Working from home was a wish for many over the years, and some companies would allow it, and others wouldn’t. Many people, upwards of 75% state they would like to work from home, but is it all that it is cracked up to be?
With the outbreak of COVID-19, we are all learning rather quickly what it is like to work from home. There are certainly benefits to working from home, but there are also some disadvantages. I would say it’s not for everyone, but in times like today, we all have to do our best. So, if you have never worked from home and the virus has forced you home, this is your chance to try it out. To make an analogy, this is like going to the mall to purchase some sneakers, and you walk around the inside of the mall to see how you like them. If they feel good, maybe you will purchase them. Let’s find out how to survive.
From my brief experience working from home, there are things that I like, and things I like better being in the office. All my paper files are in the office, so that has been a little bit of an obstacle. I have a quick 7-mile drive from my home to the office, so the commute isn’t too bad. In fact, I rather enjoy sitting in the car and driving while I listen to the radio. It gives me a little chance to unwind. So, when I am not commuting, I go sit on the couch for 10 minutes with my iPad and just “waste” time. It’s my way to unwind a little, just like I was doing in my car. So, there are a few things I want to discuss here, and let’s start in no particular order of importance.
It’s pretty easy to just sit and work because there isn’t anyone popping in and out of the office. This is probably one of the worst things you can do. You need to take a break, get up every hour and just stretch your legs. Don’t take a walk downstairs to the refrigerator, that will come back to haunt you with excessive weight gain. You want to take a short break to clear your head, keep the blood flowing in your legs, and stretch your back. I find my iWatch helps me keep track of this, and lets me know when to breathe and move. Nothing wrong with using technology to help. I have also scheduled a 30-minute lunch where on nice days I have been going outside and walking around the block. It seems that I am not the only person in my neighborhood doing this, which is good.
Have a Solid Work Area
You can’t work at the dining room or kitchen table for more than 2 or 3 days. It’s one thing to do it when you are sick and working from home, but if you are going to be working from home on a part-time or full-time basis, then you need to have a dedicated place. You need a work environment that is strictly a work environment. A spare bedroom works great. Even a large closet isn’t too bad.
My advice is to make it a separate room with a door so you can close the door keeping others out while you work, and when you aren’t working, you can close the door and have a home life. We will talk about work-life balance, but I think the physical location plays a very important part in building that balance. Seriously, having a door allows you to reduce distractions, especially if you have kids at home, or other people living with you. It’s the separation that is important. Plus, could you imagine working at the kitchen table every day, cleaning up your entire work area as the family sits down for dinner, and then setting it back up the next day? Not a good idea.
The other thing about a separate area is that when your day is done, it allows you to close the door and separate your home life and work life. Hey, I am not saying don’t check emails at night, but you know what happens you go to your new work area and check a few things, the next thing you know 2 hours have passed, and you missed the new episode of the Tiger King.
Not only should you have a separate area, but it has to be comfortable as well. You need a good chair, a desk at the right height, a mouse pad, and multiple monitors. You know, just like you have in the office. I tried working the first day from home, and by lunch time I had gone to BestBuy to pick up 2 new monitors. I was like a fish out of water using only one monitor. Now with 2 monitors and my PC screen, I feel more like the office. Since we have an IP Phone system in the office, I was able to take my phone and use it at home. It creates its own VPN tunnel to our telephone switch, and now when someone rings my office, my phone on my desk here at home rings. If you don’t have that technology, you can at least forward your calls to your cellphone. The other thing that I found was helpful was an external keyboard. I open the blinds each morning and look out into the woods as well for a little more relaxation. In fact, I saw a red fox in the back yard last week, yet another distraction.
Don’t let me even get started. There are more distractions working from home than Carter’s got pills. That damn refrigerator is one of them for sure, but so are other people in the house. I fixed the refrigerator (No, not by tying a rope around it to keep it closed), but by making sure there is only healthy snacks inside, and plenty of them. There are other distractions as well. My kids are grown, so I don’t have young children in the house but I could see how that could be a big distraction, especially if you don’t have a door on your new office. Nothing wrong with taking a break and going up to see them, but they should know when the door is closed they shouldn’t come in. Hey, this isn’t just kids it is also for wives, husbands, roommates, whomever you share the house with. It’s about boundaries. The other thing is some of my friends knew I was home and would call me during the day. They never would call me during the day when I was in the office, but when I am working from home they think it is ok. I don’t answer them during the day and call them back after work.
You have to manage and balance distractions. It’s fine to run downstairs and throw a load of wash into the washer, I do that during one of my breaks. The last thing you want to do is have the TV on all day, what a distraction that is. Or, the other day I was in a meeting with a customer, and I know they were doing the dishes as we were talking. Wrong. You need to separate. There is nothing wrong stopping for 15 minutes towards the end of the day, and throwing dinner into the oven, so you and your family can eat at a decent hour, but after putting the roast in the oven, you come back and work while it is cooking. That is the best of both worlds in my opinion. Working at home is a give and take approach. Your management needs to know they are getting you full time when you are home, so you need to manage your distractions.
Work Life Balance.
I think this flows from my previous point. With the right schedule, you can balance work and home better while working from home but you have to understand your priorities, the separation of that work environment, and having a schedule. I think the schedule is the key. When you go to the office, you pretty much have a schedule from the time you arrive, until you leave, and you get home for dinner by a certain time. It’s really no different, except now you don’t have the physical boundary, so you have to put in logical boundaries. In some aspects, I think it’s easier to balance work and life working from home if you have a little discipline. Maybe a little more discipline, than just a little.
I can throw a load of wash in before work, move it to the dryer after my morning meeting, and fold it at lunch. Put dinner in the oven before the end of my day, and have dinner ready a little earlier, while I still give my time to the job. I think the advantage is getting multiple things done at once. I don’t think you can go out and mow the lawn while working, because that really takes you out of the picture for a while, and that wouldn’t be fair to your job. Yet, nothing says you couldn’t cut the lawn during your lunch hour and now have that done, and sit down with a sandwich for your meeting right after lunch. Prioritizing, and multitasking can certainly allow you to get more done — just don’t over task. Also, remember, when you step away for a short time, put your out of office indicator on, so your co-workers aren’t trying to reach you and not be able to. That is the quickest way to ruin working from home. When people try to reach you during work, they should be able to.
I think this is crucial. Get up in the morning, take your shower, get dressed, ladies put on your makeup, men shave, do whatever you normally do when you go to work. Remember, the job hasn’t changed, just where you are performing it has. Also, we like doing video conference meetings. I changed our policy to this at the beginning of the year, and I think at first people hated it. But now with the social distancing, it’s good to see your co-workers. You want to look like you belong in the job, not look like you just came in from 3 AM breakfast at Denny’s when you were out drinking all night Friday.
I think this might be the biggest issue with working from home, is interacting with other people. Of course, everyone is different. Some people are content to not have to talk to people, and then there is the other extreme where people go to work not because they like their job, but to be able to socialize. Normal is probably someplace in between, but we are social creatures by nature. We need and desire interactions, so make sure you get some. Now, even with our current crisis and keeping 6 feet apart, my family and I did a video conference last Saturday night, and it was great to see everyone. It was the highlight of my week, so don’t deprive yourself of interacting with others. This afternoon at iTech, we are doing our first Popcorn and Beer, video social. We are just all going to turn on our cameras and interact with one another and try to help one another out socially. I think it will be good for morale, fighting off depression, and lifting people’s moods. I don’t know how it will work, but we will give it a try. After all, I am not a Dr., but an IBM i System Admin.
While I am starting to get used to work from home and find more balance better work and life, I think in the end, my IBM i is happier to be in the rack with the other servers in the computer room.