Despite having a busy office in Cambridge, my father still worked at home 2 days a week. He would wake up at the same time, put on a suit and tie, polish his shoes and walk across the courtyard to a converted barn that served as his home office. We children were accustomed to watching him walk past the windows, briefcase in hand, at 8 am sharp. We also knew that during office hours he was not to be interrupted, and any fun or games would have to wait until he punched out at 5:30.
A few years back a friend of mine left his finance job to start his own business. He began his new venture with loads of clients, working in the guest room across the hallway from his bedroom. He rarely left his flat. He spent days in track suit bottoms. He quickly realized that his lucrative new venture would cost him his sanity, and eventually shut up shop and headed back to an office environment, where he still thrives.
Working from home isn’t for everyone. Last week in the FT an article by Lucy Kellaway was titled “Spare yourself the loneliness of long-term home workers”. Lucy echoes Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, who reeled Yahoo’s home workers back in a couple of years back in the interest of collaboration and innovation. Kellaway takes it one step further, by saying that we need to go to an office for five more reasons: “To convince ourselves that what we do has some purpose, to make us feel human, to help us learn, to give us a feeling of work as distinct from home — and to facilitate the flow of gossip.”
Personally, I like the balance. I love the buzz of an office atmosphere. Brainstorming meetings fill me with energy and motivation. But then I like to head up to my home office, turn off my phone and email, and spend seriously productive days without distraction.
Thankfully, everyone is different. But if you are considering working from home, there are a few tips I can share. Some come from my father (no, not the suit) and some I’ve picked up over the last 20 years, in which I’ve spent considerably more time working from home than in an office environment.
Define your home workspace Make a place in your home that is designed for work only. Keep your desk space clean and organized, and free of anything personal. Associate this space with work only. Moreover, make sure that there is minimal opportunity for interruption. If you use the same computer for work and personal use, make sure your desktop is free of personal distractions. Set up a separate login for work to help you stay focused and remove email alerts and chat notifications of a personal nature. Moreover, make sure that family, spouse, children, etc. understand that your home office (even if it’s just a desk…) requires an element of respect (read quiet…) so that your train of thought won’t be continuously interrupted.
Stick to your schedule It is important to stick to a routine, despite having an abundance of flexibility. When I work from home, I go for a run. After my run, I know what I want to accomplish before heading to the kitchen to make lunch. In the afternoons, I usually need a break to re-energize for 15 minutes, and meditation tends to do the trick. Getting away from your desk for a strategic break or two between tasks can be invigorating. Meditation, a walk, or even a few downward dogs can give you a lift to tackle the next task on your list.
I have colleagues who pop out to work at a coffee shop in the afternoon to break up their day, or else head to the gym in the evening. It’s important to have a schedule and a set goal of what to accomplish. At the same time, it’s vital that the workday have a beginning and an end, so that work doesn’t trickle over into our evenings and blur with our personal lives. At the end of the day I find it relaxing to take the dogs for a quick walk. A brisk walk in the fresh air helps to turn off my work mind and return to my family and children for the evening.
No matter what routine works for you, routine is the best way to battle Parkinsons law and to feel more efficient by completing tasks during an allotted amount of time throughout the day.
Make sure you connect with real, live people every day Thanks to Skype and FaceTime, it’s easier to connect with people on a personal level. However, there is nothing like the real deal. One on one conversations on your computer cannot be considered part of your social calendar. When you work from home, it’s important to get out every day and see real live people (complete with legs). So if you are in a situation where you live alone and you are working from home, you need to make more of an effort to get out there. Join a club, hit the gym, or attend a lecture. Interacting on a personal level in the flesh is an important part of feeling human.
Consider challenging yourself with new goals Working independently from home means you’re probably not getting too many pats on the back. It sometimes feels like you’re treading water without getting in-person feedback. Especially if you work for yourself, it’s important to have something else in your life with a different dynamic. Try getting out of your comfort zone and trying a new sport or creative pursuit. Starting something brand new gives you a new perspective, and a real sense of accomplishment as you reach certain milestones. Dedicating yourself to this new pursuit will provide you with a sense of accomplishment and progress which will invariably affect your work life, filling a void where professional feedback may be lacking.
In summary, Kellway’s article in the FT has a point. I recognize that Kellaway’s five reasons to return to working in an office will apply to many people. Working from home has had its ups and downs, and I’ve had to tweak my routine many times throughout the years to stay invigorated and inspired without always sitting amongst my team. Personally, the benefits of a home office have always won out, and I have no qualms about my purpose, feeling human, personal enrichment, and keeping my home and work life distinctly separate. In terms of facilitating the flow of gossip, I tend to leave that to my wife.
Any thoughts or ideas on how to make working from home a viable and even preferable option? I’d love to hear your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org