Opinion

Making Working From Home … Work

I’ve been coaching friends and family on how to make working from home actually work. I recently hosted a 20-minute tune-up: a very short webinar with the top 10 advice snippets I’ve given out frequently.

There isn’t an end in sight to working remotely for most of us. Even if there were a clear end-date, working from home might be a silver lining from this mess! If you’re interested in attending a future 20-minute tune-up, be sure to sign up for my newsletter.

1) Box Up Your Emails: Out of sight, out of mind? I see many people using email to “prove” they are working… constantly. It’s natural to worry that when someone can’t see me working, they may start to doubt my commitment or availability. Since email is the fastest, low-barrier way to demonstrate “I’m here!” when no one can see me, it’s very easy to over- and mis-used. I know that when email becomes the way people are trying to reach me in real time, it’s time to set some boundaries. I’ve decide on a reasonable response time and set time in my schedule to manage email. Pro-tip? It’s not first think in the morning! I also let people know how to reach me for true emergencies (hint: it’s the telephone).

2) Respond vs React: Along the lines of needing to prove I’m working; it can be easy to slip into reacting to requests from others rather than responding with intention. It’s time to brush off that old Eisenhower Matrix to help filter out what is urgent from what is truly important. I recommend going a step further: for work that is important, what is the most impactful, unique value I can make? That’s the work on which I focus. Everything else is secondary.

3) Set Standard Hours: My favorite insight about working from home in the last 11 months is from Adam Grant: we are not working from home, we are stuck at home working during a crisis. What a mindset shift, right!? Being in my home means it is even more critical to set some level of reasonable work/non-work boundaries. While a firm 9-5 schedule may work for some, what it means in reality is to set a reasonable schedule vs being always accessible.

4) Limit Your Availability: Every day, we teach people how to work with us. Answering emails immediately, being online constantly, answering the phone … every time I choose to be available, I am revealing my boundaries. I am not an on-demand resource. A simple “I’m always available via cell if it’s an emergency” lets others know I’m a team player AND that I know where to focus to get work done. If someone calls me and it’s NOT an emergency, it’s pretty easy to say “This sounds like it needs my full attention. Could we chat tomorrow at 9 AM?”

5) Use up your PTO: Humans must have rest and recovery as part of our work – and you are no exception! Rest is not a reward, it is a non-negotiable part of the process. The law of diminishing returns is real: one person, working 10 hours a day, without breaks to recharge and rest, is not doing her best work. I know that what we do with our PTO may look different these days, yet it is critical to schedule it, take it, and protect it.

6) State Your Sacred: Sacred is a powerful word. Find the time in your day that cannot be interrupted or compromised and tell your coworkers about it. It might be school drop off, dinner time, a mid-day run… find that hour or so a day, circle it in red and do not waiver in protecting it. The key to sacred time is that it is the time where you MUST be fully present and involved in something that is not work related.

7) Anchoring Your Laptop: Set up a dedicated workspace if you haven’t done so already… and if you can’t do that, set up a dedicated not-for-work space. Moving your laptop around your home with you is literally taking your work everywhere. Physical boundaries for where you do and do not work help create mental boundaries.

8) Eat at Tables, Not Desks: Another place I have clear, hard boundaries is between where I work and where I eat. I’ve given myself permission to take a lunch break – after all, when I was in the office, I was likely waiting for a microwave, walking to the communal kitchen, chatting with coworkers…taking that that time back for a meal that isn’t at my desk and ideally doesn’t involve a screen helps me recharge mid-day.

9) No Camera Day: This may be the most challenging of all the work-from-home tips: set a camera-free day each week. ZOOM-fatigue is real – we are not designed to be looking at ourselves or a screen all day. Let you coworkers know in advance and dial up the audio-only participation to make this work. If you regularly host meetings, check to see if you truly need a video call before scheduling.

10) Don’t Drink The Bathroom Water: My favorite of all advice, this gem is a reminder that I deserve to walk all the way to the kitchen for water. It’s easy to find short cuts like filling up my water bottle in the bathroom. “Don’t drink the bathroom water” has become my code to keeping things human when working alone.

Let me know which of these 10 tips resonates most with you?
What would you add to the list?

Remember, work has to work for you, too!

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