This post is not intended to be funny, so if you’re looking for a better joke, watch C/SPAN. Wait, that was technically a joke. Oh well.
So, a little (snooze-fest) background to get you in the mood. Some wine, some Barry White music, dim lights, and…
I’ve now been working remote for an employer since Spring of 2015. I didn’t seek this, because I always thought of it as a unicorn job. But I soon discovered how many others have been doing it (in IT) for a long time and how the practice is increasing in popularity. This is particularly true for consulting more than full-time employment (FTE) or contracting. Consulting for an employer on full W-2, etc. is more common than independent, but I see quite a few of those as well (mostly online, that is).
Since then, I’ve had many discussions with others who work from home and it seemed odd how little information exists on “best practices” and warning signals. There are some books, some blogs, some whitepapers out there, but most appear to be focused on a specific area within the topic, rather than taking a holistic view. I try to avoid using “holistic” because I’ve heard it used to death, but I couldn’t stop myself.
The advantages for the consultant are pretty obvious, but not always what you expect. I won’t bother with the advantages for employers, because they should already know that, or they’re on the wrong path.
Flexibility is high on the list. When you wake up, when you take lunch, etc. Dress code is optional (more on this later), and feeling more connected to your “home” are often benefits. For example, spending more time with your kids, pets, spouse (in that order, ha ha), etc.
Flexibility also allows you to step away from some conference calls to use the restroom, get coffee, snacks, fetch the mail, etc. as long as you have a wireless headset and a mute button. I can take care of dishes, laundry, feeding the pets, watering plants, all while discussing why Configuration Manager isn’t going to automatically wipe and re-image every machine in the company from the evil PXE-beast.
Another advantage is it’s easier to multi-task (which can also be a disadvantage). For example, while one conference call is droning on about something you’re not involved with, you can work on other tasks, chat with customers, engineers, etc. As for conference calls, it’s often easier to “back-channel” on separate chat sessions, with others on the same call, than when everyone is physically in a room together.
Yet another advantage with online conferencing is the ease of sharing links, documents, etc. via the chat application (Skype, WebEx, etc.) while the meeting is still going.
Some of these will vary by your personality, home environment, and other personal factors.
Solitude. It’s not for everyone. If you don’t like working in isolation (like many programmers prefer), and rather have people around you, then working from home may not be ideal. If you suffer from mild to severe depression, even seasonal, it can be tough, but not impossible, to accommodate.
Background distractions/disruptions. Noisy pets. Leaf blowers outside. Fans. All of these can make you a master of the mute button, but if that gets too frequent, customers (and your boss) may become concerned about your ability to focus.
What to do?
None of the following recommendations imply 24/7 focus. It’s okay if you slip off the wagon once in a while. The important thing is to keep them in front of you and try to do them whenever possible. Make a checklist if you want, whatever works. This is aside from the technical side of things, like getting a wireless Bluetooth headset.
- Get outside!!! Walk, run, or even sit in a chair. But get outside at least twice a day. Even if the weather sucks. It’s important to mentally feel connected to the outside world. Sunshine, even indirect/cloudy, stimulates chemical balances in your mind and body (proven, go look it up, if you don’t believe me).
- Get away from your desk/chair at least once an hour. Walk to another room (or outside, even better). Just move.
- Watch your diet. Avoid sugary snacks or putting too much sweetener in your drinks (or drinking canned/bottled sweetened drinks). Being sedentary and consuming unhealthy foods/drinks is one of the fastest ways to lose control of your health. If you think it’s easy to slip on this when working in an office, it’s twice as easy when working from home. Also, keep snacks AWAY from reach. Put all your food, coffee, drinks, etc. in another room, or across the room you’re in. Make yourself have to get up to get them.
- Exercise. If you’re so inclined, do some resistance workout activities, or calisthenics to keep the blood flowing and improve your health. Sitting at home is worse than sitting in an office because you don’t even walk from the office entrance to your desk and back. You can easily lose weight doing this, which is a win-win. Nothing fancy. Even arm circles, squats, and so on are better than clicking a mouse all day.
- Set Boundaries. Pick a time to “knock off” work and leave it behind. It’s really really reeeeeeeaaaally easy to keep working long after you should quit for the day. It’s bad for your mind, health, and can affect your sleep pattern, mood, appetite, and family time (or pet time).
- Have lunch with a friend, colleague, family member, etc., at least once a week if you can. Nothing fancy or expensive, just coffee or a light lunch will do. Conversation is one of the best vaccines against feeling down from isolation. It also keeps your conversation chops sharp for when you go to meet customers.
- Go to local meet-ups. This is VERY important for three reasons: It gets you into groups and interacting with others, it gets you away from your home office, and you learn new things. Just watch out for junk food if they provide it.
- Change the Scenery. Work from a different location sometimes. A coffee shop, library, park, shopping mall, etc. Whatever fits your ability to focus on what you do for work. Some people prefer busy places, some prefer quiet places. But getting out of the house is important.
- Personal Stuff. Shower, shave, groom, like you’re going to the office. Every day.
- Dress up. Yes. One of the most common changes people incur when working from home is working in pajamas, sweats, even underwear. It’s easy and comfortable. It can also gradually affect how you feel and how you conduct yourself in conference calls. You don’t need to put on a suit, although that’s fine if you like. Just jeans and a button down shirt or polo, with socks and shoes. And a belt. Believe it or not, aside from getting away from my desk, this is the most challenging one for me.
- Avoid cages. If you listen to music or podcasts, news, or TV shows while working, change up your selection. Avoid patterns that subconsciously make your brain feel like you’re standing still.
Anyhow, I hope this is helpful.