Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Look Inside Working From Home

I have been working remotely (aka working from home) for just over a year now. I still get lots of questions about how I make this (literally) work and what my days look like. So, today I thought I'd answer some of those frequently asked queries and give y'all a window into my days.

Q: What time do you start working?
A: I am usually "at work" by 7:00 AM. I wake up when Dustin does (around 6:15) and start getting ready. I love sleeping in, so I knew when I started doing this that a key was going to be getting up, so as to not have a workday that went into the evening. 

The headquarters I work for is on eastern time, so I decided early on I'd keep eastern work hours. I'm most often working an 8:00 to 4:30 EST schedule which translates to 7:00 to 3:30 CST in Kansas. I do keep my work computer clock on eastern time so I know what time it is in my alternate universe workday.

Also, even though I start working at a time I never thought I would, mornings are still the worst. The key to my early start? Coffee, obviously. A big work from home perk is I can savor my coffee in a ceramic mug each morning.

Q: Do you wear your pajamas to work?

A: I don't. I make it a point to actually get ready every day. I do a morning routine as if I'm going into an actual office. I don't always wear business casual, but I try to at least look presentable. Some days Most days that translates to sweatpants and a nice-ish top. Every once in awhile I get the urge to dress up more, and I do. Regardless of how casual I go, I change out of whatever I slept in to signal a change in what I'm doing. I also change out of my work clothes at the end of the day. Even if it's putting on something else in the same vein, it's important for me to separate my day as if I am coming and going to work somewhere that's not my house.

Q: Do you sit on your couch and work?

A: Once in a blue moon. 98% of the time, this is where I'm working. . .

Before I started remote work, my employer asked me to pick out my own home office furniture. I found this corner desk (with lots of tabletop real estate) at Ikea. I decorated my office space with knick-knacks, notes and other happy things like I would on a campus. I also have set up my office space near natural light. This is a major perk as most of the campus offices I've had haven't had this. Most of the time, I work without lights on at all and let the sunshine into my day. 

Once I'm done working, I try to close out and leave this space for the day. It can be easy to keep working and working and working, but I try to disconnect, so it doesn't move from my office that's in my home to my home that's in my office. It's easier to do this in our house because my office is upstairs. The only other things on this floor are an extra bedroom, a bathroom, and a laundry room (definitely don't spend a lot of time there), so I don't have a lot of reasons to be up here when I'm not at work.

Q: What are the major differences from working in an office? 

A: Y'all, I'm so productive. Ridiculously productive. Because I don't get interrupted, I have an incredible workflow. There is more of an intentionality with meetings that get scheduled and how I communicate because I'm a solo project more often than not.

One thing I have to remind myself is that when I'm not doing my best work (or any work), I need to take a break. I don't need to sit at my desk and mindlessly scroll through social media or stare as I wait for inspiration. Because I'm getting so much done, it's okay (and expected) that I'd take a break to recharge and refuel.

Q: Do you take a lunch break/breaks during the day?

A: Yes. I try to always take at least an hour to leave the house. I have a policy, in fact, that I leave the house once a day. If I don't, I get stir crazy and by the time Dustin gets home, I'm kind of an insufferable human. 

I usually take my lunch at 11 AM because that's when they're taking it at the office. Plus, because I get up so early I'm ready for a break at this point. I usually take the time to go to the gym (or walk outside if it's nice), pick up groceries, and/or run miscellaneous errands. 

I always eat my lunch away from my desk, so as to again give myself a break from the "office" environment. I also make sure to eat an actual lunch, so I'm not just snacking my way through the day which can be tempting when your pantry is so close.

I'll also squeeze in chores here and there, but I'm careful not to get sucked into doing all the things. I try to frame it as the fact that I'm working FROM home, but not working AT home. In other words, my priority during the workday is the workday. I'll sometimes use short breaks to do a quick chore (e.g. load/unload dishwasher, change out laundry), but don't clean the whole house or anything, not that I would do that anyway.

Q: How do you stay connected to your co-workers?

A: Around the time I came on-board, work upgraded their technology with Google. Most of the time if I'm in meetings with folks I'm on Google Hangouts (see, it's important I don't wear PJ's). It makes a world of difference from a connection standpoint to actually SEE the people I'm collaborating with. Email is obviously also a big thing, too. I'm known for being speedy on my replies, and that also helps keep me plugged in. 

One thing that's both a challenge/perk is that because I'm not in the physical space, I can't just pop over to someone's office to give a quick answer to a question, and/or they can't do the same for me. At the same time, this means that if I need to touch base with someone (or vice versa), we schedule out that time, or we do a quick text exchange. 

That said, I think working remotely has made me a more efficient communicator, as it makes me stop and think about what the best way for me to convey information is for each project/response. 

Also, I must say I really dig living life like the Jetsons. It's a total childhood dream come true.
(Source: Revolve Robotics)

Q: What do you like about working remotely? 

A: I have come to really like the way I'm able to work. I can truly dig into projects and initiatives. As someone who spends lots of time in their own head (for the StrengthsQuest folks in the crowd, Learner & Intellection are in my top five), it's been really neat to actually have the time to take ideas and turn them into action (SQ Note - Achiever is also in there). 

I have time to simply read. I actually take time during my days to read articles, read books, listen to podcasts/webinars to learn about what I'm doing. I know I could have done this before, but my workday structure now lends itself to this more.

I like the freedom to set my own schedule. If I need to run an errand during the day, I can. If my family needs help with something, I can come in at a moment's notice. If I want to start super early and have my afternoon, I can do that. Similarly, if I want the afternoon off, I can finish up my hours later. The flexibility to do more with my day makes me more productive and happy on all fronts.

Q: What challenges are there working remotely?

A: I think the absence of a community has taken some getting used to and is honestly the toughest part of this type of work. I am fortunate to have co-workers who take the time to check in and make sure I'm doing okay beyond just my work tasks. Even though they're not in my space, I feel connected to them both personally and professionally which makes a world of difference.

Realizing I have this gap, it is on my list this year to become more engaged in my community. Since I don't have a built-in group/connection, I have to take more time to build this out myself. I am fortunate to still have higher ed friends up the road who keep me connected, and I need to do better about (re)connecting there. Also, now that Dustin and I are in a home we'll be in for awhile, it makes sense to find ways to connect to the people around us in our city. While I'm an introvert for the ages, I've come to know I need people lots, too.

Q: What tips do you have for remote work?

A: Go the public library when kids are still in school. Seriously, y'all, libraries are battlefields once kids are out. Go for the peace and quiet during the day.

There are times when Costco doesn't serve samples, and it's the worst. Stay away from around 11 AM (not set up yet) and around 4 PM (closing up shop for the day).

There are times when grocery stores are trickier to navigate. Figure out which day/time your store restocks, and don't go then. 

As I said before, leave the house once a day. It doesn't seem like it'd matter, but whoa, it does. Dustin can very clearly tell which days I haven't taken a break. I spend more time in my house than most (~22 hours a day), so taking some time away even though I love our space is crucial.

Maintain a work routine. Even though you're going down to a zero minute commute, make sure to make yourself still feel as if you're going to work and leaving for the day. It helps to create a separation of work and home that isn't there in space.

Finally, I'd share this article. Many of things in this article I already do, but it's one of the best piece I've read about how to make this work - How to Work Remotely Without Losing Motivation.


Have more questions? Let me know. It's a very different world, and I'm happy to share and connect to tell you more!