This year will be the 14th year that I’ve officially been working from home.
In fact, not only have I been working from home, but also I’ve been running a business from home all this time. A real business: with employees, contractors, customers, suppliers, and all the other headaches you can expect from doing this.
I once had an office with my father. But after he passed away in 2005, I shut it down. We saved lots of money on overhead, but I admit there have been a few cultural challenges—but that’s another topic for another day. Today, all of my people work from their home offices, too. We do see each other at client meetings and the occasional company event, but we’re solitary. Most everyone enjoys the autonomy and independence, though. I, for one, love it.
I’ve learned a lot about working from home and I’d like to share that knowledge. So, to celebrate these 14 years, I’ve come up with 14 things you should be doing if you decide to work from home, instead of going to an office. So, here they are, and not in any order of importance.
1. Have a separate workspace. Don’t create an office in your bedroom, because that will look bad on video calls. Don’t set up a space in the kitchen, because that’s for eating. If you really want to successfully work from home (not to mention, take advantage of some tax benefits), then you need to create a dedicated, separate place of business. I’ve been lucky enough to live in a large house, so I always had a room dedicated to my office. Maybe you have a basement? A closet that potentially can be converted? Or at least a part of your apartment that can be designated as work only?
2. Put in a door. And shut it. If you’re living with other people, you need to be able to shut them out of your professional life. You’ll be on calls or you’ll want to focus on your work and, if you’re in a situation where people can just walk in and out of your workspace and distract you with their silly stories and other dopey nonsense, then, hey…you might as well be working in an office!
3. Bathe. Yeah, you heard me. I don’t want to hear that you care about the environment and you’re conserving water. Just take a shower. Every day. Same time. It really does have a psychological impact. I bathe. You’re welcome.
4. Eat lunch out. Whenever I see people in an office or working from home eating at their desks, it depresses me. Everyone needs a change of scenery, and one of the joys of working from home is that no one knows when you’re in or out. So, go out. OK, it doesn’t have to be every day, and I know you can make a sandwich at home. But when you emerge into the bright sunlight and walk or drive to a nearby deli for a sandwich, you are reminded that there really is a whole big world going on out there all around you. Use the opportunity to smile and converse with other human beings in person. People really are nice.
5. Do not keep files. If you want to pave a quick road toward divorce, then be sure to have lots of papers, files, and folders lying around. That’ll do it. It almost did for me! Years ago, and in lieu of driving my wife crazy, I learned to spring for a small offsite storage space for my company’s files. But now in the age of Dropbox and other online storage services, I’m scanning, clicking, and storing images in the cloud and clearing up my space. Have a no clutter policy, no paper policy and you’ll be more productive.
6. Do other stuff while talking on the phone. If I’m talking to you from my home office, there’s a good chance I’m not even in my home office. I’m probably folding laundry, emptying the dishwasher, sweeping a floor, changing the cat’s litter box, or even taking out the garbage. You don’t know this because I’m careful to mute my phone if there are background noises. And what do you care anyway? Me, I’m getting stuff done while also getting stuff done!
7. Get rid of the baby and the dog. No, I’m not telling you to actually get rid of your baby or dog. I love babies and dogs! (I think I love dogs a little more, sorry.) Regardless, you can’t have them around. Seriously. If you’re a work-from-home parent and think you can actually get work done and deal with a baby, you’re fooling yourself. Each needs its own attention and my experience—and I DO have experience with this—is that you’re going to fail. During my baby years, we had someone around to babysit. And during my dog years (which continue), I’ve got a system for getting my dog out of the office (think lots and lots of treats), so there’s no barking in the background. People are understanding…only up to a point.
8. Invest in lighting. Sounds strange, but whenever people ask me the most important tech investment I’ve made for my home office, it’s never what you think. Sure, all the cloud-based-remote-connectivity-collaboration-communication tools are essential. But it was the lighting that had the biggest effect on me. I set the mood with lighting depending on the time of day, the weather…even the season. And it works. Cozy really does equal productivity.
9. Never, ever turn on the TV. If you’ve ever made the mistake of just “checking in” on The View, The Talk, Dr. Phil, The Wendy Williams Show, or even that channel that replays old episodes of M*A*S*H, you’ll know what I mean. It’s a killer. And, like a car wreck, you just can’t look away. Sure, you’ll be more prepared to deal with your daughter when she comes home with a pierced tongue, but you’ll be worse off for your job. It’s just not worth it.
10. Do your work in blocks. This productivity tip applies whether you’re in an office or at home. Think chunks. Carve out an hour and say to yourself, “I don’t care if we’ve been invaded by aliens, this is my time to respond to emails.” Block out certain times of the day when you follow up on activities, write proposals, talk to customers, or work on that new project. Don’t let anything interfere. One of the greatest advantages of working from home is that you can be very selfish with your time.
11. Know the pulse of your neighborhood. During the summer, my neighbor’s landscaper comes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. I know this because it’s impossible to speak on the phone while they’re mowing away! I also know that at 3 p.m. the school bus drops off a hoard of middle-schoolers near my house and it helps to keep an eye out for…well, anything. Things happen in your neighborhood that can affect calls, conferences, and productivity. What time do the township waste people rock and roll on your street? When does the friendly, neighborhood, and very talkative post office person knock on your door? You get it.
12. Nap. Go ahead. Nap. You earned it. No one’s going to know. And how many more studies do you need telling you that 20-30 minutes of shut-eye is great for your health and productivity? I do it. Right at my desk. But ask me face to face and I’ll deny it, of course.
13. Keep a professional set of clothing nearby. I go out of my way to avoid video calls because—as mentioned above—I like to do other stuff when talking on the phone. But sometimes they can’t be avoided. One thing’s for sure: You can’t show up for a video call looking like…well, the way I do right now. Sometimes these calls come with short notice, so it helps to have a decent top set of professional clothes nearby to throw on. And no, I have no makeup advice, sorry.
14. Finally: Never, ever complain. Sometimes I run into people who actually complain about working from home. Complain! Like, what is their problem? You’re at HOME all day. You’ve got your dog nearby. You can sneak out, work totally odd hours, nap. You don’t have to worry about the commute or that guy eating a tuna sandwich at your shared, open workspace desk. Enjoy!
So, those are my 14 best tips to make your work from home experience even better. Do you have others to add? Please share in the comments.