Jim’s Blog: Tips for Working From Home

I have expertise in a lot of stuff very few people care about, so I’m not used to having expertise others might find useful. But I have worked mostly out of a home office since 2003, and my wife has worked at home since 2012. We have some tips that might help you deal with the new reality of working from home. 

Get dressed in the morning. You don’t have to dress like you would if you were actually going to the office, but get out of your pajamas and shower. You’ll feel more like your working self. 

Stick to a schedule. If your employer doesn’t care when you work as long as you put the time in, that’s great. You can vary your workday to accommodate a spouse, kids, or whatever’s going on in your life. (Word of warning: once you get the the flexibility to set your own schedule, you’ll have a hard time giving it up when things get back to normal) But try to get to your workspace at a designated time as much as possible. This is easy for Ann to do, as she is required to punch in by 7:30 every morning. I’m more flexible, but I generally try to be dressed and at my desk by 9AM. Take a lunch hour—away from your desk. Take a coffee/smoke/sanity break in the morning and afternoon. 

When you’ve made your work schedule, do your best to stick to it. This can be really difficult. You’ll be tempted to take 10 minutes in the middle of the morning to load and fold some laundry, and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour doing chores. (This is me, all the time, even after 16 years of working from home.) 

Respect work time and workspace. At our house, Ann works downstairs and I work upstairs. But not everybody does. The daughter of a friend of mine has a 452-square-foot apartment in New York City that she shares with her fiance. They’ve hung up signs labeling their their bedroom as “Conference Room 1” and the kitchen as “Human Resources” just to create a sense of normalcy. If only one of you is working but you’re both at home, the one who isn’t working has a responsibility to respect the other’s time and space. If you wouldn’t call your spouse at the office to ask where she put those new socks you bought last weekend, don’t stomp into her home workspace to ask.  

Related to this: if you’re using your home computer for work and you receive regular alerts from Facebook or other social media, you might want to turn those alerts off. There’s software that blocks social media entirely or limits your access to it, if that helps.

Prepare to adjust to isolation. If you are used to a busy office, working alone or nearly alone in your house will be distracting at first. Listening to the radio (we’re still here and are always going to be) can be helpful. Some people turn the TV on just for the sound, and Ann listens to books on Audible, but those might not work for everyone. If you have colleagues who are working in their homes and you need to stay in touch, don’t just text or e-mail back and forth. Call them, webchat, or Skype with them from time to time. You, and they, will welcome that kind of contact. 

Schedule time away from your spouse and family. Somebody observed on Twitter the other day that your drive home from work is decompression time, which allows your brain to transition from work life to home life. His advice was to schedule a walk after work, or some other thing that helps you draw a line between the parts of your day. But beyond that: no matter how close you are to your spouse, or how close you are as a family, 24/7 togetherness will get old, and probably pretty soon. So schedule some time apart. Give the other person some space. If you have a dog, you don’t have to walk it together. If you have a TV in the basement, it’s OK for one of you to spend the evening down there—or even sleep down there now and then. 

All of this advice comes with a caveat: Ann and I don’t have children, and having kids at home will certainly make some of this stuff more difficult. If you have some tips for working at home, let me know. My e-mail is jim.bartlett@magic98.com. I’d be happy to share some of your ideas in a future post.