Working from home sounds awesome until you quickly realize you have a lot you need to accomplish and no one hovering over your shoulder to make sure you meet a deadline. It requires a lot of discipline, a schedule and focus. Our world is changing before our eyes and many of us are now finding working from home is not only something we want, but something we have to do to stay safe as a community and country.
I’ve actually worked from home before I became a full-time blogger, it just wasn’t a full-time gig. I would work on stories and pitches outside of work and, of course, I would work on this blog from home! Plus, through my years as a reporter, I’ve learned to work in any environment, truly. In this post, I hope to share five ways to help you work from home successfully and impart some of the wisdom I’ve gained through the years.
SET UP A HOME OFFICE
I know many of us don’t have the luxury of having a home office, especially if you spend the majority of the time in the workplace with your colleagues. Regardless of whether you’re in a small urban studio apartment or in a multiple-bedroom home with your family, it’s important to dedicate a space to working. This can be your kitchen island, a seat at your dining table or perhaps set up a temporary desk and chair in the corner of a room. It’s important to designate a proper space for working. This not only helps get you into a mindset to be productive and work when you get there but separates your living space from your workspace. Having boundaries and separation will be key.
MY HOME OFFICE
Recently, I’ve been getting questions about our home office setup and wanted to share details about it. Johnny and I have plans to make this space better and more productive in our new home. However, I’m grateful to have an actual office for us both to work in, a place to store our documents and disconnect from where we live and create memories. It’s the second bedroom in our apartment and actually has its own bathroom.
I found this sleek writing desk for $120 and instantly got two of them. They have two small drawers and have two outlets and USB ports so you can charge your electronics. I also got the matching bookshelf because we have a ton of books. I organized them by color since that’s how I usually remember books if I can’t remember the author or title.
Our office chairs are a splurge. They are the Herman Miller Sayl Chair and worth every penny. I’ve had them since 2014 and they are easily one of the best investments I’ve ever made. First of all, it’s the most comfortable chair I’ve sat in. I have chronic pain in my tailbone and back and this is the only chair I can sit in for hours without getting almost excruciating pain. I have the fully adjustable chair for both height and armrests and being able to have my feet firmly planted on the ground is key. If you’re working from home, make sure your feet are on the ground since this will prevent pain. Being petite, it’s hard to find a chair that will be the right size, but the Sayl is perfect. I love the striking Y-shape and ventilated back, which are inspired by the Golden Gate Bridge. Plus, it’s 90 percent recyclable and made in Michigan at a 100 percent green-energy facility.
On the wall opposite of my desk, I have a clothing rack with items I want top of mind and the prettiest filing cabinet I’ve ever seen. You can use this clothing rack as a shelf to display personal items, work items, momentos and more. Last year, I stumbled upon this filing cabinet but felt it was a little expensive. However, after searching for a year for a filing cabinet with similar aesthetics, I came up short. I love this filing cabinet because the lock controls all three drawers. Plus, there is so much flexibility. It comes in a bunch of beautiful colors and also a slimmer profile, too.
CREATE A SCHEDULE
It may seem intuitive to handle tasks as they come in or tackle obstacles as they come to you, but creating a schedule will keep you on track. I use Google Calendar in the weekly view and schedule literally every minute of my working date. I recommend color-coding tasks, such as using red for emails, purple for calls and whatever floats your boat. GCal also makes it easy to invite others and you can use Hangouts for calls.
Don’t be afraid of taking lunch, taking your dog or a walk or doing the dishes while you’re working from home. Just because you set up your home office doesn’t mean you have to stay there until your work hours are over. Trust me, breaks are not only okay but recommended. Take a stretch. Every 20 minutes, look up at something 20 feet away to make sure your eyes aren’t getting fatigued. Chances are you’ll come back refreshed and ready to keep working. Plus, you probably “waste” more time at work grabbing coffee, chatting with coworkers, etc.
DON’T TAKE FEEDBACK TOO PERSONALLY
Getting feedback via emails, slack or any other virtual way can be hard because tone isn’t easily communicated. If someone responds, “thanks” it doesn’t necessarily mean they are being rude. They might be busy, juggling a few other tasks or currently taking a call. The response in real life might be more along the lines of, “Thanks! This is awesome!” but it can be hard to tell, so don’t take anything too personally.
EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE
Just because you don’t see your colleagues in real life, doesn’t mean you can skip saying thank you. If you get great work from someone, or they go out of their way to handle a task for you, say thank you and make sure they know you appreciate them. Whether it’s an enthusiastic email where you CC all those involved so that person feels good about themselves or you send them a giftcard for a local restaurant to get takeout, try and do something nice.
GET READY & GET DRESSED
I’m a firm believer when you get up and get dressed, you get in a different mindset. Just like you would get ready for the workplace in an office setting, you should do the same when you work from home. I won’t lie, there are definitely days I don’t put on makeup and don’t get dressed and am still productive. However, getting ready always makes me feel confident and ready. I’m not saying you have to put on a suit and blazer, but change out of the clothes you slept in. If you are doing video conference calls, I highly recommend completely getting dressed and not just wearing a nice top with sweatpants. You never know when you might need to stand up and I wouldn’t want my colleagues to know I only cared enough to get halfway dressed.
Johnny’s WFH Tips:
Johnny’s been “working from home/anywhere” since he started his company after college. He works with people all over the United States and his team has been remotely spread across Dallas, Austin, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Columbus. I thought it’d be helpful if he shared some of his tips too.
Invest in your tools
When you’re working at home, you’ve been thrust into the “jungle” of work experiences and left to fend for yourself. If you can, request if you can expense a few items, because you’ll need to so you get reach peak performance at home. When he says tools he means everything from hardware on your desk to software tools. Treat your new workspace sacred like you would at the office. Invest like the best.
For Johnny, he has an 23″ external monitor, wireless keyboard, wireless trackpad, and laptop stand (so his laptop is his second screen). For software tools, he mostly lives in GSuite. You might not have any options with email clients. For videoconferencing, Zoom and Microsoft Teams both works fairly seamlessly. He’s not sure what everyone is complaining about. Lastly, if you’re on a teleconferencing system with video all day, find a spot where the camera faces a wall if possible. It’ll make your life and everyone’s better. Lastly, if your internet connectivity is giving you issues, consider upgrading your plan or get a set of wifi extenders so you get full coverage. That’s the set we plan on getting for our new house.
Get a pair of noise cancelling headphones or AirPods
Depending on your work, you’ll thank yourself later for getting a pair of noise cancelling headphones or either generation of AirPods. Johnny couldn’t live without his two sets of headphones. When he’s getting into flow, he puts on his Bose headphones and then will jump to calls on his Airpods. Quick tip – make sure to shut off your Bose when jumping on a call or your phone will switch sound between your headphones. You’ll doubly appreciate the focus if you’re with a number of people in your household.
Learn how you and co-workers operate & communicate
Working from home is really tough because so much of communication is non-verbal. Sometimes you’re limited to phone calls or emails. Sometimes your work has to be done at the same time, together and other tasks can be done independently. You need to trust your team and get on a new cadence. Ask your co-workers and manager directly about how they’d best “get into rhythm” on certain tasks. What can be done asynchronously? When do we all need to be together? What’s the reporting cadence? How does your team operate when their children and/or spouse are home at the same time? What’s that routine like? Bring more empathy than usual to work as work and home become one.
Just sending a daily update to your team that includes your priorities, tasks done, and any questions or issues to your team will help build camaraderie and improve cross-team communication. Maybe schedule a Zoom Happy Hour!
Learn to write emails well
A lot of Johnny’s work is done through email. Practice searchable email titles if they’re internal. No kidding – you’ll thank yourself later. If you’re doing outbound emails, learn very quickly how to write subjects people will open, get to your point, use bullets if necessary, and finish with a call to action. WFH means a lot more asynchronous communication, so make sure your emails can speak for themselves. Be thoughtful about how the receiver will read the email. Be thoughtful about whether the email will be forwarded and make sure whoever it’s forwarded to will understand your message.