I’ve been working from home successfully for over six years and I’ve written a few posts on tips for creating a great work from home environment, but I know a lot of people still ask me the same question, “What is it really like to work at home?”
So, here’s the honest truth about being a full-time work at home person. First of all, I should disclose that my work at home arrangements have been for traditional companies where I am either one of a few or one of many teleworkers. I have worked for international companies, where I reported to a home office in another country, six hours ahead of my time zone, and I currently work for a company that is one hour ahead. So, the time challenges can be a bit difficult at times.
What does your day look like?
I don’t sit at my desk in my jammies, happily typing away. For one thing, I have video conferencing options, so, at a minimum, I need to do my hair and put on a nice top. Most mornings, I follow a surprisingly normal routine just like those in a traditional office – get up, get ready for work (shower, get dressed, get breakfast on the table, etc.) except instead of getting in my car to head out, I walk downstairs to my home office and fire up the computer.
I usually take in my beverages of choice: A nice, hot mug of decaffeinated green tea and a big glass of water and get started with my day by checking email, the calendar, and prepping for meetings. Sorry, no lounging on the beach here with my drink in one hand and my laptop in the other.
I take a break about an hour or two in, just like any other office worker. Usually, I grab a snack or take a quick walk. I have two dogs, so I let them out and maybe play with them for a few minutes and then it is back to work until lunch. I guess that is a lot better than staring at a vending machine in a windowless break room.
One thing I always do now, that I didn’t do in a traditional office, is I eat lunch away from my desk. It is very important to me that I disconnect, take time for a quick walk, or make time for some errands or chores around the house.
Then, it is back to the routine. I work for a few hours, take a 15-minute break in the afternoon and then finish strong. When I am done for the day, I clean up my office space, check my calendar, and write down action items for the next day. Then, I get up, walk out the door, and “commute” back to my home life.
And, just like regular office workers, I struggle with not checking my email throughout the evening, doing “just one quick thing” on my computer, etc. Except my office is less than a minute away, so I have to be more conscious of allowing work to take over life. It is nice when I am working overtime to be in my home, but I try to limit the amount of “off-hours” work.
Your Day Sounds Awful
Ok, so, it probably doesn’t sound “awful” if you are stuck in a traditional office, but it isn’t nearly as glamorous as you thought. I’m not working from gorgeous locations and traveling the world. For some business owners, their schedule might be a lot looser – and they might pick days to take off or change up their schedule, but for me, this is my work life and I suspect it is the same for the vast majority of those working from a home office.
There are a lot of positives, for example, on those regular breaks, I often throw in a load of laundry or fold some clothes at lunch time. Sometimes, I even have time to run the vacuum through a room or two – so those are chores I don’t have to do later. I know, very glamorous!
I also tend to prep dinner at lunch, so it is ready to go when I shut down for the day. Without a commute, I use that time to cook dinner and get a little bit of blogging work done on most days.
It is also great when you need to have work done at the house. Instead of dreading the service call mantra “sometime between 1 and 4 pm,” I don’t have to take time off waiting for these people. I am always here.
Of course, the flip side is, when I or someone else in the family is sick, I am always here, so sick days are rarely relaxing on the couch watching TV all day. It’s mostly toughing it out in the home office until I can collapse later.
Is It For Me?
Only you can answer that question. I like to work on my own and wasn’t particularly tied to the office community when I started my first work at home arrangement. In fact, I was the only person from a larger team that worked in the location I was in, so my immediate co-workers were already several hours away. I was offered the chance to work from home a few days a week since I often worked odd hours with teams from other countries, so it made more sense to take these calls from home.
In my past few jobs, I never even got the chance to meet my co-workers in person. In fact, in one company, I worked in the U.S. and my immediate team worked in London, England. It’s a global world out there my friends!
My suggestion if you aren’t sure is to see if you can arrange to work from home on a trial basis at your current job. If you are now saying, “You are crazy, they would never allow that!” you might be right, but you never know until you ask.
I can tell you it isn’t for everyone. It can be lonely at times. There is no one here to vent my frustrations to or celebrate small victories. Some weeks, I am really busy and realize I haven’t left the house all week. Without the natural rhythm of the office, it can be disorienting as there are no natural “cues” to take a break or head off to lunch. Even the noise factor can be an issue. I normally have a radio on in the background because I need some noise to work effectively.
There are also a lot of distractions. My friends and family understand I am working and don’t show up unannounced, but it is easy to have someone “drop in” for just a few minutes and then you lose your momentum for the day. You will also notice your house needs a good cleaning when you are busiest and the struggle to ignore the mess is real!
Are You Still Interested?
I can’t talk you out of this, huh? Then, I will at least give you some valuable, hard-earned tips from the past six years.
- When you first begin the work at home journey, it is important to make personal contact. I call people for complex items or when I am getting to know a new team. Making personal contact helps me build a relationship and reduces misinterpretation in emails or text messaging. I also call when it is something I think the person can answer quickly – it saves them the time of responding to an email.
- Use Skype or other video conferencing tools to your advantage. I use Skype meetings and display the agenda and my notes as I am taking them. This technique helps keep the team on track and focused during meetings, especially if there are a lot of items to go over. I can also display content, graphics, etc. to make it easier to follow the discussion or highlight key areas of concern. I use Microsoft OneNote and I take a lot of meeting notes. I keep all my notes on OneNote and I send meeting notes after every meeting with an action item list as the first item. Most of my projects are longer term, so the action item list lets everyone know what is coming in the next week, who is responsible, and when it is due. I start every meeting reviewing the list and marking off the things that are done, still in process, or need discussion. I use this technique, along with my task list, to keep the group focused on deadlines. Since you aren’t there to “drop in” for casual conversations, you will have to work a lot harder at connecting to others.
- I keep my calendar up to date and use the signature line in the email to show my upcoming time off or out of office periods so they aren’t a surprise to regular contacts. I have two signatures – one for more regular contacts and one for “outside” my immediate circle and I don’t share those dates on the more formal version.
- Get out of the house once in a while. I try to schedule one or two lunches outside of the house each month – a quick lunch date with a friend or former co-worker to stay connected to the rest of the working world works wonders on the psyche and keeps me sane. It helps me feel a part of the larger working world.
- Have a backup plan! You will need it – trust me on this one. When the Internet connection goes down, I have a backup plan in place through a hotspot on my phone. I keep phone numbers written in a paper list so I can contact people if my phone list gets deleted. I also have a backup power source for my equipment if the power goes out so I can still work.
- Stay up to date on your technical skills. Since I don’t have an IT person I can bring in at a moment’s notice, I use YouTube training videos to learn new things when I have a bit of time and I also use Google to troubleshoot a lot of my own technical issues. For the technology you use every day, it is important to understand basic troubleshooting so when things go down, and they will, you are not immediately in panic mode. If you are not technically savvy, there are many small companies that provide these services to business owners. Find someone you like and get acquainted with their services. You will need them eventually and it is better to be ready.
- Finally – you are working at home for a reason. Make your home office a good space that works for you. You don’t have to build a cubicle that looks exactly like your “real” job desk, but you deserve a workspace that fits your needs. Mine is set up to look just like a large work office – I have a big work table behind me, my desk sits in front of it facing the wall, just like it would in an office. I have a whiteboard up to keep current project deadlines on, and a bunch of reference material on a bulletin board. I make sure my setup is ergonomically correct. I have a good chair and keyboard tray because being comfortable is important to protecting your health and productivity.
Join the Conversation
What tips do you have for working at home? What did you wish you had or are wondering whether it is worth the expense? Leave a comment and let me know what your work from home journey was like or if you are ready to take the leap!