebEx” thing. Find the video camera icon in your chat window and press it. You’ll have an instant connection just like popping in someone’s office.

Finally, get a good camera and microphone. They aren’t that expensive on Amazon and make huge impact on how people see, focus on, and understand what you are saying!

Don’t take the easy way out. Turn on the camera and talk to people face to virtual face. 

Working from home is not as easy as it sounds but it can be extremely effective. If you make the effort to separate work from home, proactively maintain “work” relationships, and take the time to have face to virtual face meetings, you might become more productive AND enjoy it.

Stay tuned for our next article which will address steps that organizations can take to keep their teams effective and their employees engaged when they are working from home!

Date Published:
March 5, 2020

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