Tips On How To Manage the Challenges of Working From Home

Introduction

In part one of our series on working from home, we have pointed out the advantages of working from home. However, WFH is not without its faults. The best thing to do to combat these negatives is to be proactive, prepare for these potential pitfalls, and likely make some adjustments to your lifestyle in order to better equip yourself for WFH.

Self-Motivation

This is a big one that often gets overlooked. Personalities are all very different. Some people thrive in quiet and isolation. But others can actually regress and become LESS productive in this type of environment. Typically those that are introverted benefit well from working from home, whereas those who are extroverted tend to have more difficulty. These extroverted personalities often feel energized after an interruption or a social interaction, and often work better and faster knowing that someone is "watching them" and holding them accountable in a more active way.

If you fall more into the second category (or some combination of both), where it becomes really difficult to motivate yourself when you're "on your own", here are some tips that can help...

Provide a Means of Accountability

If you have specific tasks to accomplish, make it clear to your boss when you will deliver these items (IN WRITING!). Be very specific and intentional with your deadlines. Even if your work is more abstract in nature, setting and committing to specific deadlines to your boss (or whoever is appropriate) can really help to keep you motivated and accountable.

Be Agile

Just about any company can benefit from incorporating Agile principles. Incorporating these company-wide (or even individually, to an extent, if your company does not yet "do Agile") can increase accountability, reduce stress, and properly set expectations of work.

Personal Distractions at Home

Honey-do list

I hear this one a lot. "If I work from home, I'll get bombarded with stuff that needs to be done at home by my significant other". This is just one of those things that you have to be clear on expectations. If your spouse/significant other has certain expectations of you when you are home, have that talk! Set expectations clearly with them so that it is clear that this arrangement can be a win/win for both of you! Perhaps sacrificing that hour you saved in travel time for knocking off some of those honey-do items would be a great compromise! And then make it clear that the rest of the day needs to be distraction-free!

Kids

Like with the spouse/significant other, you can really thwart distractions of the kids by setting their expectations as well. Also, having a set room/office space with a door that can be closed, can be a good training tool. Use this room as your "safe space". When the door is closed, make it clear to the kids that they are not allowed to enter without knocking unless it is an emergency. Perhaps reserving a time out of your day to give them undivided attention can also help this. Make it feel like an exchange for the kids that work in their favor.

Work/Life Balance

If you're not careful, WFH can be a significant burden. It is tempting to let work bleed into your normal life routine. Often it can be little things like checking your work email off-hours, or following up on some light changes to some project because you are "at your computer anyway". This trend is usually subtle and starts small, but if you do not properly manage your work/life balance, things can quickly get overwhelming.

How to Balance

It is important to be proactive in balancing your work with your life. Some things that can keep you accountable in this area are...

*Only work in your designated "workspace".

  • This is very helpful with training your brain that it is not work time when you are not in the office. Avoid working in places where you normally spend non-work time in.

*Limit to X hours a day

  • For most people, this is 8 hours a day. Whatever your expected hours per day are, it's important to keep your hours within that range. Always keep a consistent start and end time each day. If you have to work more hours on a given day, try to take a break at your usual end time. Come back to it an hour or two later if you can. Keeping this start/stop time can help keep you consistent.

*Step away

  • Leave your desk at least once an hour, even if it is just for a minute or two. You are at home! Nobody will question why you're getting up from your desk. Giving your brain/body a break can boost your productivity quite a bit, and you will find that you are more likely to be able to disconnect after a hard day's work.

Managing Expectations

This is usually the hardest thing to take care of...managing others' expectations of you. One of the reasons is that your boss or coworkers may not have the same convictions as you. They may work 12 hours a day because they're at home, don't have to drive, etc. They may very well feel the pressure more than you to put in EXTRA time because they have been given the privilege of working from home. When you're tempted to think this way, remind yourself that this WFH privilege is just as beneficial to your company as it is to you! They will benefit from increased productivity and happier employees.

Part of managing expectations is to be consistent in your daily work routine. For example, if you do not want coworkers to expect you to be available during off-hours, then do not reply to emails during off-hours, or instant messages, etc (even if it happens to be convenient for you at a given time).

Also, it is important that you manage your work pace as well. If you are working at 110% for a while, then you will ALWAYS be expected to work 110%. That will be your "new norm". Set a work pace where you feel that you are truly being productive but not to a point where you will eventually burn out. Be satisfied with your productivity and know that you are ultimately benefiting yourself AND your company. Having someone at a level of good productivity, indefinitely, is much more valuable than someone who is a "machine" but then burns out after 6 months.

Conclusion

Working from home is great. It can have a lot of benefits to both employees and companies. As with most things, however, it is not without its downside. But with proper knowledge and expectations, it can be a wonderful experience that will make you want to say, "I never want to go back into an office again." And more importantly, your boss will say the same thing.

Thanks for reading, check out part 1 of this series here.

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