(Almost) Every Tip You Need to Know About Working from Home
While a large chunk of the world has been forced into working remotely, TEN7 transitioned to being a distributed company in 2017. Many of us had been remote workers before starting at TEN7, so when we were considering what we could contribute to the world during the pandemic, we realized that we had some experience in transitioning to remote work that might be useful to others.
Defining Your Office When You Don’t Have an Office
So you’re working from home. Now what? It’s not crucial to have a dedicated office in your home (though it’s certainly nice). Some of us have an armchair we work from, some work on the end of the kitchen island, and some have an office with three monitors (can you guess which are the developers?). It’s important to claim dedicated space somewhere for your workspace, and make it sacred.
Pre-Work and Post-Work Rituals
Our friend Jeff Robbins of Yonder said in a recent podcast, “When you’re working from home, you’re living at work.” You’re going to have to do a good job of separating your work time and your home time, otherwise, you may find yourself doing work on and off from when you wake up until just before you go to sleep, which isn’t good for anybody’s mental health.
A good way to enforce that separation is to have a pre-work ritual. Go for a short walk. Do some stretches. Do the things you used to do in the office, like have a bagel, coffee and read the news before you sit down at your computer.
You should also have a post-work ritual to get out of the work headspace at the end of the day. Since it helps to do something physical to change your headspace, you might want to schedule a workout at the end of the workday. After you change into workout gear, get your bicycle ready, go for a ride, get home and shower, work should be a distant memory. Some people close the computer and shut the door to the office. Some people change into different clothes to signal the workday is over. Find what works for you. It’s all headspace management.
Just DON’T open up the computer again after dinner!
Equipment: Don’t Just Make Do
If you’re going to be working from home for the duration, the biggest gift you can give to yourself is a pair of noise-canceling headphones (many of us have the Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless). Whether you need to focus on what’s being said in your video call, or you desperately need to escape to a quiet place away from the kids (even if it’s in your mind), these headphones do you a world of good.
As for other furniture and equipment, that’s a personal choice. A good chair is crucial. You can pay now (and get ergonomic equipment), or pay later (in pain and stiffness).
Here is some equipment that TEN7 team members enjoy:
- VariDesk® Pro Plus 36 Convertible Standing Desk: turns any tabletop into a standing desk. Since sitting is the new smoking, standing while you work is a good thing.
- Ergodriven Standing Mat: You’re saying, “I’m standing now, what more do you want from me?” But this “crazy funpad for feet” (as one Amazon reviewer put it) inspires your body through *magic* to keep moving while standing.
- Mice: Logitech MX Master Mouse (it’s up to version 3, but the earlier versions are still available and very good) and Anker Ergonomic Optical USB Wired Vertical Mouse
- Helix PCB Keyboard
- Laptop riser (and then you’ll need an external keyboard)
- Stand-alone microphone: I like having a free-standing microphone, so try out the Marantz Pro Complete Podcast Kit (microphone, stand and cable)
- Herman Miller Mirra chair (expensive, but worth it)
Get to Know Yourself
Working at home is great because it’s total freedom. But working at home is challenging because it’s total freedom. You’ll need to get to know yourself really well in order to work effectively. What are your work patterns? What helps you focus? How do you get out of being stuck when you can’t concentrate? How do you get out of “work mode” at the end of the day? Does working in pajamas relax you (so you can get more work done), or do you need to get “dressed up” to put yourself into work mode? Can you just dive into work after breakfast, or will you need to go on a quick walk to wake up your body first? The faster you figure this stuff out, the better off you’ll be.
Productivity and Managing Distractions
The good news is, your productivity will likely go up working from home, because you’re not having to fend off the usual office distractions, like your coworkers coming over to talk to you, or having to tune out the loud conversation happening in the next cube. The bad news is you’ll have to learn how to wrangle yourself (this is the getting-to-know-yourself part) and fend off home distractions. The TV is there, and Westworld just started up again. There are dirty dishes in the sink. The kids are demanding your attention. There’s that crafty project you’ve been meaning to work on.
- You need to have a signal to yourself (and other people in your home) that you’re in work mode. It could be I’m sitting at my desk with my headphones on, I’m working now. If you’ve got kids at home, you might need to make a more obvious declaration that you’re working, like putting up a red light/green light sign on the office door, or on the table where you’re working.
- The next thing you should do is come up with a schedule. Yeah, sorry. Following a consistent schedule (even if it’s a rough one) is really helpful now that your days might not have the usual structure.
- Try out the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a method to chunk your work time and force you to take breaks.
What if It’s Too Quiet?
If you’re working at home with kids around, this probably isn’t an issue for you. But sometimes when you’re working from home, it does get TOO quiet. There’s some science that says your brain can focus better with some “neutral ambient noise,” like that in a coffee shop. Try out a coffee shop sound generator to help.
How Do You Get Unstuck?
When you get stuck on a problem or can’t focus, what can you do? Here are some things that have worked for some of us:
- Change your location. Move from your desk into the kitchen.
- Play with the dog or cat, or take the dog for a walk.
- Walk around the house.
- Go for an aimless walk outside.
- Do some household chores (a few dishes, throw in some laundry).
- Get another perspective (from a coworker).
- Work on a puzzle.
- Adrenaline leveraging: This comes from Tess Flynn, our DevOps Engineer. She has on in the background some film or TV that is so familiar that it doesn’t require full brain engagement but has some exciting/interesting sections in it that kind of revs her up.
Daily Yoga Practice
Work is made easier if you have an ergonomic setup and equipment, but even if you do, human bodies weren’t made to sit in chairs for eight hours a day, hunched over and staring at blue-lit screens. And if you’ve got lower back and hip pain, you’ve likely got dead butt syndrome (yes, it’s a real thing!)
It’s important to get up out of your chair a few times a day, as well as do some whole-body stretches and movements after work. Dani, our Director of Operations, tells us she makes it a point to do lots of wrist and arm stretches during the day and has a daily yoga practice after work as well. Since we’re all stuck in our homes right now, it’s super easy to find yoga classes online.
Be Gentle With Yourself
Lastly, be gentle with yourself. If you’ve never worked from home before, it’s a big change. While it’s great to have complete freedom, it’s also weird to have complete freedom. Working from home can also be isolating, or you might feel unmotivated. Don’t expect to be this amazing productive person right off the bat. New routines take time to gel, and you have to figure out what works for you. It’s a learning process.
And just in case you need a reminder, practice self-care right now too. Go for a walk. Pet the cat. Color with your kids. Go for a drive and sing. Do whatever you need to do.
- If you’re a company looking for help with your suddenly remote workforce, consult the folks at Yonder. They consult and create products and services to help companies be more efficient and communicate better. They have a great podcast too!
- TEN7 Podcast: (Almost) Everything You Need to Know to Work From Home
- TEN7 Podcast: Remote Work During a Pandemic with Jeff Robbins of Yonder
- TEN7 Podcast: How We Use Slack
- TEN7 Blog: Team Communication on Slack
- Ivan’s talk for Twin Cities Drupal: How to Become a Distributed Company, a Step-By-Step Guide