When you tell people you work at home, it's usually one of two reactions: "Oh, I'd love to be able to work in my PJs. It'd be so much less distracting." Or: "I could never. I'd watch TV and do laundry all day." The past 8 years, on and off, my home office has been my primary one, my cell phone the tether to coworkers near and far, and the video conference my main meeting room.
There are a lot of cliches and stereotypes about this new world of work. My favorite is that no one's working and that productivity goes down with a workforce at home. From the trenches of my small corner of the world, here are some truths about laundry, PJs, repair men, barking dogs, and what people really think you're doing when you're cozied into your remote office.
Remote Work Isn't For Everyone
As big a fan as I am of working at home, it's not for everyone. I know the same people you do who obviously are going to park themselves in front of a reality show and just respond to email via phone to look busy. Or the folks who are prone to long lunches that never really deliver any solid outcomes. Likewise, solid performers at work aren't always going to convert to productive remote employees. Ask yourself: Do you have initiative and drive that's coming from a place of motivation and passion about what you do? I'm much more sold on the remote situation for folks who motivate themselves because they're engaged in what they do, not because they need a boss to prod them or a team to collaborate or compete with.
I usually suggest doing a trial of 2-3 days, if not a week, to see how this fits for you before you decide it's a perfect fit. Ask yourself the hard questions about how much work you're putting out compared to the same time period in the office. We all know when we've had an insanely productive day. Those have to be the norm when you're at home for it to work out.
You're Narrowing the Lens You're Seen Through
When you're in an office, folks get to see you in meetings, at the lunch table, out for coffee, giving that presentation, going for a beer after hours, stepping up in meetings, delivering the file on time, one on one. You're this dynamic, multi-faceted coworker. But when you're at home, folks experience a much narrower range of your amazingness. There's a limit to the diversity of that interaction, which means that you put yourself under a microscope.
So don't become a narrow version of yourself. Send out an impromptu IM conversation to connect just because. Ring a colleague who you'd like to connect with and have a "lunch date" from your respective patio tables. Talk about your outside of work enough to be yourself. And make a point to send emails to your team and reach out to solicit feedback and give your opinions. Just because you're out of sight doesn't mean you should be out of mind.
If You Work Less, You Also Have to Work More
Here's the laundry paradox, friends. I have no problem if you throw a load of jeans in before your 10 a.m. meeting and then move them to the dryer before lunch and fold them before you go pick up your son from daycare. That is if you have no problem taking the 6 a.m. call with the Paris office or coming home from dinner to check email one more time before bed and responding to any urgent requests. The trouble with laundry is when it's just laundry, and not a two-way street where sometimes you work in the middle of your personal life and sometimes you do personal things in the middle of your work life. Your business deserves all the time it's paying you for.
Balance is key. Take an hour off for the dentist or to oversee your stove repair, and put an extra hour in the next morning or that night, assuming your boss is cool with this arrangement also. Too often, I hear about this balance tipping in favor of a little more time for you and a little less time for your employer. This gives all of us a bad rep for being slackers. And to paraphrase advice my dad used during his 35 years running a small business: Slacking off on the job is stealing from the company.
Make an Actual Office at Home
I did a 3' x 3' desk in the corner of my small house's bedroom for 2 years, and it was an eyesore and an earful with fans revving or the occasional email beep if I forgot to hit Mute. It also made it easy to get up and dive straight into work rather than keeping a schedule that attended to other important things, like exercise or a breakfast, before I jumped into work for the day.
Whenever possible, set up dedicated space--not community or well-trafficked space, not a corner coffee shop table, but quiet, professional space where you can have the same meeting you'd have if you were in the office. I'm a stickler on this: We don't want to hear your animals or your kids or lawnmowers or low coffeehouse jazz whenever we talk to you. And it's not because we don't love your animals, your kids, your tidy lawn. It's because folks in the office go to the effort to set a professional environment for phone and video calls, and like it or not, you need to do the same. Clients and coworkers deserve it. And it's never fun to be the one person who creates all the distractions and spends the call apologizing for it rather than focusing on the actual work of the call.
If this sounds harsh, I'll add that this is better for you too--a room with a door on it lets you turn work on and off at appropriate times in your day, which helps you stay sane, rather than stopping in to check email every time you walk by the dining table.
Embrace What's Different
In the comfort of your own home, you've got the opportunity to work as distraction free as your calendar allows. No one stops by your desk to chat about that report that's due in a week. The gossip mill is one you can check out of unless you make an effort to keep those ties. You also don't happen to see Greg in the hallway and have the impromptu conversation that leads to an important process change between your teams. Or to have face time in front of the leaders you're pitching your next project too.
So set some new expectations and determine what your success looks like. Before, it might have been that you and the VP of Marketing got were synched because you were down the hall from each other and got to have side conversations about everything before it happened. Now it might be that you have the chance to do some Skunkworks projects with a few other remote people who can deliver back a new innovation because you're seeing things differently from the outside.
Every quarter or so, I find it helpful to stop and take stock of what's changed in your work life. Where are you politically in your organization? What new relationships have you built, and are there old ones you've let go of? How connected are you to your team? How are you thought of in your team? It's easy to get locked into a feedback void at home because you're not around other folks who depend on you. So make the effort to ask: How am I doing?
A year and a half ago, a conversation on that very topic led me to move closer to my work again, not because I wasn't effective remotely, but so I could be half in the office and half out. My key partner in building products and I discovered that we wanted more face time and closer collaboration, and it wasn't going to happen with me 3-4 hours away.
And in that move, I also discovered the last and perhaps most important part of working from home.
You Have to Do What You Love
Because no one is there to check that you're not on Facebook every day or that you're actually logging those hours. Sure, goofing off will catch up with you eventually. But you're miles ahead if you believe in what you go to your desk to do every day. The people you do the work with are often the most rewarding part of the journey, so take some time to give those relationships room to grow and breathe and flourish regardless of where you're located. Find new reasons to fall in love with your company all over again. Even (and especially) if you get to do the work within a hundred-foot commute