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23 Mar 2020

Working From Home Tips From A 17-Year Veteran Of Doing It

The coronavirus has exposed more people to working from home. Many are rookies. Many only have a day-or-two-a-week experience. Others only have short one-time stretches. Few though do this every day, let alone for seventeen years.

This virus also exposes these people to the uncertainty of when they will return to the office. That alone creates anxiety. That makes this different from the above situations.

Tackling Distractions

People always talk about distractions when working from home. Yes, they exist. It’s not that they are more or less than at the office. They just differ.

Recall that last wasteful meeting. Recall that co-worker that had to tell you about the latest video, game, song, outing, gossip, etc. How about when everyone laughed? You just had to ask, “What’s so funny?” “What’s everyone laughing about?”

Home distractions also lack the presence of others curtailing them. Thus, their remedies differ from the office variety:

  • Tell all at home and nearby you are working from home.
  • Set up physical and operational barriers.
  • Remove tools and reminders of personal tasks from work space and computer.
  • Shut off all notifications on phone except for calls.
  • Define work times especially those for emails, texts and messaging.
  • Remind all at home and nearby you are working from home.

Don’t expect people to respect your space right away. Train them. If I’ve trained my cats to get off my desk and chair when I need to focus, we can train people too.

Yes, a door closes off a space. That’s easy. We can close off shared spaces too with bedsheets, cardboard boxes, furniture, screens and many others. Mark it with painters tape. Just defining the space helps emotionally and mentally.

Even with a closed room, hang a small whiteboard or dry erase pad so you can inform others of when you are doing a conference call, video call, recording or the like. I use a dry erase pad to inform my wife of these so she sees it when she first enters the house. As one last note, if the bathroom is nearby, put a “no use” sign up before the call.

Operational barriers include shutting off phone notifications, defining work times, removing tools and reminders of personal and household tasks. “Out of sight, out of mind” works. Smartphones, outside the office, suck up even more time.

Tackling Isolation

Face time with bosses and employees is important to success. It thwarts miscommunication. It influences powerfully. Working from home makes this tougher. It’s easy to feel in the woods or on an island.

The main tips here:

  • Set aside daily time to call those with whom you would interact with daily if in the office.
  • Ask if it’s a good time when answered.
  • Don’t expect others to contact you.
  • Expect extra work and discomfort keeping in touch.

Socializing takes more work from home than at the office. Both video and phone calls work. Even just leaving a message helps. Some form of voice works better than texting, messaging or emailing.

Take the initiative. Don’t expect others to do it. The discomfort comes when we don’t know if we’re interrupting. Asking helps. “Hi, how are you? Did I catch you in the middle of something?” “Hi, I just wanted to touch base. Is this a good time?”

The coronavirus has exposed more people to working from home.

Working from home can seem like being in the woods on an island surrounded by distractions.

Personality and Circumstances Matter

Finally, personality matters. Circumstances do too.

Some are more suited to working from home than others. Yes, those who thrive on a lot of socializing will have challenges. Those who need external controls to stay on task will too. Those with an introverted self-discipline do best. Yet, even here, obstacles exist.

Some may have family obligations. Others don’t. Some have a spare room with a door. Others have to share space. Some have young children. Others have active pets.

The point is that all need to find what works for them. That means learning and testing. Even with my tips, don’t expect to solve this in a day. So, don’t despair. It can work for you. It didn’t work for me in one day. Stay at it . . . because it won’t take seventeen years either.

2 Responses

  1. Barbara

    Excellent, Mike. Fortunately, working for an Investment Advisor, we are considered essential so I can keep coming into the office. Take care and stay well.

    1. Mike Lehr

      Good to hear, Barbara, that you have a place to go! I appreciate the re-connect and well wishes. I wish you the same. ~Mike

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