Lessons from 25 Years of Working from Home
As the world moves toward more remote working with the uncertainty of COVID-19, I thought I would share a few thoughts that have served me well in building successful businesses from home over the past two decades.
1. Create Space
Creating a space that is only for work helps your brain understand that it’s “work time”. This physical space will be different for everyone. When I began working from home, I shared a small apartment with 2 friends from college, and my office was a tiny desk in my very teenie tiny bedroom. (And that’s when monitors took up all of the space!)
Today, after decades of working from home, my office is truly my haven. I’ve designed it to be a place I enjoy. I’ve learned how to keep clutter at bay. I have favorite photos and a vision board front and center. My office furniture, lamps and window treatments are cozy. Whatever you have to work with, the point is to find a space that you can carve out for just for work. The rest of your home is for living, playing and relaxing.
Find simple and easy ways to make your work area yours, and pleasant to be in. Would some artwork be inspirational? Choose a screensaver image that evokes peace and joy. How about a framed photo of a loved one or special memory?
Even a new green plant can make all of the difference. If you’ve worked from home before, a little freshening up may be just what you need to be even more productive in this crazy time we are living in.
2. Create Routine
I am a huge fan of a well thought out morning routine. This looks different for everyone, but I’ve found over the years in coaching entrepreneurs that this is the most important foundation of the day, especially when working at home. I won’t get all caught up in the “how” or “what” here, because I believe what you design and create for a morning routine will be the most beneficial for you. What you believe, you will act upon.
Consider what clothing you choose to wear-will you feel most professional in a suit or dress...or will you adopt the latest trend called “above the keyboard” dressing? (Google it-it’s a real thing!)
Additionally, consider what makes you feel powerful as you start your day. This could be thinking, meditating, exercise, a walk in nature...do what increases your energy and focus to help you tackle the day. The whole point is to feel good.
3. Create Boundaries
When our kids were little, my husband and I chose to employ a strong “mom’s office door is shut” policy. Which was, “Unless the children were bleeding or vomiting, they were not allowed through the door under any circumstances.” It’s still working today, as I write this, because they are home and at the ages of 15 and almost 19, they know the rules. My door is shut and no one is interrupting me, asking me to locate something with my “mom eyes”, or to adopt my role of “food-provider”.
My husband joined me in working from home about 3 years ago when he took a new position that involves a good amount of travel. We are lucky enough to have space...his office is on the other end of our ranch home with a stand up desk in our guest room. But we employ the same boundaries. Doors shut=DO NOT DISTURB. We do have lunch together if the day allows, but then we're both back to our corners of the house until the end of the business day.
Another boundary I used early on was with extended family and friends. Sometimes people may believe that because I work from home I am free to be everyone’s sitter in a pinch, dog watcher or walker, lunch date, coffee date, “stop by and tell me how you’re solving the world’s problems dumping ground”, or anything of the sort. This took a few tries with some people, but so worth it. When you treat your business like a business, it grows and pays you like a business.
Lastly, how do you set boundaries for yourself around your time? I use a weekly plan sheet. At first, it was a piece of paper where I planned work, family and personal activities on Sunday night and color coded with a highlighter. This worked for many years, especially because the family could see what day I was going to the grocery store. Now, it’s digital.
Each Monday morning, I do a "mind dump" and I download all that I want to get done for the week and place each activity on my Google calendar. It helps me get done what I want to get done, it frees up my brain to know that I will work on a blog post Monday afternoon, see clients Tuesday-Thursday, and batch social Friday morning. It keeps me working, instead of being unclear, unfocused and unsettled.
4. Create Relationships
Can we create new relationships and new connections via phone or video? Absolutely! I believe it's an intellectual art. Many of you have created and sustained beautiful relationships via Skype, Zoom, Facetime. Face to face when and where possible will always be my preferred form of communication, but our current need to shelter in place is forcing our skills in this new (to some) arena. I believe it’s completely possible to create connection and intimacy through the video world. And, while our work relationships differ from those of our family and friends, the more we can create safety and connection, the more engaged our team and co workers will be.
I hear from others, and I have experienced this myself, the thought, “I don’t like how I look on video, the lighting is terrible, my head looks funny on the phone's small screen. On video, we get self-conscious because we can see how we talk, smile, fidget, and touch our face (iggahds!). You’ll get used to it as you practice video calls more. Don’t watch yourself in the camera, instead focus on the other person. Be kinder to yourself. Smile more.
How can you create more connection with people while working remotely? Maybe do a quick drop in via Zoom or Facetime with a coworker that is working remotely. Actively use the chat feature during a meeting for brainstorming or asking questions to improve engagement. Send a .gif for a laugh via text. Take a “coffee” break per usual for 10 short minutes with a friend at work. It doesn’t have to be a long connection to be meaningful or authentic. Let’s be innovative here. Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social disconnection.
5. Create Gratitude
This is a very unsettling time in our history. Many of us have never seen anything like it. This I know for sure-we’ll get through it AND we will be stronger because of it. Instead of wishing it were over and wanting to get through it more quickly, what if we relaxed into it, stopped fighting it, and saw it for an opportunity? What could we learn? What do we have to be thankful for, right now? Our home offices, to be sure.
Working from home has its challenges, but I am so grateful for my opportunity. In between tasks/calls, I can shift a load of laundry. I can keep an eye on the door as my teens come in and out, I can work with my dogs snoozing under my desk. I can gaze out at the blue sky and watch for early signs of spring. And, most importantly, I can use technology to serve my clients in powerful ways, and to continue to create a life I love.
Blessings to each of you,