2 questions for those experienced in working from home
February 17, 2011 9:01 AM   Subscribe

2 questions for those experienced in working from home

I will be changing jobs shortly & will for the first time be working from my home, after decades of being in an office environment & interacting daily with others. Any tips or suggestions as to retaining emotional health & not devolving into staying in my jammies all day?

I'm planning to lunch with friends/former co-workers, hopefully on a weekly basis. I also acquired a gym membership & will endeavor to make a daily trek there. How do others keep themselves well-balanced, stimulated & involved with the outside world?

There's also a good chance that I will soon have time available during the day to devote to learning something new - what are online resources that would offer tutorials or classes in a wide range of topics, similar to what adult extension education might offer? (If they're free or low-cost, all the better.)
posted by PepperMax to Work & Money (18 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
If routines work for you, keep them. Have breakfast with the radio on. Get dressed. Separate your work space from your living space. Break up your time. Go outside sometimes.

I don't do any of those things well enough.
posted by entropone at 9:04 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I work from home at least one day a week. I've found the following helps:

- Get up on time, shower and get dressed. You don't have to put anything fancy on, but dress as if you're going to go outside in public.

- Try to limit "doing stuff around the house while working" to actual lunch breaks/non-work time. I do, however, like to go outside during "lunch" and hit the supermarket/get fresh air/walk to the post office/get coffee/whatever. It breaks up the day.

- I'd suggest hitting the gym right at 5pm or in the morning as you would on a regular work day...if it's crowded, block off a set time on your calendar (e.g. 3pm to 5pm) to keep a schedule.

- No tv. At all.

I think the key is maintaining a "routine" and to also respect your work time as work time and home time as home time. I was actually pretty rigid with this at first, but just until I got used to working from home and my productivity levels. Once I understood how I operated in that enviornment, I relaxed a bit and now it's pretty fun.
posted by floweredfish at 9:10 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I try to get out of the house once a day, and walking the dog doesn't count. I get kinda dressed, but what's the point of working at home if you just turn it into an office? Why not stay in your jammies if you're productive.

I never eat lunch at my desk, but always at the table. Only rule I really keep.

I also chat on Skype with kid in Europe or far-flung friends. In touch with the outside world isn't a problem--not reading Der Spiegel when I should be working is more of an issue.

If you want to learn something, I'd suggest something that makes you get out of the house and mingle--flower arranging, cooking, crafting. Two birds, one stone, so to speak.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:10 AM on February 17, 2011

Came to say what Entropone said. Schedule schedule schedule.

At work time, take a shower and get dressed. When you are working, devote 100% of your mind to being "at work". No TV or videogame "breaks", and no personal calls or errands. Conversely, when you're not on the clock, do not work.

Isolate your work space, even if that just means one desk and a certain lamp, and don't do anything there except work. Get a work-specific phone (or at least VOIP account like Skype) and turn it off when you are not working. Don't let work and home life cross-pollinate.

Otherwise you risk falling into that hell between (a) being unproductive because you "feel like" you're home, and (b) always feeling guilty, 24 hours a day, that you're not working.
posted by rokusan at 9:10 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I work from home as a freelancer, so if I am not doing a job, I am looking for gigs. So my days are pretty well taken up in terms of time. However, I make a point about getting away from the job at regular intervals. This would include shutting down the computer and cranking up the stove and cooking. I find that I have a point of diminishing returns on productivity after too many hours at the keyboard.

I also take advantage of any invitation to get together with others in person.
posted by lampshade at 9:14 AM on February 17, 2011

I've been a work-at-home freelancer for almost my entire career, as is true of many people in my line of work. I've learned from talking shop that each of us has our own strategies for dealing with this, up to and including renting office space somewhere away from home. Some of my colleagues have had a home office, and they shut the door on it when they're done with work for the day. The hard part about this is that (especially for those of us on Metafilter), the computer can be both a work tool and a recreational medium, so unless you've got two computers, it's hard to shut the door on your office.

One thing I did for a long time was go out for coffee every morning and read the news. I'd give myself about an hour to do that, and when I came home, it was time for work. This created the break between home-time and work-time for me. I don't do that anymore (for a variety of reasons), but I think it was a good habit.

I had a gym membership but recently quit that and started attending a boot-camp workout class that has a firm schedule (and is a tougher workout).
posted by adamrice at 9:30 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been working from home full time for the last three years and echo a lot of the advice above.

However, I'm starting to desire an office job. I really miss seeing my coworkers in person and those accidental discussions that happen due to proximity. Working from home, and perhaps this is just due to who I'm working for, contacting people is more of an effort and it's much more difficult to tell if you're interrupting someone. Additionally, I'm on the East Coast vs everyone else on the West Coast, so timezones also play a role. And I find that people just aren't very responsive. It's a 100% virtual company.
posted by reddot at 9:49 AM on February 17, 2011

I work at home at least 3 days a week. The key is forming a routine - start time, stop time, lunch break. If you start treating it like do whatever time, then it will fall apart. You need to maintain a business like schedule and approach.
posted by Flood at 10:38 AM on February 17, 2011

When I work from home, I don't try to keep the schedule others are suggesting. Instead, I take the opportunity to completely immerse myself in my work, pretty much doing nothing but work, eat, sleep for about four days, they I take three days off. But that's just what works for me: I like to keep working on whatever until I figure out the answer I'm interested in.
posted by orthogonality at 10:40 AM on February 17, 2011

I've been working from home full time for over a year now. Here is what I recommend:

Keep a schedule. Get up and get into your routine. Schedule your lunches and breaks just as you would if you were in an office. Make a plan and stick to it. Share your plan with others so they know when you are available and when you are not.

Structure your distractions. I personally use the Pomodoro Technique to make sure that I stay on task and that I am not easily distracted by personal email, social networking, pets, laundry, etc. If you have something you need to do, schedule it and do it between work intervals.

Make time to be social. Schedule a once a week phone call with a friend and talk for 15 minutes. Use instant messaging or even video chat with your co-workers. Rather than sending an email or an IM, make a phone call when you can. One of the hardest parts of working from home for my friends was having me ramble non-stop after work because I hadn't talked to anyone all day.

Keep work and life separate. Have a dedicated space for work and do not use it when you are not working. Do not work when you are not supposed to be working. Make sure that other people in your house understand the difference between you being on and off the clock.

Enjoy it. I do miss the social interaction and team aspects of working in an office, but I do love having the freedom and flexibility of working from home.
posted by boba at 10:41 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been working not only from home, but 2500 miles away from the home office, for the last 4 years.

I am, by nature, a hermit. So, the no-socialization aspect, works for me. Though, for most people, I suspect it's one of the largest hurdles.

Some tips:

Set a schedule. Stick to it. I cannot stress this enough.
If your job is "9 to 5", *be*at*your*desk*at*9*every*day.
And, be available till the end of business. If the phone rings at 4:59, you answer it.
By the same token, at 5:01, you're out of the office. You're done. If you don't set that boundary, you'll be working til midnight.
(insert times appropriate to your office, of course)

Do not succumb to the urge to sleep in. Not like anyone will know, right? They'll figure it out eventually. That road leads to slackerdom, and eventually, ruin.

You need to be even more reliably contactable when the phone is your only contact mechanism. Limit your "away from the desk" time to a single predictable time slot. Everyone knows that between 11:45 to 12:30, I'm probably out getting lunch. The rest of the time, if someone calls I *answer*.

Call somebody at the office every day. This maintains your presence and keeps people from forgetting you for important meetings. Being out of contact for a couple of days can turn into a few days, and then a week, and then you don't know what the hell is going on.

Do not screw around when it's work time. If you're working, you're working.

Also: everything that Boba said above.
posted by jaded at 11:00 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I found separating the space and time essential so that I didn't take "work stress" home with me. Routines and structure really helped me with that. If I was doing it at this stage in my life I'd be tempted to go to the gym or go get coffee or something first thing to help separate work time and wake me up.
posted by ldthomps at 11:01 AM on February 17, 2011

The two big dangers are either slacking off or overworking when you feel you've done too little. To avoid both, the #1 absolutely essential rule is to keep track of time spent working. If you work on the computer, find an app that keeps track of time and allows easy check in/out; if working off-computer, buy a timer and write down on a piece of paper in chunks of 1.5 hours or 1 hour or something like that.
posted by rainy at 11:07 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The space separation is key. I only use my desk for working. I don't use it for anything else. Heck, I don't use my 'office' room for anything else (other than storage).

I do work in my jammies all day, but I know for some people that doesn't work at all.

Also, if you start developing a bad habit that keeps you from getting work done (browsing the web all day, for instance), make sure you nip it in the bud---change your routine to prevent it from becoming a blocker to progress.

Another key: make sure you always have work to do. I keep a list of projects I can work on handy, so if I start sliding into a long web distraction session, I have something to glance at to pull me back in.
posted by chiefthe at 11:11 AM on February 17, 2011

I work 100% from home. I find that if I start procrastinating, I find it incredibly hard to stop. Thus, I dive straight into work. No early morning metafilter checks, because that's a rabbit hole that I'll look up from and it'll be lunchtime.

I'm fine working in PJs, but I do find that I am more motivated to work if I can break up the day with little trips outside, run a few errands or so.
posted by gaspode at 1:22 PM on February 17, 2011

Echoing a lot of others:

- Separated work space. Only work goes on there and nothing else. No work goes on elsewhere in the house. If it's generally hidden from the rest of the house all the better.

- Find a friendly cafe and become a regular. (Generally not a chain.) This will get you some social time without office politics. And you can possibly spend an hour or two working there when you get stir crazy. (Yeah, this isn't free, but daily social contact is well worth the price. And cheaper than a bar.)

- Keep your morning routine. Wake up, shower, breakfast, change clothes, etc. Treat it exactly like a work day until you find out how you work best.

And then do find out how you work best. There's probably a 3-4-hour window sometime in the day where you do 90% of your work. Find it. Love it. Plan around it. You can then run errands and do other stuff in the off times when the roads/stores/etc aren't crowded.
posted by Ookseer at 1:28 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Going a bit against the tide, I don't find space separation necessary at all (for various reasons it'd be impractical/difficult for me). I've worked 100% from home for years without any problem as long as I keep track of hours I spend. YMMV but it definitely works great for me.
posted by rainy at 2:57 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been working at home for the last 12 months, and my mom has worked from her home for the last 30 years. I agree with pretty much everything above, so I'll just add some different ideas.

Get out of the house not just for breaks, but to work somewhere else. Once a week, I take a bus downtown to work at the public library or in a co-working space. This gives me a change of scene, a chance to meet new people, more options for eating out, and an easier time meeting up with old co-workers.

Work from someone else's house! We went to stay with my wife's parents for a week. Instead of using a whole week of vacation, I worked from their house part of the time. Travelling and working can be fun. "The most effective way to inoculate a vacationer against the deadening power of adaptation, however, may be the most counterintuitive — to break it up, to interrupt it with real life."

Take advantage of your kitchen and dining room. Cook fresh meals for yourself, and sit down with a book or magazine (or with a friend or your family) to eat them.

Some people like to dress in their pajamas when they're working from home. I actually started dressing better. I'm in the software industry, where jeans and t-shirt are the standard uniform. But now that I work from home, I can try out other looks without feeling self-conscious.

If you have a choice, work with a team/company/group where working from home is common. It's much easier than being the only remote person while everyone else is in an office.

Get a good webcam and set up a regular video chat with your boss or anyone you work very closely with. (If you have a weekly "one on one" with your boss, use video.) This goes a long way toward replacing the face time that you miss by being remote.

At Mozilla, we've also been testing these telepresence robots for the past year. I don't pilot one myself, but for people whose jobs involve lots of meetings, they have been revolutionary. They aren't quite convenient or affordable for everybody yet, but keep an eye out. I think every remote worker will benefit from these in the near future.

In general, try to participate actively in as many communication channels as are available. Subscribe to mailing lists; fill up your IM roster; dial in to conference calls; keep an eye on the wiki or intranet or whatever. Don't let it be a constant distraction, but try to catch up a few times a day. Stay aware of what's new and what other people are doing.

Connect with co-workers on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Then you can engage in some of the fun, personal, non-work-related chatter that you might otherwise have in the breakroom / coffee shop / drinks after work.

For your last question: Khan Academy has great self-study videos, mostly math with a few other topics. Some past MetaFilter threads have many more similar resources: one, two, three, four.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:44 PM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

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