(from someone who worked remotely for 4 continuous years)
With these strange times, an increasing number of people are adjusting to working remotely, or soon will. Working from home is a considerable change from an office environment. It requires adjustments to how we work and communicate. Here are a few suggestions that will make the transition to working remotely easier and more structured.
Partition Work Space and Family Space
Preferably, it is best to use an isolated room for an office, especially if you have kids. Remove distractions from this zone, including kids, spouses, and non-work screens. Your office space should also have a sound barrier. I found a closed-door office was not sufficient; instead, I also needed an air purifier outside the door to create white noise (I personally use a Honeywell 50250 Air Purifier, it has multiple settings and it is loud enough to cancel out random noise). Another option is to use noise cancelling headphones. If you have little kids in the house, they can find it difficult to know when they can knock on the door. In this case, I would suggest using an indicator near your office space to let them know when you are busy, such as creating a traffic light with red, yellow, and green. Generally, reserving the red light only for when needed, mainly phone/conference calls or when working under a tight deadline (though, kids need to know they can always interrupt in cases of emergencies). Of course, your office space options will be dependent on your children’s ages, their supervisory needs, and your other household members.
Working at home provides many benefits not provided at work; however, it is important to keep a solid structure.
Start time - Have a structured day, the same as you would in the office. If you perform specific daily tasks/duties or review dashboards, I suggest starting each day with these and then working through the routine demands of the day afterwards (if possible). Also, it is helpful to create a list at the end of each day with items to work-on/complete the next day (this is supplemental to using a calendar).
Lunchtime - When working at home I would structure lunchtime to include 30-60 minutes of eating and visiting with family. One of the toughest adjustments for family is knowing that you are in the house, however, they are not able to disturb you. Setting specific times for lunch helps family know exactly when you are available (this takes time for kids to learn). On occasion, a 20 minute powernap during lunchtime can make you more refreshed and productive during the second half of the day. This is a benefit most people do not have in an office and it prevents late day fatigue (a.k.a. afternoon slump). Of course, powernaps are optimal when limited to around 20-25 minutes.
End Time - Turn-off at the end of the day. This is always difficult and depends on the individual. As with having designated start times, it is important to designate end times as well. I would keep my phone on me to check and respond to email periodically; however, I would close the office door and not get back on the computer unless it was an emergency. When I first started working at home, I would get back on the computer to respond to emails and eventually work well into the night, often working more than when I was in the office. Overall, when working at home you must put more effort to managing the work-life balance.
Thanks to my Fitbit, I identified I would naturally take about 50% -70% less steps working remotely, than working in the office. It is very important to get your blood moving and exercise. Without this you will most likley have a drop-off in your level of energy. This can be as simple as taking intermittent breaks to walk outside and/or allocating time in your schedule to exercise (in my case, I fit in a treadmill run every two days). If you have not found enough time in the past to regularly exercise, consider utilizing the extra time from not having a daily commute.
You will find you will not have as many personal interactions. No office meetings, no impromptu office discussions, and no casual breakroom conversations. This can feel isolating and create a sense of cabin fever (…this is real). I suggest forcing yourself, once or twice each day, to make phone calls in place of times you would usually send emails. Emails can be more precise; however, discussions on the phone or teleconference tend to lead to more insightful conversations, and provide a better personal connection. Make sure to reach-out to people not just in your regular team/circle, also.
Equipment (last but not least)
Make sure you have the right technology. Plan well, so you don’t spend too much time being IT support (unless that is your actual job).
- Adequate high-speed internet/WiFi. If your WiFi has occasional interruptions, you may want to move your router closer, get a WiFi extender, or just permanently hardwire your computer, which I have found has the least issues. If you have a recurring IT issue, fix it immediately or find a better solution. Otherwise, it will continue to slow you down.
- Teleconferencing programs. Video conferencing provides more personal interactions than regular phone calls. Typically, short calls are better as audio calls, however, longer calls can be advantageous as video calls and create stronger bonds between indivduals. Remember, about 70% of communication between people is non-verbal.
- Computer setup, multiple monitors are much easier than trying to solely work off a single laptop monitor (I personally extend a laptop onto two full-size monitors, essentially using three screens and dedicate the smaller laptop screen for email only). Find a system and structure that works for you.
- Always be prepared; if needed, setup a printer/scanner and make sure you have your essential office supplies in place (a ream or two of paper, envelopes, letterhead, stamps, pens, stapler, etc). Otherwise, it will slow you down when you really need them quickly.
- Generally, I suggest a wired mouse and keyboard over wireless versions, as wirelss can have latency issues. However, to each their own.
- Identify your requirements and adapt as needed. As an example, I originally thought I would use a headset with VoIP, but ditched it in favor of just using my cell phone on speaker, which I found to be quicker and less problematic.
Overall, working remotely can be a wonderful opportunity. You can spend more time with your family, get in better shape, and probably get more time in your day. Remote work will most likely become a way of the future. Make the best of it!
Jake Clark, CPA
Oak Harbor Accounting, LLP
Please feel free to add any addittional thoughts or comments below.