What are the best ways to work from home effectively? One of the main takeaways I took from Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in The Atlantic* is that businesses should really accept that the concept of “work” is changing from an office-centric, time-macho, “face-time” culture to a more flexible “work from home, sometimes” culture. So I thought we’d explore some of the best ways to work from home effectively, whether part-time or full-time. (Pictured: Home Office, originally uploaded to Flickr by Sean MacEntee.)
- Have a dedicated space if you work from home regularly — and if you live with others, make sure this space is secluded from the rest of the apartment or house. A good desk (that isn’t piled high with other stuff — I always used to use mine as a makeup vanity/desk until I started seriously working from home), drawers, folders, a file cabinet, a printer… even creature comforts like artwork, framed pictures, and more, help you get into the right mentality. If you Skype with colleagues, invest in a good setup — ditto for your phone. My cell phone is my primary phone, and I find the quality (on both ends) to be tremendously better with an ear piece.
- Expect to answer to regular working hours. When you work from home you often find huge pockets of time to work that are not normal working hours (mornings, nights, weekends), and it’s great to use those times. But you should still think of your “core” hours as being 9-5, M-F. By this I mean that you should think twice before you send an email at two in the morning, and be available to put out fires that crop up during the normal workday, even if it interferes with your “ideal” work from home schedule.
- Limit domestic duties from 9-5. You have no idea how attractive your dirty dishes look as procrastination tools! (Plus, you feel like you’ve accomplished something afterwards, which makes it doubly dangerous.) At the beginning of each day, I like to set the timer on the kitchen microwave to 20 minutes, and every time I do something domestic — the laundry, prepping dinner, washing dishes, cleaning the toilet, etc — I push the timer on. Sometimes I’ll use the time spread throughout the day; sometimes in one big chunk.
- Take breaks differently than you did in the office. In the office, I always used to take a “ten minute Internet break” during lunch or after I finished a big task — and far too often I would look up and realize an hour or more had passed. When I’m working from home, I’m not allowed to take too many Internet breaks. (In fact I don’t even let myself read articles at my desk; I just put them in my “Read It Later” queue.) Instead, if I’m eating my sandwich or what not, I’ll sit down and watch one segment (from one commercial break to the next) of one of my silly reality TV shows. I get a mental break, but it’s much easier to limit it in time, even though it sounds much more decadent.
- If you have children, you still need childcare. One of the worst pieces of advice I got was that I could easily work from home with my son until he was one year old. And maybe with some babies, you can. But not only did my son suffer from colic (where he pretty much cried unless we were holding him), for the first 5 months of his life he really only slept on us. Once he started to get more personality, I felt guilty trying to work in the corner while he played on his mat or in his bouncer chair. And after he started crawling… forget about it. I’m told it’s harder to work in the same apartment or house once the baby becomes a toddler (and you either need to send him to daycare or get an office space close to home), but I’m hoping that an office that is tucked well out of sight is an acceptable compromise. We’ll see, I guess.
- Change out of your bedclothes, and wear shoes. I’m not going to say “change out of your pajamas” because one theory of working from home is that you should deliberately wear things you will not wear in the outside world, which may mean you have a set of “working pajamas” or “work yoga pants.” I usually just wear regular clothes, but I have noticed that if I’m wearing a sloppy maxi skirt I’ll change into something a bit more chic before I leave the house, whereas if I’m wearing jeans I just leave the house as is. As for shoes, it’s recommended by podiatrists to wear shoes around the house (I’ve heard two podiatrists say Crocs are ideal house shoes, but I just can’t do it), and getting “dressed to your shoes” really does make a difference in outlook. As far as makeup and jewelry, I think it really depends what you have going on — if there’s a Skype call or you’re meeting clients, you obviously want to look your best.
Readers, what are your best “work from home” tips? Do you work from home as often as you’d like — and when you do, are you productive?
* For today’s post I actually wanted to go through Slaughter’s piece in The Atlantic, “Women Can’t Have it All,” and add my thoughts… but really, I agree with so much of what she says that it doesn’t seem very productive. I completely agree that the culture of work needs to change significantly before we can make progress. My 3 favorite points:
- The “time macho” attitude — “a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you” — needs to go.
- “While employers shouldn’t privilege parents over other workers, too often they end up doing the opposite, usually subtly, and usually in ways that make it harder for a primary caregiver to get ahead.” Yep.
- “The American definition of a successful professional is someone who can climb the ladder the furthest in the shortest time, generally peaking between ages 45 and 55. . . . [This definition] makes far less sense today. . . . Peaking in your late 50s and early 60s rather than your late 40s and early 50s makes particular sense for women, who live longer than men.” I particularly love this point (says the 35-year-old).