Home Is Where the Office Is

In comments the other day, Kelly Breakey asked me for tips on working from home.

Okay, this is something I know about.

I’ve been working from home for seven or eight years now. I know it’s the Dream for many people, but at the time I really didn’t want it. I worked in a two-person office. We were the Wyoming branch of a Boston environmental consulting firm. My “commute” was about ten blocks. I always liked the discipline of getting up and going to work, particularly since it was so low stress. People who worked for small consulting businesses in the building provided opportunities to chat.

The guy who’d hired me though, became increasingly obsolete after 9/11. He did a lot of consulting on environmental issues for private industry and that almost completely dried up after the terrorist attacks. Make of that what you will. One day I got a call that they were letting him go, closing the office and I could continue to work from home.

At that time I had become involved in very different work and everyone else on my team already worked from home, scattered across the country. So they gave me advice on the transition.

The company pays for my internet, phone and office supplies. They don’t kick in for utilities, but I get to deduct for a home office, so that makes it up. (The rule is that if your company in some way requires you to work from home, you can deduct.) The corollary to this is: have a dedicated office area. Not your bed, not a corner of the couch. Make yourself a desk, even if you can’t have a whole room.

My boss, who lives in New Hampshire, told me the best piece of advice she ever received, from another home-worker is never to wear elastic waistbands.

Grazing is a major issue at first.

On the one hand, you’re not exposed to the relentless onslaught of office treats. But you have to keep yourself out of the kitchen. It’s very easy to wander off on “breaks” and get a little something something out of the pantry.

I don’t have a rigid schedule. Some home-workers have to be at their desks during the same hours as another office. For my work, what’s most important is I get it done on time and do a good job, so I can set that up pretty much how I like. I’ve discovered, though, that when you work from home, people tend to assume you’re screwing around. To counter this, I make sure I’m available all the time. I answer my office phone at six in the morning because I know someone from the east coast is calling. I respond to emails on my Blackberry if I’ve turned off my work computer.

For myself, I delineate the work time. I take a shower, put on work-type clothes and sit at my desk. People talk about wanting to work in their pajamas, but it’s demoralizing after a while. Save the PJs for down time.

Resist the urge to do household chores during work hours. People working in offices don’t break what they’re doing to load the dishwasher or change over the laundry. During work hours, the job is what deserves your attention.

Also, people will tend to assume that, because you’re home, you’re available. Tell them no, you’re done working at six or whenever. I use Instant Messenger to communicate with colleagues – signing in and out of that helps define my work day.

I think all of this applies to any kind of work from home – including writing. I’ve never been privileged to be a full-time writer, but I’d try to run it the same way. I think I’d try to follow a schedule of writing for a couple of hours, then checking email, etc. There’s lots of business to take care of with writing, too, so that needs time. Drafting time might be separated from editing time.

The point, though, is to dedicate time appropriately. It can be a slippery bugger and lends itself to frittering.

So, now I’ll throw this open – any other advice on working from home?

11 Replies to “Home Is Where the Office Is”

  1. Great tips, Jeffe! I can imagine I'd be much the same if I ever work from home on a regular basis (which I hope to down the road!). I'd need to separate it from my home "life" as much as possible or the lines would be too blurry for me to really focus!

  2. Excellent tips! I had the pleasure of working from home for a few years, and though I loved it and swore I'd never go back to an office job, I find I'm enjoying the stimulation that comes from working part-time in an office with other humans.

    I agree with you on all these points except the one about housework (and this probably depends a lot on the sort of work you do). For me, I'd get stuck on these loooooong telephone meetings where I had to be a part of the conversation, but I could multi-task while doing it. It was a lifesaver to be able to unload the dishwasher or meander outside to pull weeds while still participating in the meeting. My house was never so tidy as when I worked from home!

    Tawna

  3. There is something about that "other humans" thing, Tawna. Why do I have telephone meetings that require me to take notes???

  4. Great tips, Jeffe. I don't ever see my company offering to let me work from home (except for when I say I'm available and have my company laptop) and I think I'm glad of that. I would find too many other things to do. I like having a schedule and structure to my day. It's why I wake up the same time every day whether I work or not. Being at the office keeps me out of trouble, lol

  5. You are not kidding about people thinking you have all the time in the world to do whatever now. I have to be very firm, and for the most part, people respect that. I am actually working, after all.

    And, oddly enough, I don't graze. It's kind of amazing for me to say that, because I thought I would all day, but I don't. Ever. As long as I have my coffee and my microwave, which keeps me out of the kitchen as well as keeps me focused, I never graze. Yet I'm still gaining weight. Sigh… Not enough exercise.

    One thing that surprises me working from home is the obsessive need to always be working. I've associated being at home with work now, so now my mind is always telling me I should be working. I feel very guilty when I'm not writing from nine am until one the next morning.

    I really need to get a schedule down and stick with it.

    Great post!

  6. Whatever it takes to keep you out of trouble, Danica!

    Great insights, Darynda. I just love your little coffee microwave. But it does sound like you need to work in more exercise breaks!

  7. I have to agree with Darynda about associating home with work. For me, the hardest part of working from home is calling it a day. All too often I continue working until bedtime, with a break for dinner and putting the kids in bed.

  8. Although I dream of working from home, I'm not so sure how that would work out for me. I think I would have to almost over structure my life in order to get anything done. Oh so easy to just put things off until later, to take a wee nap, have an extra snack, spend a little more time on Twitter –

    I admire those with discipline – definitely not my strong suit.

  9. Karen – we need to have an intervention for you and Darynda!

    That's why I'd have to do it, Kerry. Otherwise I'm a lazy wench. No Karen or Darynda am I!

  10. These were all great and I am so sorry I missed them the first time out. I have pretty much already decided that I would get up in them mornings and start my day as if I were going to the office. Get dressed, put on makeup, do my hair. I think you should always put your best foot forward and for me that means, starting my day as if it were on purpose.

    Like you I have a dedicated space, I can close the door at the end of the day and forget about it. My office is paying for the supplies, the internet, my phones, and my power bill. I have two servers and a computer plus my laptop installed. Not to mention the copier that I had to bring home too.

    Today is the start of my home office adventure and I am oddly excited. It is good to know I am not alone in this working from home and I appreciate the advice.

    Kelly

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