Structural Engineers

Working From Home Tips From Someone Who Actually Has Worked From Home

Now that we are in this pandemic, a lot of people are working from home.  All of my clients have sent their employees to work from home, and the traffic here in the Atlanta has gone down dramatically.  There are no more rush hour back ups.  I’ve read a lot of different articles about how to work from home, but frankly, after working from home for over 20 years, most of them are not quite right.  Let me share what I’ve learned.

1.  I let my own rythyms determine my hours.  A lot of articles tell you to “keep regular hours”, much the same as in the office.  Start at 8 AM, continue to 5 PM, and one article even suggested going for a walk or something like that during the time you would commute.  That never worked for me.  One of the advantages of working from home is you don’t have to be sleep deprived.  If in your normal work you had to be woken up by an alarm, you probably were getting up earlier than you should have.  If you are worn out after lunch and have a hard time focusing, you probably need more sleep.

Here’s the deal – when you are working from home, no one knows you are waking up at 8 AM, or probably not even 10 AM.  No one knows you’re napping after lunch.  For me, my greatest productivity is between 9 PM and Midnight, the early morning hours, and the late afternoon.  The middle of the day I do nothing.  Judging from the time e-mails come into me from colleagues, I don’t think I am the only one.  The 9 to 5 routine is something left over from factory days, and means little today.  It’s something I dropped a long time ago.

2.  Just because you are at home doesn’t mean your boss can’t tell if you are not working.  This one surprises me.  I’ve had that issue with employees working from home.  They failed to understand, if you aren’t getting any work done, it’s pretty obvious you aren’t doing any work.  In an office you might be found out earlier because you spend too much time in the break room, you always have Facebook up on your computer, or you waste peoples’ time wandering around talking to them.  However, if you are working at home and stuff doesn’t get turnned in, it will be figured out fairly quickly, and you will probably get fired.    I can’t over emphasize how important this is.  Your boss probably doesn’t care if you are working in your underwear, if you are sleeping through lunch period, or your cat is sitting on your desk.  She will care if nothing is getting done.

3.  Set daily goals for yourself.  I would assume most people do this even working in an office.  I’ve always gone to work and mentally figured out in the beginning of the day what I wanted to get done.  A to-do list often helps, and is satisfying as you cross off the items.  This is really important when working from home to stay focused.

4.  Set up a regular work area.  I have an office area that is mine, it’s an unused bedroom in my home.  No one else is allowed in here.  Everything is set up the way I want it.  This is important, because it tells me I am working, and stops me from getting distracted by other stuff.  Once in a while I will work on my laptop in the kitchen, but that’s when I’m tired of being closed off in my office.

5.  Make use of meeting software if you have to coordinate with people.  I have used Go To Meeting (fairly high priced), Google, and Zoom.  Zoom is the best for performance and price.  Get a good webcam, and I have an auxilliary microphone to get better sound.

6.  Cut distractions.  It takes a bit of time for family members to realize you are working.  Speaking for myself, it doesn’t bother me to be on a call with someone and to hear children in the background playing, or dogs barking.  What REALLY is annoying is when you are trying to talk to someone and they have a child clinging to them, or repeatedly interrupting them.  If you can’t get your husband/wife/children to let you work, you are going to be in the situation of #2 above.  I don’t have any good advice on how to do that because I haven’t had that issue with humans in my household.

Something like this might help stopping interruptions.

I can talk a bit about pets.  I’ve had trouble with my dog, my parrot, and my neighbor’s cat bothering me.  The dog paws at me, the parrot jumps on the keyboard, and when I used try to work on the patio the neighbor’s cat kept climbing up on the keyboard.    There’s nothing you can do but get used to it.  Sorry.

Personally, I think working from home is a better deal for everyone.  I remember how I would arrive so irritated to the office from an hour or so commute in heavy traffic, and how at the end of the day I would be so tired and I would dread the long drive home.  That’s gone when you work at home.  From an employer’s standpoint, you don’t have to spend money on square footage of office space, and you don’t have to be concerned if you hire someone that lives a long distance from your location.  Less pollution is generated, there is less traffic, and fewer accidents.  Tax dollars aren’t needed for additional roads or mass transit.  We’ll have to see how this all works out, and if it becomes a more permanent part of life after this crisis ends.

George

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