As our ability to connect virtually improves, more and more people are starting to telecommute from home. Sundog Media is a virtual company, and all of our team members work from home offices. Some of our team has never met face to face, even after years of working together! Needless to say, this provides some interesting challenges to office culture.
After nine years of exclusively working from my home, I feel that I have become — if not an expert — at least adept at meeting some of these challenges. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years.
Where you work matters. My office has traveled around my house, upstairs to downstairs, family room to spare bedroom. After trying several different set ups, I’ve learned there are a few essentials:
- A closing door. As I have children and a husband who are sometimes home during office hours, being able to close the door and let them know I can’t be disturbed when on a phone call or during intense work is really important. It’s difficult for family and friends to know when you are available for interruptions. The closed door is my signal.
- Daylight. This could be because I live in Alaska, but when my office was downstairs there was not enough daylight and I felt like I was working underground. I moved my office upstairs to a spare bedroom where the sunlight can stream in — when it’s not completely gone anyway — and felt so much better.
- Good office furniture. Rob recently wrote about his own home office renovation. There is a strong temptation to just use whatever you have lying around the house, but the truth of working from home is that you spend a LOT of time at your desk. There are few meetings and no coworkers dropping by to chat and ask you to take a coffee break. About two years ago, I invested in a stand up desk to decrease my hours sitting, and that has made a huge difference.
The Water Cooler
Most of us who have spent time in offices know about the office “water cooler,” whether your office has an actual water cooler or not. It’s not until you dive into the world of working from home that you realize how important this tradition is. It is easy to dismiss the time chitchatting with coworkers as a waste and not valuable to the actual work you do. Working from home, I often immerse myself in my craft and seldom emerge to see how someone else is doing. I’ll admit, I’m a developer and people skills are not where I shine, but even I have to agree that working from home can become isolating. Furthermore, when you have conflict with coworkers with whom you have little personal relationship, things can get hairy.
At Sundog Media, we still struggle with this challenge but have found a few solutions to help. One of the best tools we introduced was a chatting software called HipChat. It allows us to chat back and forth in a more natural way than formal email messages, and we often utilize the group settings to allow everyone in on a conversation.
For those of us who live in the same area code, we also try to institute some “elbow time” occasionally. Coffee or lunch to talk about how things are going, what can be improved upon, but really just to have time to sit face-to-face.
The biggest challenge when you first start out is how to structure your day. There are a lot of distractions at home: laundry that needs to be done, breakfast dishes that didn’t get cleaned up, so many devices connected to Netflix! It can be hard to stay on task and devote yourself to work.
Daily routines are very important. Even before work begins, I make sure I’m up, showered, coffeed and fed. I have a time I start work and a time I quit. I have also become committed to a daily CrossFit routine during my lunch hour. Not only does this get me away from my desk to break up time sitting, but it also allows me to see and interact with people in person.
The blessings of working from a home office are many and numerous, way more than I could have imagined when I first started. I’ve met many people who believe they don’t have the self-discipline to make it work, but I believe everyone owes it to themselves to try it out if they have the opportunity.
When I started at Sundog Media, I pretty much had one objective in taking the job. I was expecting my second child, and I desperately did not want to put him into daycare. My older child was struggling at his preschool, and I knew my family needed another answer. Working from home allowed me to employ a nanny to watch the children at home. I figured that once the children were ready for school, I’d go back to a “real” job.
What I didn’t expect were many benefits and rewards I found. Working from home allows me to be here when my children arrive home from school, bursting with the events of the day. I can take a few minutes and greet them and hear all about it. When they are sick, I can easily stay home with them. When they have school award ceremonies or field trips, it is not hard for me to shift my working schedule to be there. I don’t have to spend hours a day commuting in the car to get to my office, large amounts of money on business clothes, and lunches out. I have been able to cultivate deep, meaningful friendships by having coffee or lunch with dear friends. I have had the opportunity to volunteer more at my local church, as it’s simple to slip out for an hour or two and make it up in the evening or weekend. I still work hard and enjoy my vocation, but I have time and energy for so much more. Working from home has made me a better mother, wife, friend and all around human being.