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julia ferraioli
julia ferraioli

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So you're working from home: a primer, part 1

With so many people suddenly working remotely, I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve learned over the years as I’ve worked from home. As many are discovering, it’s not just a matter of opening up your laptop on your couch and getting to work. There are lots of distractions and differences -- some subtle, some not -- when working from home.

Getting ready and winding down

If you’ve been working from an office primarily, you probably have a commute. However stressful or relaxing it might be, it’s a period of transition. You’re gearing up for work or mentally setting it aside. I’ve learned that I can’t just stop working for the day and dive into “home mode;” if I do, my partner gets work-me instead of partner-me.

Try to build a “commute” into your day. This could take many forms:

  • Chat with your partner
  • Make yourself a longer breakfast (news reading as you see fit)
  • Take the dog/iguana/cat/self for a walk
  • Do some light straightening/cleaning up
  • Write an email to a friend

This puts some time in between work and the rest of the day, giving your brain the mental buffer that it needs to prepare or relax.

Preparing your space

I am lucky enough to have a room that I’ve made into an office, but I realize that this isn’t an option for everyone. Wherever you choose to work, make it your space for work. This might mean setting up a monitor, or putting your notebook, whiteboard, fidget toy, and chapstick nearby.

If you do have a desk, lay it out as close to your office desk as you can. Keep it as clean (or messy) as your office desk usually is. Take some time to check your ergonomics; you’re going to be here for some time, not just nights and weekends. Things that don’t annoy you in the off time will suddenly become intolerable during working hours, so try to anticipate them in advance so you can fix them.

Getting down to work

Working from home requires a bit more discipline than working in an office. Everything that you like to do in your off time is now at your fingertips! So that means there are lots of -- ooh, shiny object! That would look great on my side ta -- distractions. Your brain will still be putting together grocery lists, brainstorming ideas for dates, and thinking about the last episode of <insert favorite TV show here>.

In addition to preparing the space you’ll be working in, get into a ritual of setting things down. Physically put away your tablet, turn off or suspend your gaming rig, clear your work space of non-work stuff. If something is still nagging at you, get it done and set it down. With the example of a grocery list, round it out on your phone or notebook and then set those behind you.

Keep yourself accountable. Each day, in your team’s Slack/chat/IRC, say what you’re aiming to accomplish. This is your work version of a gym buddy. Or, you can ask someone on your team to be your work buddy, and you can keep each other accountable. Introvert? Make a checklist instead, and check off those items (preferably with a flourish, but you do you).

That’s part 1! In part 2, I’ll talk about collaboration and productive meetings.

Top comments (8)

jasonfb profile image
Jason Fleetwood-Boldt

People talk frequently about how hard it is to concentrate at home (kids, spouse, demands of other things) but the interesting thing is that many of us who work remotely find onsite offices to be far more distracting than our homes. This paradox has always struck me. Nonetheless, it is all contextual.

scottishross profile image
Ross Henderson

It really is a fine line. If I get in the zone at home I will get more work done in a day than I will likely get done in 2-3 in the office. But on average I do find being in the office to be beneficial, even if it's just for the social aspect.

juliaferraioli profile image
julia ferraioli

I have to say, I definitely miss the social aspect.

tyrannaut profile image
Tim Ryan

This got me thinking - perhaps it's less about the place exactly, and more about what you're used to.

It took me a long time to feel productive working from home when I went freelance 6+ months ago. Refining my routine and workspace is still an ongoing project and days can still be wildly productive or unproductive (damn you Google Stadia!!). But the line is definitely trending in a positive direction. Now, working in an office and having to deal with watercooler chit-chat, tea rounds and people dropping by for a chat feels crazy to me.

That said, having people around to bounce ideas off is worth its weight in gold, and one of the best perks of working with others. And unless you're working for a company that specialises in the specific thing you do, it's not always a given that you'll have the right people around to workshop ideas within an office environment. As I was making my exit, I made a point to seek out other people doing similar work as me, and now have a nice little working group of buddies to call, run ideas by or meet over a beer.

juliaferraioli profile image
julia ferraioli

Agreed it's definitely what you're used to! If you've been working from home around kids for years, you've probably built up habits around interaction. Same with colleagues at the office.

But I think it's also how you process sound. If you're like me, and need quiet to concentrate, working from home is perfect. But if you thrive in a noisy environment, then you're going to want to work wherever provides you that.

Stay tuned for tips on that last paragraph!

juliaferraioli profile image
julia ferraioli

It's all about your personality, I find. Some people thrive in a noisy office, some people thrive in a quiet home. Or a quiet office and a noisy home.

edwardfernando profile image
Edward Fernando

I really love the idea of working from home. Agree with you on the distractions part, it is always been the main issue for me.

“I think i should lay down a bit” that ended up to scrolling reddit for an hour.

juliaferraioli profile image
julia ferraioli

Working from home long-term will make you disciplined like you never thought was possible.