August 24, 2014
My Rules for Working from Home
A few weeks ago, I took a turn in my career (a u-turn, technically) and have rejoined Target. Along with this return came a flexible work arrangement, letting me continue my career with the Minneapolis-based company from my home in Indianapolis. This is great, since being back in Indy was something I was looking for when I originally left Minnesota for home.
Working from home is new to me, though. I have been lucky enough to have jobs that would periodically let me do it, but nothing full-time. It seems like a great plan – no commute, you can work in pajamas if so inclined, free coffee, etc. But there are also downsides to working from home – like the isolation of not seeing your coworkers (or potentially anyone) for long periods of time or higher impact on personal resources like electricity or my desk chair to name a few.
Cons be damned, I took the challenge, setting forth a few rules for myself based on knowing how I work, and what I’d have to change about it to be successful at home. It’s pretty personalized, though, so don’t treat this as a manual or anything. Just guidelines.
1. Have a Dedicated, Comfortable Workspace.
Probably goes without saying, but have a dedicated workspace. This is my current setup, but I’ve got a new desk on order from Ikea that should give me a little more room to breath. I’ve got both of those displays (one Cinema, one Thunderbolt) connected to my personal rig in the photo, but the plan is to have work and home machines each have their own dedicated set up. I’ve always kept the two separate as a matter of doing business, but that’s a lot easier with two desks.I don’t intend on taking this to an extreme or anything (I will share pens, pencils and scissors), but as for computing, never the twain shall meet.
Along these same lines, the office is for work only, and work only happens in the office. When I would bring my laptop home from work, it was way too easy to lay down with it on my bed and turn out a little more work. Work happens in the office at my desk, which is why the first half of this rule is so important.
Comfort was also an important part of this rule. As I mentioned, I’m replacing this small desk with a larger one soon, so that will give me some room to breathe, and more closely mimic the size desks I’m missing by not being in the office. I have a comfy, strong chair that I got many years ago (at Target Commercial Interiors, with my discount) and it has served me well since. This chair was important to me because it was departure from the crappy $50 OfficeMax chairs that I had made a habit of breaking. Spending a little more has been well worth it, with this chair coming up on seven years old and feeling brand new still. I’ve also set up a little bluetooth speaker at my desk since I don’t have to wear headphones like I would in the office. My headphones were pretty comfy, but it’s nice to not have to wear them anymore. The one exception to this is my Lync headset, but I have it within arm’s reach, and grab it when I need to make or take a call. More on that later.
2. Treat Work Like Work.
That’s nice and vague, but I wanted a shorter list of rules to adhere to. What this means to me is that even if I’m doing work at home, it is still work, and I will treat as such. I still set my alarm for the same time I used to, get up, shower, and get dressed every day. It’s probably worth noting that “dressed” in this state doesn’t mean I’d wear a suit if that was the office requirement (which it isn’t anymore), but it means I will not roll out of bed and to my desk in my pjs. Mentally, this helps keep the separation between home and work, and also keeps me in the mindset that what I’m doing is important. Value in the ceremony or something along those lines. It’s also meant as respect for work – I take my career seriously, so I should approach it that way. For what it’s worth, this is also what prevented me from wearing shorts in previous jobs where it was allowed.
Along these same lines, there is no TV in the office. While it makes for good background noise sometimes, I frankly don’t trust myself to ignore it when I really need to, so I’m just removing the temptation altogether. I will play music, but I generally listen to music on headphones at my desk in an office anyway. I am also trying to restrain from bringing food in the office, but this one is a little more gray since I have had gum or a cafeteria in the offices I’ve worked in, so a small snack isn’t unreasonable, but what I want to avoid is snacking all day, especially since I have so much less walking and moving about being so close to work.
3. Get Out Daily.
This one is easy for me, but formalized so I have a box to check regularly. I go stir crazy if I don’t get out of the house, so I have to make an effort to get out and do stuff to avoid being a shut-in. Twice a week, this is going to the gym to see my trainer, and I will be adding it in on some of those other days as well. I wouldn’t say I spent a ton of time walking between the parking lot and my desk downtown, but those steps were more than my current count, so I need to get that back up. I wish I had the discipline to just go to the gym daily, but I don’t, so having a trainer helps with that
I am also finding ways of getting more active in extracurricular to replace the face time I am losing by working from home. Joining my congregational choir, attending Indy CocoaHeads meetups, even just having lunch or dinner with people count, and keep me from feeling isolated. I am also thinking of adopting a cubemate – a dog – but I need to stabilize a few other things first.
I am fortunate to have found a team that adopts a lot of new technology to stay in touch, and embraces the concept of working from home. Prior to my return, all of the phones were virtualized from physical desk-based handsets to using Microsoft Lync with a headset, so unless you knew otherwise, I would appear to be reachable as if I was in Minneapolis, down to the 612 phone number, and if I’m doing it right, no one would notice. In addition to Lync, we are adding in HipChat for persistent, hosted chat, and both HipChat and Lync are available on my phone. I have regular checkins with my manager, and our team has regular stand-ups (I sit through those, admittedly), so we all know what’s going on and have a venue to discuss blockers. It is already easy to disappear as an employee in an organization with several hundred thousand people, and even easier when you’re not physically near them. Staying on the radar is important.
So those are my rules. It’s only been one week, but they seem to be serving me well enough so far. I’m quickly finding a routine, and noticing some challenges arising that I’ll need to address. But nothing bad – in fact, this is proving to be the best of both worlds, and something I think is going to work really well for me. I will admit to being a little nervous about it going in, but those fears are quickly dissipating.