In late 2011 my wife and I moved from Houston to San Antonio after she took a new job. At that time I transitioned from someone who went to an office to someone who would be working from home for my agency back in Houston.
I didn’t know what to expect, or if I would even like it. I did, however, know that I would love never having to wear real pants during the day.
Four years after the move I hated working from home. At the time I was an individual contributor so my day mostly consisted of me sitting alone in my home office working on stuff by myself in a silo.
In 2015 I changed jobs and went into an office every day, which I was excited about. I’d be out of the house, surrounded by a team.
And it was great.
Now after a move to Austin last year I’m working from home again. I’m finding it easier this time because of what I learned in my previous WFH stint, and also the nature of my work has changed. While I am still an individual contributor, I’m a leader on my team and am involved in many large projects which means I am in a lot of meetings – where thankfully the technology has also improved since my previous WFH stint.
Working From Home Success Tips
Some of the tips that follow will be really simple or obvious, but that doesn’t mean that they are easy to set up or follow. This also isn’t a complete list, either.
1. Set a Real Schedule
When I first started working from home and would walk into my home office – which is also where my TV/video games, record player, and other fun things were – I would occasionally find myself at my desk checking and responding to emails during “off” hours.
While some of us are on “call” or standby, there really shouldn’t be any reason to respond to an email off business hours except for cases of emergency.
I do find myself checking my email and Slack at night, but only for emergencies. I’m responsible for a global corporate website, so there are no “off-business hours” for the site. When it’s my night time, the Australian and Asian offices are online and working.
Set a schedule of times when you will be sitting at your desk working. Make sure your coworkers know that schedule.
2. Stick to That Schedule
Seriously, stick to the schedule. I’m at my desk every morning around 6:30 or 7 AM. I’m a morning person and I get the most done during the morning. I also know that when the meetings start I’m not going to get much else done during the day.
Since I start so early in the morning, I’m usually done by about 4 PM. I’m still near my desk in case something comes up or needs my attention, but that’s generally the end of my day.
3. Make Sure You Have “You” Time
When you work in an office you will find yourself talking to your coworkers about things that have nothing to do with work. Perhaps you take a walk around the building to clear your head after a meeting.
You need to make sure that you do that while working from home, too. Go get the mail, take the garbage out, switch the laundry, something. I like to go out to the garage for five or ten minutes and play darts to take a random break sometimes.
4. Have a Dedicated Workspace
If you work from home on a consistent basis you need a real office or workspace – not a kitchen table or the living room couch.
I have a home office, and while it’s not just for work, it’s where I come to work. I have optimized it for working from home. I have two external monitors, a good keyboard and mouse, a comfortable chair, plenty of natural light, and most importantly, a door that closes.
If I try to work from the kitchen or couch I don’t get anything done. I find it difficult to concentrate and even type.
5. Communicate Often, and Then Some
Working from home wasn’t new the first time I did it, but the tools weren’t perfect. I was also the first – and for a while – the only person on the team working from home. It took a while for us to gel in this new situation. As other teammates started to work from home it definitely got easier.
The tools are also much better now. Slack and Zoom make it incredibly easy to stay in touch with team members and leaders and be a part of meetings when you are not in the room.
6. Get Up and Walk Around
This is a big one to remember. When I first started working from home my steps on my pedometer plummeted. I had to remind myself to get up and walk around, go get the mail, whatever.
Now with an Apple Watch I get a nudge if I haven’t stood up during the hour. It’s a nice reminder to get up and go get some air and take a break.
7. Get Out of the House
When you find yourself with an open calendar and no meetings, go work at a coffee shop or library to change your environment. When the weather is nice I like to take my laptop outside to our patio and work or take meetings out there.
I also live close enough where I can go into the office. It’s an almost two-hour drive each way, so I only do it once a week. But, with that one day, I get valuable face time with my team and hold most of my 1x1s and other meetings that require being together in a room for easier collaboration.
Doing What Works for You
I know these tips won’t or can’t work for everyone, and I’m definitely not going to say that these are the tips to follow for success.
The biggest tip I stress when talking to people who are newly transitioning to work from home is to stick to your schedule. Set strict rules for when the laptop opens in the morning, and when it closes in the evening – and stick to it.
The key to all of this is figuring out what works for you, setting guidelines, and holding yourself to them.