Strange times we’re living in. If I’m honest, things are bad. Like, real bad. As of this writing (for those visiting from the future… or past) entire countries are on lockdown due to an honest-to-gods global pandemic. A few American cities are also locked down, but mostly we’re practicing self-quarantine and social distancing.
Which means a lot of you are telecommuting for the first time. As someone that’s exclusively worked from home for nearly six years, I thought I’d share the wisdom I’ve gained in that time. Of course, I’m not nearly the first (or likely the last) to do so. Hello, Chuck Wendig already wrote about this. Pretty well, I might add. He definitely covers the major things to know.
So, in the interest of not covering ground already trodden on so delicately by others, allow me to help the transition with some random tips / thoughts on the life I’ve lived as a telecommuter:
- Routine Helps: Even though I work from home I treat my job like I would any office job. I wake up, shower, eat breakfast, and then go to my home office and boot up. I have a set time to work throughout the day, partly because that’s when the rest of my coworkers are online and I need to talk to them to do my job, but also because it helps me keep a sense of normalcy. It’s easy to slip into staying up late, or working whenever the feeling strikes you, but that’s a slippery slope I personally try to avoid. I’ve had issues with work-life balance in the past and I still often find myself working weird hours because of deadlines. But routine keeps me cognizant of when my life is off-balance, which allows me to take steps to correct and maintain that balance.
- Your Internet Connection and Computing Power is Everything: For those of you that normally work in an office and are now telecommuting, triple-check that your internet is fast and reliable. I pay extra for additional bandwidth because it’s literally my lifeline. I imagine that most companies that move to telecommuting will try to replicate some of the face-to-face they’re used to with videoconferencing. Well, that eats up a lot of bandwidth. If your internet or computer is slow, there are going to be issues with that.
- Communication Changes: When telecommuting it becomes nearly impossible to read someone’s body language. If they have their camera on so you can see them (and often that’s a big if) seeing someone through a screen isn’t as intuitive as seeing them in person. When you’re with someone their body language is just something you pick up on without needing to try. Not so when communicating via video or, more likely, via chat. The nuances of communication change. This makes being open and honest about your thoughts and feelings that much more important. You won’t be able to guess what anyone is feeling and they won’t know what you’re feeling. So make it a point to ask or be forthcoming of your own emotional state. It’ll help everyone.
- Loneliness and Cabin Fever Set in Quick: Expect it and prepare for it. I try to leave my apartment to get lunch at least once or twice per week. I often find myself getting antsy if I haven’t left in a few days. For me, playing organized sports helps a lot (although that won’t be an option during this specific time). It keeps me active, gets me out, and holds me accountable to others.
- Somehow You’ll Have Less Time: I honestly don’t know what I did with my life when I was commuting two hours per day on top of the ten hours I spent at the office. You’ll find that even though you’re saving time no longer sitting in traffic, somehow that time gets filled. With chores. With work. With something. Be cognizant if you can and protect that time. Fill it with something for you. Or don’t fill it at all. Doesn’t matter. Just know that it’s there.
- People Will Bother You: Sort of like being in an office, the hard part about telecommuting isn’t the working part, it’s the other people part. Except now the other people are your loved ones, roommates, family, friends–anyone that will interrupt your day with things not related to your work. My wife understands that I’m usually working from 730a or so until 5p, but still sometimes will call me during the day to ask if I can check the fridge for something or pick up a package that was delivered. Or one of my friends that are off that day will call me at 1p to talk for 45 minutes. They may barge into the office while you’re in a meeting. Or turn on the TV loudly while you’re trying to concentrate. In cases like these, be clear that you’re working. It’s no different than leaving for an office. Treat it as such.
- Cleanliness is Important: I get anxious if the house is too dirty. Not like disorganized, that’s fine, but dirty. If I know there are lots of dishes, or we haven’t vacuumed in a few days, I get antsy. I need to clean before I can be productive. What I’ve had to do is set boundaries around when I clean and when I ignore it as best I can. Otherwise I would fall into a vicious cycle of procrastination. Do yourself a favor and make sure your workspace is clean and comfortable.
There are probably a thousand other small things that will be an adjustment. But these are a start. Good luck waiting out the pandemic, and good luck telecommuting. You’re going to love it!