Tips for Designing Your Work From Home Experience: So far the Serious Insights advice related to working from home during the Covid-19 outbreak has been technology-centered. People struggling with getting their basic tools to work, or agreements on what to work on, often find it hard to take control of their personal work experience. The next tier work experience design involves owning the remote work experience. Really owning it. There is no one in the next cubicle to prod you on, no ping pong game with shouting colleagues in the hallway, no motivational end-of-day celebration to connect you with overworked peers, no cleaning crew that will come in at night and dust off your monitor. When you work from home you own the majority of the work experience and you need to make it work for you.
Unlike some lists on this topic that attempt to assert an absolute, I will state from the onset that there is no right way to work from home—and no one solution that covers everything. I have been to plenty of work organizational training classes that get used for a day before I abandon them. I never adopted Getting Things Done or the One Minute Manager. I find much of the condensed advice too simplified, and honestly, often repetitive and boring. When you own work you not only need to get things done, but you need to find motivation and inspiration to get the next thing done. And that means making work yours. Finding what motivates you. Exploring how you work best for you. Find practices that you love and avoid constantly comparing your choices against some idealized way of working.
So here’s my list. I’m happy to expand, discuss, but not defend this list. If you don’t like something on the list, then do something else—do what works for you. The only common thread for any of us should be our ownership of our work from home experience, and that we thought about it, we designed it in some way, rather than just letting it happen to us. The world is very good at throwing us into events over which we have little control. When we work from home, we need to take control of that experience. If we don’t own our work from home experience, no one will.
14 Non-Binding Ideas About How to Design Your Work from Home Experience
- Create a space for work, but don’t make it a trap. I spend most of my day in my home office typing on a very nice Matthias keyboard. Before me sits a 34-inch widescreen LG monitor. I own a Hooker desk and credenza. All of my work materials, from books to review hardware huddles around me within easy reach. But you know, sometimes an invitation to an early conference call just doesn’t motivate me to get up. So I put on headphones and listen from bed with pillows propping me up and an iPad resting on my chest. With mobile technology, work comes with you. At night I often watch TV with an iPad or my HP Dragonfly at the ready on the arm or edge of my recliner. I am not trapped by my space. I choose where I work. The important thing is I can define a space that works for me when I want to work and that client work gets done on time because I own a space that encourages work.
- Wear what you want. Some say not to wear pajamas to work. My family gets a kick out of telling people I wear pajamas to work (though in truth, I rarely wear actual pajamas, more light sweat pants, and a hoodie). Get comfortable. If you are scheduled for a video conference, dress appropriately, at least from the waist up.
- Set a schedule, or not. Clients often set schedules for you. A 7:00 am conference call isn’t unusual. I worked with a client for over a year in the UK. Sometimes I found myself sitting not at my desk for a 4:30 am conference call, but in my entertainment room, laying back in a recliner with my iPad and true wireless headphones connecting me to my colleagues far far away. The most important scheduling rules is to meet client and colleague time expectations, while not letting work dictate everything about your day. If you want to take an extended break in the afternoon to catch up on the latest episode of Picard, then do that. Don’t feel guilty, as long as you end up with the output for the client delivered when expected. I know for those who like schedules this advice reinforces all of the bad stereotypes related to those that don’t adhere to a “good work ethic.” I will ask that both recognize that people need to work in the way they need to work and accept the differences. in the end, all work is about the outcome, and if the outcome can be achieved with time-shifting, then the when doesn’t matter until the due date.
- Don’t over-communicate. Many management pundits suggest that you over-communicate when working from home because it isn’t clear what people are doing. You can’t just see or sense what is going on. Understanding what people are working on should rely on precise communication through collaboration channels. It should not require overt amplification. If you, for instance, use a Planner in Microsoft Teams, a Trello board or a Slack channel, to manage work, you don’t need to shout around the peripheral to remind people that you are doing what you need to do. If you need help, create a card and assign it to the person you need help from. More general help? Post a request into a channel. But sending e-mails, atop chat, atop card updates, atop texts, etc.—creates information overload and probably no little bit of annoyance. If you work out how you will work, you need to communicate to the levels agreed upon. Over-communicating won’t add anything, but it may well detract from general goodwill.
- Find an information organization approach that works for you. How you file content, messages and other information remains personal. When working in a shared space, respect the structure, but when researching, collecting, collating or synthesizing, do it in a way that is more efficient or inspirational for you. Use your knowledge and expertise to organize for results. Then share your results in a way others can consume them.
- Use your favorite tools for content creation. If the ultimate output of your work is content creation, don’t constrain your work to the “standard” tools. If you like working in Apple Pages, rather than Microsoft Word, or Corel Painter rather than Adobe Photoshop, use the tool that works for you. If you have it. Tools ownership constrains tool access. If you own a tool and it outputs compatible data and our like it better than the tool you use at work, then use it as long as you respect data handling and privacy.
- Have some fun with your space. If you already work from home occasionally, then you probably have decorated the space a bit. If working from home is new, take some time to think about what you look at, where physical things reside like staplers, pens, and paperclips, and objects or artifacts to spruce up the space, give it personality and make you want to work there. Some offices now frown on overly personalizing your workspace. When you work from home, you get to decide what your workspace looks like. Have some fun.
- Think about what other people see. What other people see behind you during a video conference call may not bother, but it may distract them. As you have fun with designing your work experience, think about what people will see behind you during a video call. I’m just saying think about it, nothing specific. I personally like that I have a fossil lizard just over my shoulder, past Egyptian obelisk, and the armillary sphere, but that’s just me.
- Get up occasionally. Even if you are the kind of person who doesn’t like to get up, you know, get up anyway. Be as strict about when you get up as you like (or follow any medical advice you may have been given). If you own a smartwatch it may well suggest when to get up. If that doesn’t work for you, get up some other time. For some getting up means, really getting up, as in taking a walk, doing some exercising—for others it means relief and a snack. Whatever it means for you, do it.
- Be on time. You may take some liberties when you work from home but disrespecting other people’s time should not be one of them. Never be the late one.
- Eat and drink. What you eat and drink is up to you. Many work from home lists remind remote workers to remain hydrated. Some remote workers want to stay stimulated or lubricated. Apply your personal situational ethics here. If you’re used to holding brainstorming sessions around a few pints of beer there is no reason to refrain when brainstorming online. The same is true of energy drinks. The only difference between an energy drink at work and one at home is that you will probably need to pay for the later. And on the eating front, remember if you pass out from malnutrition you can’t work. So stay nourished. Stay alert and stay hydrated.
- Learn. Don’t stop learning. Working from home offers many distractions from work. Make sure learning new things remains an important distraction from over-productivity.
- Negotiate boundaries with your family. Currently, many families have two or more members of the family working from home. The consistency of the close working relationship with family members may be new to many. Don’t neglect to talk with your family and where they will be working and learning, and how shared space, shared equipment and shared time work for all of you.
- Stay professional. Even as you manage your own time, challenge assumptions about how work gets done or taking control of your personal learning, remain professional. Attend meetings on time, participate, respect others and wear something nice when on video.
Beyond owning your work experience, you also own your work, which means coordinating with others. These two posts will help you work through how to set remote work expectations, and all the questions individuals should get answered when asked to work from home:
Tips for Designing Your Work From Home Experience: The Bottomline
When working from home, adopt practices and approaches that work for you. Always keep the context in mind: getting work done with quality and timeliness. Accept what works for others. Negotiate through the differences when teamed up. Much of what is happening is beyond our control. Take control of what you can control and keep providing value to your employer and your customers/clients.
An aside about negotiating work world views
Years ago I learned a lot during a consulting project that teamed me with a type-A organizer, to my type-A not overly organizer approach to work. We spent a lot of time disagreeing on how to structure time, presentations and reports. In the end, the client used our output for political backup, and not as a serious set of recommendations for implementation.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome, my colleague and I both learned lessons about each other, and about working with people who don’t share world views about work. I learned that I needed to not impose my less than structured approach on someone who liked the structure. Rather I should accept and appreciate her motivation to organize our shared work experience. She learned to appreciate that I cared deeply about the content and the thinking, and was organized in my own way—just not on time in the same way she was, or in my propensity to show the messiness of the world over a more reductionist output.
Tips for Designing Your Work From Home Experience: Only by working through working together did our little team achieve more than the two of us acting as individual contributors.
I saw time as big swaths that flowed in and around each other. But my view of the world opened up possibilities for slower, more contemplative approaches to the work that got at some of the underlying issues with the organization we worked with. Adopting a bit more “messiness” in our thinking helped us discover the final shoe before it actually dropped. If we were just doing what we were told, we might have missed some key clues and been surprised by the outcome. Only by working through working together did our little team achieve more than the two of us acting as individual contributors.
Tips for Designing Your Work From Home Experience: Working with others is just a much a part of designing your work from home experience as finding the right balance with your family.