Recently, unsuspecting university professor Robert Kelly was speaking live on BBC about tensions in the Korean peninsula when his inquiring young children opened the office door and came to check out what daddy was up to. (watch it here.) Stifling his obvious embarrassment, Kelly tried to soldier on as his wife, now alerted to the breech of daddy’s inner sanctum, marshalled the toddlers out. While the episode was quite adorable, it was a good reminder of the potential pitfalls of working from home.
If you work from home either full- or part-time, set yourself up for success by doing the following:
Set up a professional looking space. Although you’re probably not going to be on the BBC anytime soon, that doesn’t mean you don’t need a nice looking space. Video calling is becoming more and more common and you want the background to send the right message. If I sit at my desk, the background includes my kitchen (and a full view of any dirty dishes) so I have another spot where I can set up in front of an attractive rock wall if I need to impress a potential client or be on a webinar.
Use subtle cues to delineate between work time and personal time. Wearing comfortable clothes is one of the big perks of working from home, but wearing the same thing 24hrs a day blurs the lines between work and play. Get up in the morning and change into different clothes to tell your brain it’s time for work (yes, I have work yoga pants). Similarly, change at the end of the day to signal that it’s time to relax. Creating these cues will reduce the issues associated with blurring work and leisure.
Try to avoid using personal spaces for work. I wrote my first book while sitting on my bed. I had a 4 year old and a newborn and that was the only quiet place to hide. By the time the book was done, my bed had an irreparable divot. But even worse was the dent that using my bed for work had made in my sleep. I was sending my body mixed signals about when it was time to be alert and when it was time to rest. Try to keep a few sacred spaces where you don’t work.
Get the right equipment. Investing in a good quality headset and printer make you more productive when you work from home. A basic office set up would also benefit from an ergonomic chair, some filing space, and a few office supplies. I always keep an extra printer cartridge on hand after more than one emergency late night trip to the copy shop before an early morning client meeting.
While you’re working from home, you are responsible for the safety and security of the information you’re working with. I saw first hand the damage that can be caused by lax habits when a co-worker saved all of her files to her local hard drive and then lost all its contents when the drive was corrupted. These days, the accessibility of cloud storage leaves you no excuse for losing data. Check with IT about preferred software tools and make sure to follow protocol for security, privacy, and backups.
Although working from home has many benefits, if you’re never in the office, you miss the opportunity to build casual relationships with your colleagues. Make time to chat with teammates and even do fun things like sending a gift card for Starbucks along with an invite to a virtual coffee date. This informal relationship building is too important to neglect.
When was the last time you were outside? The 10 yard commute has its advantages but one big downsize is the lack of fresh air. Be sure to take time to get outside even if it’s only for a few minutes. Try inserting a short walk at lunch. Alternatively, walk out and get a coffee in that afternoon lull and give yourself a chance to decompress. I highly recommend that you get some kind of fitness tracker with an alarm to let you know that you’ve been sedentary for too long.
Let family know if you can’t be interrupted. One can only imagine the conversation that immediately followed the BBC interview. I can’t help wonder if a few preventative measures before the interview would have saved a good deal of embarrassment. Where possible let your family members or roommates know that you’re going to be on a call. I send my teenage daughter a text if I’m going to be on a call when she comes through the door at 3:30. If all else fails, leave a sign on the door telling your family or roommates that you need them to be silent and invisible.
There are lots of things you can do you keep healthy boundaries when you work from home and most of the time they will work. At some point, your home life will probably come crashing through your professional façade, just as it did for Professor Kelly. Just smile and laugh. If people didn’t have children, our species would go extinct. And your barking dog is as likely to create a bonding moment with another dog lover as it is to destroy your personal brand. Enjoy the benefits of working from home and don’t sweat it if you have the odd work life collision.