A thousand days at home: Insights from a practiced remote worker
Brent Smith, Brand Strategies Director
My remote working experiment began three years ago in a 680 sq ft Vancouver condo that I was sharing with my soon-to-be wife, who also worked from home. That March of 2017 happened to be Vancouver’s highest rainfall in recorded history, so with consistently “bucketing” rain pouring down, limited light due to dark skies, and two professionals going full-blast on their daily work responsibilities, I quickly became aware of both sides of the work-at-home coin.
Lots of good things came from working at home:
- Top-notch and accessible snacks
- Daily showering was now optional and became a reward for completing tasks
- Writing to-do lists on the couch felt like I was getting a hug while I worked
- Zero time invested in commuting
- Working in an incredibly peaceful environment definitely reduced my anxiety and did my heart good
On the flip side, I began to truly appreciate the good I’d left behind in the office environment:
- The juice and buzz of our office is invigorating
- Friendly exchanges and jokes at the coffee machine
- Ability to turn to someone who can help you instantly if you’re stuck
- Hearing the banter of coworkers giving each other a hard time and laughing
- The ability to have a break from my own thoughts and get lost in the interests and needs of others
I’ll stick to a few personal observations that may be of relevance, should you find yourself working in your pajamas in the weeks ahead.
It is a skill
When I first began, a few work-from-home veterans told me “you’ll get used to it.” Which is another way of saying “give yourself some time to figure it out,” and “it is a discipline to learn that you don’t have unless you’ve done it.” The good parts are obvious. The hard ones are not. Be patient.
Set meeting times
It is healthy to have at least one discussion time set with others each day because it creates some structure, provides some motivation, and keeps you from feeling too isolated. Set up more if you can, and I say set up because it needs to be in someone else’s calendar or it won’t happen.
Keep a consistent schedule
It is helpful to be rigorous about your start time each day, otherwise you’ll feel guilty (which helps no one) and you won’t get the stuff done you need to get done, which causes anxiety (which also helps no one). Stop time is also important; don’t let it drift into the evening. You need a break.
Sure, one of the liberties of working from home is playing the music you like out loud and making a pancake if you need one. But giving yourself project component completion goals for specific times throughout each day is important to remaining on task. The TV on likely won’t help you. Speaking to you mom three times a day or walking your cat four times won’t help you out. And loved ones in your life need to know you’re no more available than you would be at the office.
Do the dishes
It is valuable to get up every 90 minutes at minimum and move around. Do a quick physical task, even as simple as folding some laundry or taking out the garbage. It helps you accomplish something you normally wouldn’t enjoy and gives your body and brain a break.
Maximize your lunch break
Do some yoga, take a brief run, meet your dad for a quick coffee. You’ll find there are some break options available while working from home that you couldn’t do at the office that will enrich your day and give your brain a break. The trick is to restrict those activities to an hour or it extends your work day too much. Try and focus on things that are replenishing. Ideally out of the house!
Social media: Friend and foe
Feeling isolated and cut off from people can sneak up on you, so your favourite social platform can give you a valuable connection with others during the day. Use it as a reward when you complete something. Careful, though, as it can quickly get away from you. Turn off vibrating and audio notifications and recognize that increasing your Instagram followers is not generally the key to vocational prosperity.
Be available to colleagues
At work we have the advantage of often being able to get in front of people whenever we want. Don’t obsess about checking email every five minutes, but try to check them every half-hour. Hangouts/Microsoft Teams/Slack will really become your friend, since apps like these provide a real-time sense of working with others and help others keep moving on their stuff when you’re not in the same space.
People ask me all the time if I prefer remote work vs. being part of an in-office team. Truth is that both have their significant advantages and both have their difficult parts. You’ll likely come to miss and appreciate some of the people you work with. You’ll likely come to realize the power of focus and be amazed at how much you can get done without distractions.
Re-investing your commute time into something that actually gives you joy, sporting a sombrero while you work, wearing yesterday’s pants, petting your cat during a conference call, and experimenting with no deodorant are all pleasures that await you.