I've been working remote since the very start of my career, nearly 15 years now. During that time, I've learned a lot about how to do that the right way and the wrong way. I want to share some tips and strategies to help everyone as the world deals with the effects of the pandemic.
Before we begin it's necessary to understand why. The real goal is to be the best version of yourself. This really applies to every "vertical" in your life, but in the context of this article it means to be the absolute best employee and the absolute best family member. This is what I've found works for me, it should go without saying but your mileage may vary (don't believe everything your read on the Internet!). It should also be mentioned that there are always exceptions to the rule and use your best judgment if a period of time at home or work demand special handling.
If you like lists, like I like lists, here's the short version.
Every relationship has expectations and ultimately the success of a relationship is based solely on each member meeting the other's expectations. As a result, it's critical for all parties to be on the same page about those expectations. If you can, do this as early as possible. It'll be easier, but through clear and intentional communication you can refocus.
Something that helped me is to make it clear to your family and friends that when you're at work, you're "at work". If they have trouble understanding try to re-frame it to if you worked at an office, would it be alright if they dropped in and interrupted whatever meeting or task you were in the middle of to ask if you'd seen their shoes/phone/keys?
If they do need you, have them call - you can answer and help if you are available. The dedicated work space will also help in this regard, read on for how and why.
Really the only thing you need to make sure is clear, is that just because you work where you live, doesn't mean that you're always at work - it's in their best interest (and yours) to promote good work/life balance.
This is just your responsibility as theirs. It's your choice to answer that after hours email. Your choice to even check your email after hours in the first place.
I'm notorious for getting in a groove and losing track of time. These flow states are wonderful for productivity but, if not guarded against, can set you up to be out of balance.
When you work a traditional office job you inherently have something to do at 5pm, get in your car/public transit and travel home. If you aren't intentional about your time, you'll sit at your desk and do less-than-productive work.
If you're missing out on time with your family or for self care and not doing the very best work you can, why would you choose that situation versus any of the alternatives?
To make that question a no-brainer, you need to be intentional about those alternatives. They can be anything. Invest in yourself, your relationships - it doesn't matter. As long as your intentional about it, it will help to enrich your life. It'll make your time at work more focused and productive because you know that at 5pm you've got to give the dog a walk. Or hit the gym. Or watch/read/play your favorite show/book/game. Or play with your kids. Or get drinks with your friends. Humans are multifaceted and if we don't polish all our sides we won't shine as bright.
The end of day bell isn't the only thing you should be concerned with either though. Sure, you don't have the traditional "water cooler chat" but these small breaks make sure that you stay fresh and take care of yourself. I've found that for myself tracking water intake, stretching or short 5 min body weight exercise breaks really contribute to better sleep, less back pain and overall a more positive attitude.
Took me a bit to really get this but I think it is super helpful. It helps your set expectations with your family and yourself. If you're working from the living room couch, gonna be real easy for you to get distracted.
But it isn't just about maintaining focus. By having a specific place in your home where you "do work", you send a signal to your brain and your family that you have left and are at work. And, when you leave that place, you tell yourself and them that you are back home.
The benefit for your family is obvious but the signal you send yourself shouldn't be discounted. You're more apt to be able to leave the concerns and stressors of work at work.
Humans are creatures of habit. We can leverage this truth to our advantage to help us smoothly make the transition from work to life or life to work in the most efficient manner possible.
My home office is upstairs, and when I say "commute", I mean more than just "walk up the stairs". Morning, lunch, and end of day rituals help your brain transition from one state to another.
It doesn't matter much what your ritual is really. For example, my morning ritual consists of these actions in this order:
- Get out of bed
- Bathroom stuff
- Make coffee "the long way" & eat breakfast
- Fill my water container for the day
- Walk upstairs and stretch before sitting down to sign in to all the things and checking my daily item list
And when ending my work day, I do this:
- Think about the work day and make my 3 item bullet list for the next work day
- Check personal email
- Read one of the articles I've inevitably found and saved in one of my device's browser tabs
- Head downstairs and ask my wife how her day was
The point is that it can be simple or mundane, in fact, it should be simple. It lets your brain go on autopilot and do garbage collection on one mode as you move to the next. It doesn't have to be fixed either, for example, in the hotter months, I augment my morning ritual by walking my dog. In the cooler months, this happens after work or after dinner.
They can grow and shrink to accommodate your goals too. We just had our first child so I'm looking forward to adding spending time with my son every day after work. And since I've started this blog over my paternity, I'm also planning on seeing which ritual it is the best fit to add 15-20 minutes of time to work on an article, a lab, or some technical feature.
I hope that at least some of these help some folks adjust to our new reality. Again, look at these as a guideline - a place for you to explore and find what works for you and your situation. Be safe - work and love hard!