Tips on the Remote Office
Everyone is doing it, and now it’s your chance. Taking the plunge into remote working can be tricky. I’ve been doing it now for years, so here is some advice for newbies.
Work Area: Don’t set up shop on the kitchen table. Establish a permanent workspace that doesn’t require sudden clearing. One of the key benefits of working at home is the ability to start and stop on your own terms. Clearing and resetting is a productivity killer and creates a mental hurdle that can be hard to clear. Create a permanent location for your home office – where work can live and thrive in a persistent habitat.
Equipment: I’ll skip over the obvious work-related equipment like computers and printers, and instead list the not so obvious: good lighting, good furniture, and good coffee/tea. I find that most people don’t give these critical components much thought, and that’s reasonable because the office just provided them. But now you are the landlord, so make your space productive!
The home office must be set-up properly to ensure maximum productivity. Home lighting is typically not optimized for office-type work, so invest in a good lamp, overhead lights, and other lighting controls (such as blinds). Consider the increasing likelihood of videoconferencing, so avoid bright backgrounds. For furniture, splurge on a great ergonomic chair, it is where a good portion of the awake hours can be spent. Lastly, buy some good coffee and/or tea, perhaps a hot water kettle or good coffee machine. Running to the kitchen is a distraction, so avoid it.
Noise: Background noise can be a problem in a home office, and there is probably more than you realized. Lawn mowers, barking dogs, doorbells, vacuum cleaners, etc. are incessant reminders you aren’t at the office any more. There isn’t much you can do about these, but here are a few suggestions:
Explain you are at home – don’t be ashamed. Most people are sympathetic. But that’s not an excuse, just an explanation. It’s up to you to minimize interruptions.
Plan to work with the window closed – this might result in some HVAC considerations.
Use mute: the mute key becomes your best friend in a home office, particularly on conference calls. Try to keep conversations muted unless speaking.
Get a good noise cancelling headset. I recommend a DECT headset so you have the freedom to walk to the door (or bathroom – remember the mute button).
Try to schedule meetings around predictable noise. For example, I try to have most of my calls while the kids are at school because things just get noisier in the afternoon. Consider UPS delivery times and other predictable interruptions.
Actively Communicate: Make an effort to communicate beyond meetings. At the office, there were hallway, lunchroom, and smoking room conversations as well as non communications such as noticing a new car or hairdo that were visually communicated. Sounds and expressions communicate emotions. Remote workers need to replace these communications. That means more active conversations. Also, break-away from the phone – use video, IM, TXT, Twitter, Facebook and other (though not necessarily all) tools.
Be the master of your Domain: Lots of our workday assumptions were a result of commuting to an office. For example, consider the shower midday instead of first thing. Go barefoot or in slippers if you like.
Customize Your Schedule: Not everyone can do this, but remember that the work day was meant to be something you went to and left. If you don’t actually come and go, then you may have some new flexibility in scheduling. I generally try to spend some time with the kids when they get home. I like to to take a long lunch (or siesta). I just make up for it during the evening hours. I usually put off writing until the end of the day, and use business hours for meetings. If you can set a schedule like this, do it – make it yours.
Working at home has lots of benefits such as reduced commuting time, reduced fuel, reduced dry cleaning, and improved productivity. But it also brings with it some responsibility and active boundary management. Don’t let the office invade your life, instead work to maximize the benefits and opportunities that remote working can offer.
Dave Blogs at TalkingPointz.