May 9, 2020

So you’re suddenly working from home

Telecommuting does not mean simply moving the things you do at the office to a different location. Here are some tips for a smooth transition.

Be aware of the pitfalls

  • Your internet or server connection may be slow. Plan for that.
  • You might have to be your own tech support. Unplugging and restarting things is always a good first step to solving a problem! (And Google is your friend.)
  • Your entire kitchen is steps away from your office. Suggestions from experienced home workers: lock junk food in a cupboard, walk during phone calls, exercise during breaks, use a standing desk, use an under-desk exercise machine, meet people for walks instead of meals.
  • Yes, you can do some housework during the working day. Make decisions up front about which things are okay. For example, throwing in a load of laundry might be a reasonable “coffee break,” while vacuuming might not. Then develop a way to ignore whatever else needs attention. (This may lead to a messier house overall.)
  • Working from home is not compatible with providing childcare. Would you want your babysitter creating a PowerPoint deck while watching your angel? Didn’t think so. However, having flexible hours should make it easier to craft childcare solutions.

Plan accountability

When you have tight deadlines, it’s easy to crank out work. But it’s equally easy to procrastinate on long-term projects. Consult with your supervisor. Possible solutions for improving accountability include posting a list of what you did each day, tracking time with an app or software, or simply telling a colleague, “Today I’m updating XX.”

Build work relationships

  • Within your team, share happenings in your life, the kinds of things you would talk about if you ran into someone in the office kitchen.
  • Ask how people are, listen carefully, and respond to their answers. Follow up later.
  • Add a place on your team organization site to share articles, favorite shows, or other topics of interest.
  • Don’t be “all business”: sympathize, joke, “chat.” Note the weather, send photos of flowers or pets, add a very occasional gif to your messages. (But don’t be so informal that you put your job at risk!)

Follow your body’s ultradian rhythms

Ultradian rhythms are chronobiological cycles. Simplified, the one related to working at home means that your body functions well with 90 minutes of concentrated activity followed by 20 minutes of rest. At home you might not have the interruptions that naturally provide this down time in the office. It won’t be productive to spend eight straight hours staring at your computer screen. Aim for 90 minutes of intensive work—then 20 minutes of lighter reading, phone calls, a few minutes of stretching or exercise, or whatever works for you.

Battle isolation

  • Arrange to see actual human beings; this may be more difficult during a pandemic. At least wave at a neighbor.
  • Make an occasional phone call, even if you prefer email.
  • No matter how much you hate seeing yourself on video, plan some FaceTime or Zoom meetings.

Seek work-life balance

  • Make sure you know the expectation: Are you supposed to work eight hours or is it more important to finish a certain number of projects? Which hours are you expected to be available via phone or email?
  • Decide on your hours ahead of time and stick to a regular schedule (while still enjoying the flexibility that is one of the perks of working from home). Don’t start late and then find your work hours sliding back to fill the whole evening.
  • Working from home allows you to work when sick. Don’t. Take a sick day if you need one (and have one).
  • Set up a separate area for work, to make it visually clear to family members or housemates that you are working and should not be interrupted.

Do “preventive maintenance”

It is all too easy to blame someone who is not present. Even if you think things are fine, ask questions: Is everything going okay? How could I improve? What would make things work better for you? Where are you encountering difficulties? What frustrations are bothering you?

By inquiring, you provide an opportunity to identify and deal with issues before they build up and become a major problem.

Whether short-term or long-term, telecommuting allows projects to continue when there are constraints of geography or illness. With a few extra considerations, you can make the arrangement work well for yourself and your organization.

Jan Fischer Bachman is web producer for the Church of the Brethren. She has worked from a home office for almost a decade.