Work life balance and working from home

A lot of us work from home, partially or completely.  The statistics of how many do this are not important, but the fact that you are one of them is.  If you work from home you quickly learn that there are a number of things that separate this kind of environment from a cubicle or office in an office environment.

Some of those things are subtle and may sneak up on you; some of them are obvious and hit you in the face on the second day.  If you’re one of these people, like me, then you’ll benefit from these tips.  Everyone of of those items is a double-edged sword; meaning, they have a minus for every plus and a plus for every minus.  As someone that has worked from home for 14+ years and has worked with others on work life balance I thought I’d share what I’ve found.

Your office

Working at home means you need an office.  There are those that operate solely out of a laptop and a phone.  Unless you are in that tiny tiny amazingly nomadic .0002%, you will need more than that, and generate and receive paperwork.  The paperless office still does not yet exist.  Even if you don’t generate it someone is sending it to you.  You’ll need to file, stamp, mail, etc. – all that stuff you do in a regular office.   So treat this office as if it is part of an office building, and make sure it is properly equiped.

Level

If you have more than one level of your house, you can locate your office on a level that is not a living space you normally occupy.  In some cases this is a downstairs/upstairs office, in others it is above the garage.  I’m not saying you have to spend a lot of money to renovate to make this space – no, just locate it away so that it is separate.

In my case, for the last 14+ years, my office has been downstairs, with the rest of the living space being upstairs.  A little bit of a cave, but also secluded.  I recently moved it upstairs, and flipped my son’s room downstairs.  It has much better lighting, but I now feel like I’m really close to the normal off hours living space, so I’m adjusting, and deciding.

Time

Because your office is in your home – which is where you sleep – it means your work is mere moments away from you at all time.  Pause for shuddering.  So how do you psychologically and professionally make that separation since you can no longer make that separation physically?  One of the ways is time.  If you set specific hours it will make it easier to be “at” work and “at” home.  If you set an actual schedule – 8am – 5pm, 7am-4pm, etc., you can then “leave” the office.  Obviously things come up, and you can use the luxury to take an important call, or emergency by walking 12 feet and sitting down.  And yes I hear you saying, in the case of today’s movers and shakers and especially entrepreneurs – “But I work really long days and that’s how business gets done and the early bird gets the worm and I burn candles at both ends and I bet Elon Musk only sleeps three hours.”

Regardless.  Just try it.

When Stephen King would finish writing at the end of the day, he would turn the papers over and put a paper weight on top of them, ‘lest the monsters would get out.’  In that same way, you can section things off with time.

The drive home

I used to drive an hour to work, every day.  If it would snow, and then the sun would set it would get worse.  It seemed that everyone in a state that has nine months of winter forgets how to drive in the snow, thus turning my one hour drive into two.

But the average day, with slightly bending some laws would amount to a 45 min or so drive home.  Though taxing, it was a way for me to transition from work to home life.  That drive home demonstrated to my brain that I was moving away from work and towards my home.  And, that hour allowed time for my brain to think different thoughts.  This is partly why people go somewhere for vacation.

But how do you physically transition if all you do is step through a doorway from office to kitchen, living room, etc?  And when that transition time is measured in seconds instead of hours, what then?

The answer is that your brain will adapt to this shorter transition if you let it.  It will work if your family treats your ‘I just walked through the office door’ the same as it treats you walking through the entrance to your house.  When my office was downstairs I’d come up the stairs at the end of the day and say “I’m home from work” sometimes.  That mentally cemented the separation.

And in the Stephen King example, you can also file stuff away, reposition stuff on your desk, etc.  It makes a difference.

Family

If you are married, or share the space with others such as a significant other, husband, kids or even room mate it adds another layer.  Said fellow space-occupiers will want to interact with you.  If you are not on the phone, but instead typing or especially just ‘reading’ they may try to interact.  They’ll see it as an opening.  They won’t see that you are thinking, or composing a thought, or going over a drawing, or a client issue.  To them you are just staring at the screen, or the papers on your desk, or out the window.  But that’s how we think.  In your office at work, people may not mull around that much.  However, at home and especially in the summer months you will see lots of people home in your house.

Establish a door policy.  If the door is closed then you are in the middle of something in which you really don’t want to be interrupted – a phone call, or a project, a pesky line of code or a client issue.  Feel free to do this, and don’t feel guilty.  Then open the door when you have non laser focused time.  Obviously you can’t get up over and ever again every time you think you need to concentrate. That would get taxing and is the physical equivalent to multitasking with the same loss.  Read: Multitasking and the forgotten glue that holds it together.  So what then?  Do you leave the door closed all the time?  No, because then it loses meaning.  You’ll have to figure out the right amount of closing vs opening.  But it does work.

Also, as strange as it sounds your family may just end up texting you anyway.  It’s pretty common, but you can ignore what I wrote about this for purposes of communication within your own house.

Sound

Sound is very important.  When you are chatting with clients or potential clients, you do not want crying babies, barking dogs or yelling kids in the background.  For this reason you should treat all calls as door closed time by default.  If your call does not require reviewing paperwork, jotting notes or screen time then a conference call in a car with proper acoustics is acceptable.  By ‘proper acoustics’ I mean a solid hands free connection to your car’s modern tech.  Just don’t make your introductory call to a new client from your car.  In the end, be mindful of sound – professional wired headsets sound better than a held phone, and some bluetooth can be flakey.  Most people no longer have landlines so be aware of your cell signal strength.  Any of the above can detract from your audio impact, your professionalism and add stress.

Mingling with humans

If your work is done from your office with little need to meet others, or your meetings are weekly and virtual you will probably have an issue.  As much as you may not have liked Ralph popping by to tell you about his latest weekend thing, the interaction with other humans is important.  You need this, even if you’re an introvert.  It breaks things up, gets you to take your face away from the screen and helps you to switch from an internal voice to an external voice.

If you have no reason to leave your office you still should.  Work in a cafe, bring headphones and enjoy a beverage.  The change of environment and interaction with others will increase creativity, and change perspective – something vital to almost any job.  There are some that do office space sharing, and that works too.  The point is to not embed yourself in a cave for eight hours a day, five days a week.  That echo chamber is not healthy, physically mentally and emotionally.

I would also strongly suggest a weekly accountability meeting – which is even more important if you are a solopreneur (single person business, entrepreneur).  The person you meet with can be another SP, or anyone.  The point of it is to talk about what you’ve done, and then talk about what you’re going to do.  Then you hold yourself accountable.  Just saying it outloud changes how you manage the task internally.  Ultimately you are the person holding yourself accountable (just like what happens in coaching).

 

Take aways –

Working from home some or all of the time has lots of benefits, but lots of challenges.  Whether you are part of a large business that allows some remote time, or self employed and this is your only office, there are important things to remember.  If you are aware of the challenges you can minimize and in some cases capitalize on the effects.

  • Use your door as a way to signal concentration level/repel borders
  • Make sure sound is optimal
  • Make sure you’re comfortable and it is a complete office
  • The level you place your office on makes a difference, pros and cons to both
  • Set actual business hours and do your best to stick to them
  • Get out of your office and interact with humans often
  • Use proper equipment for communications – sound, internet, etc.
  • Throw yourself a Company Christmas Party, spare no expense and invite all the neighbors

Ok, maybe not the last one.

 

Do you have experience working remotely? Anything you want to share?  If so, go to a cafe, open your laptop and and let me know.

 

About Mark Bradford

Mark Bradford developed a system to achieve goals, manage your energy and understand and strengthen your path - it's Alchemy For Life. He writes, coaches and speaks on the subject. For more information, tips and tricks, like Mark Bradford on Facebook, follow Mark Bradford on Twitter. Schedule a 15 minute chat. Articles are posted regularly on AlchemyFor.Life, and LinkedIn.