For the last few years I have been fortunate to have an in-house counsel position where working from home is not only tolerated, but encouraged. This mandate isn’t specific to the lawyers; our company (like many) is trying to shrink its real estate footprint and is cramming more people into smaller open office floorplans, which frankly most people hate (but especially the lawyers!)
While working from home is great in many ways, if you’re not careful you can find yourself slowly sliding into some bad habits. Here are a few tips from my perspective in the trenches working from home that will help you stay focused, productive, and get the most out of your flexible working schedule, if you’re lucky enough to enjoy one:
Protect time on your Outlook calendar aggressively.
One of the oldest tricks in the corporate survival playbook is to artificially block time in your calendar. I’m not suggesting that you ignore meeting invites from your boss or coworkers. But if your company has a culture (like many) where meeting invites are just dropped on calendars in the next available window, blocking out times of day that aren’t convenient for you is critical to staying productive and in control of your schedule. This is of even greater importance when you work frequently with colleagues outside of your time zone or support a business that is constantly traveling between offices and geographies.
For example, I block out 60 minutes every morning when I’m taking my daughters to school and getting myself ready for the day. If you are trying to get in shape, block your gym or running time at lunch out too. This won’t work all the time, of course – some people will drop time on your calendar with impunity, and some days you’ll need to be on that 8AM WebEx no matter what. But at least give yourself a fighting chance by taking control of your calendar!
Try not to blur where you work from home with where you relax at home.
If your living space has lots of “flex” areas – like dining/family – make sure you carve out a specific area in each where you’ll be working from during the day. This is particularly critical if you don’t have a home office (or even if you do, but for whatever reason find yourself doing work at the dining room table or in the kitchen on a laptop or tablet).
We are all human! If you are tired, or hit a lull in your schedule, it’s way too easy to pick up that novel you’ve been working on or just close your eyes for a few minutes on the couch. There’s nothing wrong with doing either of those things during the day, of course, but give yourself a fighting chance to stay on track with your goals for the day by working in one spot and relaxing in another.
Don’t let working from home be your “default.”
It’s very easy to fall into a routine where you don’t go into the office at all if nobody really cares where you work. And that’s dangerous because there is so much value in getting face-to-face time with your peers and certainly your boss. So try and establish a schedule where you go to the office on certain days of the week – every Tuesday and Wednesday, say, or on alternate Thursdays. Regular cadence here will establish a routine – we are creatures of habit, after all – and help you bring a fresh approach to your work.
The same holds true if you’re a remote worker; plan certain days of the week around working at a coffee shop, or the library, or a co-working space if available. Personally I’ve found it’s very easy to fall into an unproductive rut at home where it’s difficult to get anything done – personal or for work – if you don’t mix things up frequently. And that’s not a good feeling at the end of the day. As Jordan Peterson says, try and be a bit better today than you were yesterday. Routine will allow you to do that.
Take advantage of windows of time in your schedule to get other stuff done.
You can get a lot done between conference calls – laundry, a quick trip to the gym, other errands. When you’re feeling productive in the middle of the day, take advantage of it! Especially if you have kids, don’t underestimate how exhausted you will feel tonight at 8:00 when all you want to do is zone out on the couch with your phone and this week’s episode of the The Bachelor. If a call ends 10 minutes early, get up, walk around the house, pick some stuff up, or squeeze in a short run outside. Working from home allows you to establish balance to your work days, but you might need to change your mindset first. Establishing this new paradigm leads into our final tip.
Don’t feel guilty!
In the era of WeWork, “side hustles,” and corporate offshoring, when companies left and right are reducing real estate footprint by cramming workers into smaller open office spaces and essentially daring them to work remotely, you should not feel guilty for taking care of personal or family matters during regular business hours if your schedule permits!
If anything, this will allow you to get more work done for your employer over time. Instead of racing to the dry cleaners after work, or cramming all your errands into Saturday morning, you will have more time, spread over more days, to devote to things that matter – like long-term projects or other goals – that benefit both you and your employer.
Do you work from home? Have any of these tips worked for you? Any others? Let us know in the comments!