How To Manage Working From Home

working from home

Working from home…many of us are doing it right now. Some are doing it better than others. So how can you make working from home successful?

Separating Work From Home

One of the hardest things is how to separate your work from your home. When you’re working from home it becomes even more challenging. You can stay at your computer “for one more minute” and look up and an hour has passed.

An easy way to get through this is to have some way to make the mental shift between working from home and vice versa. Here are some things that have worked well for me:

  • Leave the house for a “commute”. Even walking around the block can give you the transition between home and work.
  • Have a set work room or area. Having a set place to do your work will help you focus your mind. When I was teaching, I did all my grading in the unused formal dining room. When I wasn’t in there, I wasn’t working. If I was in there, I was working. Even if this is a specific sofa cushion, this can work.
  • Have specific equipment. Most employers are now providing equipment like a laptop or tablet for people to work from home. Use this equipment only for work, and your own equipment for everything else. Turn it off when not in use.
  • Have startup and termination phrases. Saying (out loud) phrases to signal the start and end of your workday can shift your thinking to and from work. Think Star Trek-esque: “Hello computer” and “Terminate work session, computer”
  • Keep to a schedule. The temptation to flex your work hours is strong when there is no one watching. Keep to your normal work hours, and work only during that time.

Maintaining an Office Space

Maintaining an office space can be hard when you’re short on space – particularly if you’re sharing it with others!

During my teaching, I often had to switch classrooms when one of my students wasn’t able to make it up the stairs to my classroom. I used a backpack for my tech, and tote organizers to make it possible for me to move between workspaces. Here are two similar to what I used: an organizing tote* and laptop backpack*. Using these can make it possible to quickly setup and clean up your workspace, while keeping everything together.

Discussions With Colleagues

It’s difficult if you are used to collaborating with your colleagues frequently. Luckily, there are numerous ways you can communicate, all of which have solidified under the work-from-home conditions.

  • Zoom. Now a strong video conferencing product, many companies use this for teleconferences. The paid option gives you multiple people and extended times.
  • Microsoft Teams. Built into the latest version of Office online, it’s a full-fledged collaboration system that has built-in telecom.
  • Skype. A Microsoft product, it allows stand-alone video calls from your phone or desktop.
  • Your phone. Calling is just as effective as video for quick things. And if you have to video, you can use Facetime (if you’re both iOS) or What’sApp.
  • Google Voice. If you don’t want to give your personal number to your colleagues (I never give my cell number to my clients), you can use Google Voice. It allows you to automatically send calls to voicemail after hours.

As a matter of consideration, use a headset when you are on a video or conference call. Just as you wouldn’t use your speaker phone for a conference call in an open office environment, don’t do it from home either.

Keeping Up Motivation

Maintaining motivation can be difficult when you feel isolated. For that reason I recommend daily contact with your colleagues.

If you can’t get it going on a team level, try finding one person to talk to every day as an accountability partner. During your discussion make sure you mention what you worked on, what you are planning on working on, and any issues that you are having. It need only take 15 minutes, but can keep you on track, knowing you will have to report in the next day.

Keeping Track of Things

Documentation is important. It’s even more important these days. Documentation doesn’t have to be difficult or complex.

I keep a separate notebook for work. I note down the date, the day of the week, and then the following:

  • What I did. This tells me what I worked on during the day. This is critical for the next day’s team meeting, as well as doing my timesheet and status report at the end of the week. I use a bullet journal format of rapid logging to keep it short.
  • Results of meetings. By noting down what we talked about, who was there and what decisions were made, I have written information that I can refer back to. I can also follow up if someone was assigned a task during the meeting.
  • Tasks that need to be done. These are things I need to do that fall outside of my daily project work. These are usually admin tasks like cleaning up repositories and closing issues.
  • Any issues with the system or vendors. I just make a note of any issues that we had that affect the flow of our day. This comes in handy later if we are trying to figure out what happened on a given day.

All of these things in my notebooks have been referred to in the past. For instance, we had a data issue and couldn’t figure out why files had gone missing for two days six months ago. I opened to that date, and saw that one of our vendors had an outage, and we had to compensate with the data we had on hand.

I don’t have any direct reports anymore (thank goodness!) but when I did, I would note on a separate page (one for each person) what had been delegated, when it was given, when it was expected, and when it was done. I also noted how many times the person had to be reminded. This was good when it came time to do performance reviews.

Working from home can be successful if you have ways to separate work from home, maintain your workspace, have discussions with colleagues and document things.