Get it All

Working from home isn’t all bad news.
Picture my own.

I’ve been working from home for many years and I have to tell you that one major benefit is having your own space to work. My wife just bought me a ceramic-heated coffee coaster and I couldn’t be happier. It fits perfectly in it’s assigned space on my custom-made reclaimed wood standing desk, in front of my second monitor. Yeah, man. I’ve got it good. But it hasn’t always been this way.

In my line of work, I frequently work for new clients on a regular basis and therefore do not keep offices there the way I did fifteen years ago. Before I got my home office together, it was a itinerant life: carrying the only office I knew in a backpack from one client’s office to the next Wegmans cafe to the next library. Even long-term contracts never seemed worth setting up permanent offices at. It’s only been since I’ve taken the time to set myself up in a home office that I feel at home working anywhere.

Now, if you’ve just found yourself suddenly without access to your office, it may be too much to ask that you have a whole “office” to yourself at your house. And unfortunately, the vagabond life is also no good when you’re trying to keep some social distance. Nevertheless, the first thing you need is a spot to work.

You may not have a room that can be sacrificed. Maybe just a spot in the dining room. Or a bedroom. Perhaps a small, darkened corner where the kids never look for their toys is what you have. Ok, not great. But it’s something. Move in.

Get some office stuff, whether that means gathering up second-hand crap around the house or getting something from Amazon and having to wait. Pens, paper, stapler, tape. Sticky notes, a keyboard wrist rest; stress ball, your favourite hunk of lapis from the gem show, a USB-powered fan, a pair of decent speakers. Get it. And while your at it:

  • Get the good chair. You deserve it.
  • Phone access
  • Printer access
  • Fax access
  • Internet access
  • A window? Let’s hope so!

Just because you don’t “go to the office” does not mean you should not have a place to go. The separation between work and home continues to be very important and a physical distance helps. Let others know that the office is where you go to be alone with your work.

I’m a parent and don’t plan on spending a heck of a lot of time in my office, to be honest. If you’re a parent, you already know what I mean. But it needs to be there and it needs to be respected. Because when things about the job just require your undivided attention, you need that resource.

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Believe! I know that sounds like a cat poster. But it’s true.

Vitruvius, The LEGO Movie
WARNING: picture is unrelated. (source)

Now normally, these listical-type, inspirational posts like to end on that high note where you match a “go out there and get ’em!” type message, typically with a picture of someone either doing yoga on a beach or climbing a mountain, as suits the occasion. And that’s fine, as far as it goes.

But you’re not climbing mountains or doing yoga. You’re trying to keep it together whilst the world goes indoors to play. This is about helping you maintain your mindfulness and productivity while you “camp” at your house. So I’ll start with the 1000-mile view crap early, so you can ignore it at will.

Nevertheless, the fact is that you’re a productive member of society because that’s your natural state. Or, perhaps you’re a lazy-ass, because that’s your natural state. The point is: you will reach your natural level of productivity, one way or the other. The venue in which you produce your work will change; the means by which you communicate will change; you will not change.

“Everyday humor” about working from home – the kind of talk you hear around the water cooler – is as follows: “wouldn’t it be nice if I could go work from home!” / “If I worked from home, I’d get nothing done.” Neither of these two things is true. It’s not automatically nice to work from home. It’s also not the automatic path to lost productivity.

The point of this post is to simply tell you – for sure – that you’re going to find working from home very productive. Not necessarily easy or enjoyable for everybody. But it will be productive. Have faith!

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So you’ve just gotten the word: you’re gonna be stuck in the house for a bit. COVID19’s cloud has reached your town or city, a state of emergency has been called and you’ve been asked to practice “social distancing” in an attempt to prevent the further spread of the virus. Of course, none of us wants to be sick, so we do as we are asked.

In the meanwhile, it may feel a bit selfish to be inconvenienced by a pandemic. Some things feel trivial. Our world is in the throws of a major, species-wide crisis and now may not seem like a good time to think about anything other than the very basics.

Work, for example. Some of us will simply not be able to work, at all. How we keep the trains running in those houses is an answer still to be determined. Those of us for whom remote work is possible will just need to muddle through. No sense in making a big deal about it: we’re the lucky ones.

But working from home represents a pretty big change in your routine, even in non-pandemic circumstances. I made the commitment, years ago, that I would do my best to find a career path that included working from home. At the time, I wanted to be available as a more active father in my then-future offspring’s life. But if I’m being honest, I just wanted to work from home because I thought it would be pretty cool.

After all: as a developer, my job requires me to spend time focused on code on a machine. Much of my time is insular by design, spending focused intervals carefully picking through lines of code or pouring over documentation. One might suspect that an employee in my profession could work all day without the slightest interaction and do their jobs just fine.

One would be wrong. I learned through experience that it takes more than a convenient job to make working from home a success. It requires self-discipline, for a start. It also requires a realistic view of work life which doesn’t prejudice your idea of what a day’s work looks like.

And while some jobs require less conversation to be successful, there is no one who “doesn’t require social interaction.” Least of all you! Finding ways to be social without direct, face-to-face contact is important. And even if you’re not “going to work,” that doesn’t mean you don’t need a place to work.

On the other hand, some of the rumors are true: we really do work in our PJs. All the time. Lunch is way better with your entire kitchen at your disposal; breaks are way better with Star Trek to watch on your big, old flatscreen. And if we’re being honest, some of our coworkers’ personalities can only be enhanced with distance.

My wife is a secondary education teacher. She’s home because our state and county are in a state of emergency and the schools are closed. Not only does she need to teach kids who are now across town, but we both need to share the responsibility for continuing our own son’s education. All while managing to keep ourselves sane and functioning as professional adults. It struck me while discussing our shared family predicament: a lot of people could use some hints on how best to manage just the business of working from home.

Sadly, managing our professional lives is a low priority. We have families to look after and houses to keep up. But in the coming days, I’m going to provide a quick list of insights I’ve gained from being a work-from-home employee that might just help curb the uneasy feelings you have while trying to balance work priorities with family ones.

Don’t worry: this won’t be one of those things were I do the “drip content” marketing jazz. I’ll be writing these as I’m able to. And they’ll probably be shorter than this one introduction. I hope you get some useful information from this series! I’ll keep a running list below:

A running list below: