If you’re new to working from home, by now, you’ve seen or read about 15 posts on what to do, from putting on regular work clothes to setting a schedule and having a dedicated work space. I’m a work from home veteran with fifteen years under my belt, so I know a thing or two about it. It’s true that it does take a certain personality – I fall into the category of finding it hard to walk away from my computer at the end of the day (I’m not sure if that means I’m more or less successful at working from home, but it does mean I get a tremendous amount done).
While I think many of us know the usual list of things you should do or expect when you work from home, the question came up recently about what out-of-the-box suggestions you might have for someone working from home for the first time. Here are my top three:
- Identify your work style: If you’re an extrovert, working from home will be a big change and challenge. You’ll want to add in virtual opportunities to connect, such as Zoom/Skype/FaceTime calls and meetings, and even consider meeting your colleagues or friends for “lunch” or “coffee” that way. That way, you’ll ensure that you’re staying connected and not feeling too isolated. For introverts, this won’t be as big of an issue (but making those networking efforts might). Schedule in other ways to engage with colleagues and connections that feel authentic to you, like using Facebook messenger, Slack, or group texts.
- Leave your office periodically: We’re living in unique times right now, so usually, I’d recommend going somewhere that you can interact with other adults. But for the moment, at least get outside for ten minutes to get some fresh air. It’s easy to get caught up in getting “just one more thing done,” but when you work from home, you often need to schedule in breaks that would ordinarily happen naturally when a colleague or superior steps into your office. Taking those breaks acts as a reset and refresh so that you can dive back into the task at hand with a clearer head and more enthusiasm.
- Expect chaos: We’re all reading the posts that recommend sticking to a schedule, dressing as though you’re going to work, etc. And these are solid ideas. But the current climate is one of great change, and working from home also has its challenges, particularly if you find yourself there with spouses, children and pets. Picture yourself in that famous BBC live shot, delivering your serious report, as your toddler wanders in and your wife dives into the background, and you’ll understand how any moment of your work from home day is apt to go – and that’s okay. The key is to be flexible, ask for forgiveness and understanding from colleagues and clients when you need it, be able to laugh at yourself, and have really good reflexes for both the mute button and your video shut off.
The number one lesson I’d advise for ALL of us at the moment, whether we’re work from home veterans or newbies is patience – with ourselves and each other. Even those of us without regular anxiety are going to be feeling more anxious at the moment, whether it’s about the state of the world, the state of our business, or how our clients, colleagues, and family are faring. It means that we’re going to be less present for the things we would usually be sharpest for – and that’s okay. Review your schedule for the next two weeks to see what items are really mission critical and put those to the forefront, and reschedule the rest for a later date when you can better focus on them. Approach everyone, both inside and outside your business, with empathy and kindness, Cut yourself and others a break. Know that your first few conference calls aren’t going to go perfectly, for technical reasons, because your dog barks, or one of your kids pops in to ask a question – and that’s okay. We’ll all get through this together, with some patience and some humor.