Last Monday was just like a typical Monday in my office at company headquarters. Two computers up and running on my desk. I’d just completed research on a 200+ line spreadsheet, finished one conference call, and was preparing for another in a few hours. Busy sending emails to sales reps, employees, and the company CFO. Just another work day.
But in the background, instead of the click-click-click of other people’s keyboards and the hum of office conversation, I was listening to my husband power wash the front of our house. Before that, he was mowing the lawn. Bless his heart, he also watered my flowers. When he stopped for a break, the sounds were replaced by the pounding rhythm of what was apparently a very loud school-year-ending concert at the elementary school right behind our home. I was in the same shorts and t-shirt I’d worn to the gym earlier, with a baseball cap over my unwashed hair. I’d worn the same earrings for three days in a row. Ah – the joys and challenges of working at home.
I’m now heading into the third week of my grand experiment of trying to do my corporate job from home, 700+ miles from the office. As far as actually performing the job, I’m having no problem. If anything, I’m pretty sure I’m working more than I did in the office, because now I never “leave” the office. I’m checking and responding to emails at 7AM and 10PM.
At one seriously over-connected moment during the first week, I was working on both computers, talking to one supervisor on the landline while emailing my other supervisor, and my iPhone buzzed with a text from a neighbor asking me if I wanted to have lunch together the next day. I’ve fielded calls while contractors pounded away on construction of our patio, while UPS made deliveries, while the dog threw up, during thunder storms, while playing tug of war with said dog (who can be relentless), and while I was grocery shopping (of all people, the company owner caught me there late one afternoon – but I confessed my location and completed the call productively while leaning on the cart in a quiet pet food aisle).
So, just in case you’re considering (or already are) working from home, let me give you a few tips I’ve learned fairly quickly:
- Have an office: I can’t imagine doing what I’m doing while sitting at the kitchen table, or sharing the family room with Hubby and the dog and my clients and boss. I go to my office (a converted spare bedroom) every morning, and I sit at a desk. It sends a clear message to me (and to Hubby and my friends) that I am WORKING. This isn’t a hobby. It’s how I make my living.
- Take a shower (act like a grown-up): There were several days when I ran home from the gym and ended up working all day in my sweaty gym clothes. Or jumped on the computer in my PJs. Then I came to my senses. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something. What’s the point? I didn’t feel professional, and it only takes 10 minutes to grab a shower down the hall, as long as you can keep your spouse from announcing to calling co-workers “she’s in the shower, let me get her for you!” (FYI – I did NOT take that call!)
- Get dressed – you’ll feel better: It was a novelty for the first week to start working in whatever I felt like wearing, but it never lasted more than half an hour or so – it just didn’t feel right. I’m a professional doing a professional job and managing others, and I need to at least be clean and clothed. I’m not wearing dressy office attire, but now I at least wear clean, comfortable clothing. And jewelry. Again, not the fancy stuff, but something that makes me feel like…well, like me. I’ve always taken some pride in my work wardrobe, and it’s part of what defined me in the “real” office. I want to feel mature and competent when I sit at my home desk, and clothing selection can help.
- Set a different ringtone for business calls: It was a little time-consuming, but it was well worth it for me to set one ringtone for business contacts and another for personal contacts. It helps me get “into character” for the call, and I know which calls should be answered or ignored when I’m working, getting dressed, walking the dog, eating dinner, buying groceries, etc.
- Have a phone with a reliable mute button: No one on the conference call wants to hear the 80 lb dog woofing in the background, or the neighbor’s lawn mower. The idea is for callers to either not know or to forget that you’re working in your house.
- Get out of the house: This one didn’t hit me until late last week. Late Thursday afternoon, I realized that I hadn’t left my house or yard since mid-day Monday. I had worked until 7 or 8 each evening. I instantly felt frantically claustrophobic. I told Hubby I had to get out, and I made a quick run to the store, just for the change of scenery and the social interaction. So get some face-to-face social time during the week. Grab a quick lunch with a friend. Go out at night, even if it’s just the grocery store. Play with the dog at lunch time. Don’t become a recluse just because you work at home.
- Along with getting out of the house, get some exercise: Sitting at a desk all day will cause a big butt just as fast at home as it will in the office. But at home, you have the luxury of being able to do something about it more easily. Lift some hand weights, go for a jog (which you’ll never see me doing, by the way), or make yourself go to the gym in the morning. It’s been a few years since I’ve been a gym-rat, but it’s worth setting the alarm three days a week, and it’s helping me lose a few pounds even though I’m down almost all day long.
- Walk away: There’s something to be said for that transitional commute home every night, where you get to physically leave the office behind you. When you work in a traditional office, you “go home”. When the office is just down the hall 24/7, you are home, and it’s way too easy to find yourself working lots of extra hours. Every day. Just last night, I took a work call at 7:30PM. On a Sunday. It was a productive catch-up call with a fellow manager, but I doubt Hubby appreciated it. Last week, I sent a business email blast out to the sales staff on a Sunday morning, and received several responses saying “why aren’t you in church?” I replied that church didn’t start for another hour, but it made me realize what I was doing. Force yourself to walk away and disconnect. It’s fine to occasionally work after dinner (I’ll be doing that tonight), but make it a conscious decision, not an accident. Don’t burn yourself out.
I feel a little bit more in control of my time and energy heading into this third week of working at home, and that’s a good thing. Because I really like it. And I’m good at it. And I want to be able to continue doing it.