New Home Office "HR" Policies
March 31, 2011 10:41 AM   Subscribe

I'll soon be working from home full time. What are some "policies" I can enact for my home office to keep my productivity, sanity and health intact?

I’m transitioning from working from home part time to full time. Working from home part time has presented some challenges:
Sometimes I'll end up working too hard or for too long. Sometimes I'll have the opposite happen and have a hard time getting started or staying focused. Sometimes I'll realize I haven't left the house in waaay too long. Or that my neck hurts from poor office ergonomics and too long spent hunched over.

I would like to make some "policies" for my home office to keep me productive, focused, healthy, sane, happy and not a total hermit.

Some examples might be some sort of policy about taking breaks that require leaving the house, maybe only working between certain hours, or having to be dressed and showered before starting work.

If you were HR of my one person home office, what policies would you make?

And, bonus question: Since I'm still getting set-up, what is some general office equipment that I really shouldn't skimp on? (my first thought here is desk chair, but I’m sure there are other things)

Side-note: My work requires I be at my full desktop computer setup, so I don't have any "work from a coffee shop" type options.
posted by Diplodocus to Work & Money (21 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I, too, work from home, and I am coming to you from a desk my husband rigged up to my treadmill.

This thing has saved my life. I do my level best to walk on this thing at least 1 if not 2 hours per day. It mandates I get a small amount of exercise and means I sleep 100% better. Sitting at home all day is much more sedentary, IMHO and in my experience, than sitting all day at the office. If you can work with a laptop or otherwise rig up a way to be able to do this, I cannot recommend it enough.

Otherwise, make it a policy to have a walkabout a couple times a day. A longish one. It is much more important at home than at the office.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:48 AM on March 31, 2011

Get dressed every morning. Don't let yourself slip into the habit of working in your pajamas--it'll make you feel sloppy and less productive.
posted by litnerd at 10:49 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've worked at home for the last 15 years. The most important aspect of a home office is the fact that it's actually an office - that is, with walls and a door. I cannot overstate the psychological importance of this - if you can't shut the door when it's quitting time, and visually distance yourself from the work "stuff," you will start to subconsciously feel like you are on the clock 24/7, and when that happens, burnout is not far behind.
posted by jbickers at 10:59 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've worked from home full time for the past five years. My most productive days are when I:

- Get some exercise before work. Nothing intense, generally just a 20-30 minute brisk walk around the neighborhood, really.
- Do some sort of stretching and/or meditation before work
- Make breakfast and eat it before work
- Write out a my to-do list in the afternoon, for the following day (I live for crossing items off lists)
- Get out of the house at some point mid-day to run an errand, get lunch/coffee. Seeing other people is key, as working at home is very isolating. I live by myself, so it's especially key.

I admit I do not shower/dress first thing in the morning. I should probably go do that now...
posted by medeine at 11:02 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make sure you can't see your bed. This always screwed me over when I had a studio and was working from home.
posted by straight_razor at 11:04 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have some kind of schedule, however loose and however adjustable.

Shower, dress, coffee at 730, email from 8 to 830 (or 9)
overnight emergencies from 9 to 10
xzy from 10 to 11
lunch 11 to 12 (and don't skimp on your lunch)
email again from 12 to 1:15
foo from 1:15 to 3
imporatant small chunk of thing A 3 to 4
wrapping up the day with follow ups 4 to 5

Structure according to your real needs and the real expectations of your coworkers. If your schedule varies so wildly that having a general list is truly not possible, make a vague list the at quitting time for the next day. This also prevents one person's nagging from taking up your whole day and allowing you to lose track of longer term priorities.

Set a time when you stop answering the "work phone." Ffor the hard part, stick to that. Consistently. If it's truly an emergency, the workplace either already has a protocol set up for reaching you, or they have someone else who can help. Like the police (I'm being a little flip, I know. If your workplace really needs you all the time...well, you'll have to figure out a way to have that be ok). Clearly state your "office hours" on your voicemail, and in responses to any panicked "I've been calling you since 6 pm and you're not answering, and I really need to know what color this font should be" emails. Trust me, you'll get those emails.

Also. There are some previous threads about handling this with neighbors and friends who think "works from home = has all the time in the world to watch my 3 year old while I ________" Decide on a policy for that now, before it comes up, so that you're not standing in the doorway looking at little Timmy whose mom wants to go to the grocery store alone. And think for a bit on how differently you feel about "emergencies" vs true emergencies.

Try not to answer your personal phone during your work hours. Your mother/father in law/nosy PTA president may believe that working from home means being at their beck and call. If you take calls, people will take a mile.

Be honest with yourself about what level of media saturation you can have in the house while working. Is the Today show on in the background ok? Is an open tab for metafilter ok? This depends on you, your self control, and how early you'd like to be done at the end of the day.
posted by bilabial at 11:06 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

-Clear delineated work area not used for anything else.
-Set a schedule for getting up, getting started and hoped for quitting time.
-Do not agree to be the local doorman, having packages sent to your place since you are home, having kids dropped off, etc.
-Set daily goals for work to accomplish.
-Good chair is key as you noted.

-Don't have Yankee game on TV (Nice HR Tex!!)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:11 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've worked from home for about 7 years now. My favorite tip is to have two computers. When you shut down for the day, shut down the work computer and move to your personal laptop / PC for the rest of the evening. Do not set up your work email account on your personal computer. Obviously, you can use webmail or other ways to get to work email on the personal computer, but the out-of-sight-out-of-mind thing seems to help a lot.

Also, make friends with the local work from home / freelancer community and get out for lunch occasionally.
posted by COD at 11:17 AM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

A nice advantage of having a computer/office that is only used for work is that it's a tax deduction!
posted by Gilbert at 11:26 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing I enjoy is getting up every couple hours and doing some light exercise. A few squats, maybe some jumping jacks, a walk around the yard just to get the blood flowing into your legs and cheeks. Makes me feel better and keeps the thousand yard stare from becoming permanent.
posted by dozo at 11:44 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Addressed here recently.
posted by PepperMax at 11:49 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been working from home my entire career. (Yes, I'm procrastinating. Who asked you?)

I went forever with a bad chair, then I got an OK office chair, now I have a really nice one. Having a nice chair makes a difference. Having your keyboard at comfortable type-height (about 3" lower than normal desk height) makes a big difference. And this may not be relevant to you, but having a copyholder probably made the biggest difference of all to me. Mine is stuck with mounting tape to the side of my screen.

My wife also works at home, and she invested in a 30" monitor. Which is huge and expensive, but for the work she does, has been very valuable.

Having good computer backups becomes more than just a good idea when you work from home. If you're on a Mac, Time Machine is really handy for those times when you accidentally save over a file you didn't mean to.

The way I schedule myself has changed over time. For a long time, I would go out in the morning, get a cup of coffee, and read the news. When I came home, it was time to work. At the time, that was helpful to me; now my wake-up/work transition is not as clearly delineated, but I've started going to an evening boot-camp class that forces me to wrap up by a certain time (and get out of the house and run and jump around), and I find that helpful too.

There's a flickr group called Annotated Workspaces that you might find interesting. And of course, there are photos of MeFites' desks.
posted by adamrice at 11:52 AM on March 31, 2011

Sharing a bookmark I made a couple of years ago - good summary of the points made here. There is a part 1 also linked in the first paragraph.


Disclaimer: Not a link I am associated with.

Fyi, the author seems to have abandoned the blog
posted by theobserver at 12:31 PM on March 31, 2011

Best answer: If you're not already participating in some kind of activity that involves regular, at least weekly, contact with other people, start participating. Volunteer. I just became an ESL tutor, and I am SO MUCH SANER than before!!!
posted by amtho at 1:35 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Then there is, of course, this hazard.
posted by zadcat at 3:11 PM on March 31, 2011

Keep a real schedule and work hours. Start working at a specific time. When you stop working, actually stop.

Take advantage of your flexible work hours - work in some exercise.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:33 PM on March 31, 2011

The separate areas and separate computers are paramount. In the old days, I'd say to turn off the home phone during work hours and the work phone during non-work hours.

If that strict delineation is not possible, at the very least, keep a work time log. If you work on a project late into the night, log those hours and make them up somewhere else.
posted by gjc at 3:40 PM on March 31, 2011

I've worked from home for about the last 4 years. And I freelance doing a job that's more on the artistic side. That being said, I still have a standard office set up. As others have said here, try to have a place that's just for work or at least mostly for work. When my wife and I moved in together I wanted to have an extra bedroom that would be specifically used as my office. Even if you don't have an extra room just for work, try to at least have a separate area. Next, have a specific plan for the day. may not follow it to the T but make sure you give yourself a full days worth of work so you don't find yourself twiddling your thumbs. In terms of doing too much or too little work...this is where discipline comes in. You need to make sure to set specific hours for work. Again, you can bend the rules a bit, but if you're gonna work from 9-5...don't start your day at 11am and don't end your day at 8pm. Keep within the hours. Finally....the internet is a huge distraction. I can't tell you how many times I've started some random search on the internet that ended up wasting an hour of my time. I'm not saying don't use the internet...but just be careful not to go nuts with facebook, and other time consuming websites. Finally...enjoy the lifestyle of working from home. Enjoy your pets all day, take a nice lunch break watching tv or sitting in the backyard, be thankful for your privacy and freedom, and I say go ahead and wear those pajamas! That's the beauty of working from home!
posted by ljs30 at 3:50 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

You definitely need to watch this video. [NSFW]
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:36 PM on March 31, 2011

Best answer: Every day:

Get dressed.
Leave the house.
Talk to someone in person.
posted by bq at 10:05 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My .02. Working from home, anytime you pick up the phone or answer an email, you are on the clock. This can happen intensely or in drips. "Whats two emails at 10 PM anyway?" The time adds up. Think of tallying the time in a grand scope. Here is an average schedule when I am home and not on the road.

Wake up.
Put on Robe.
Make Coffee.
Change outgoing VM.
Fire up laptop.
Start answering email.
Write to do list.
Start working.
Take a break to exercise around noon.
Eat lunch.
Back to email.
Finish as much of to do list as possible.
Start dinner/go grocery shopping/pick up my children/pick up my wife, etc.

You may never have an opportunity to have this sort of freedom again. You have a chance to do what YOU think is right. You are paying the overhead for the business so, in lieu of this, you have amazing flexibility. Now, a caveat: it is difficult to go back to an office environment after a while. In the summer, I wear shorts and sandals all day, every day. In the winter, I can wear jeans or old Carhartt work pants and a ratty sweater. I am comfortable and no one is offended by my attire. This is more difficult over time.

I will start to answer my phone around 6 AM and usually cease at 6 PM. The fringes rarely happen but when they do, the people on the other end are super-pleased to reach a live person at those hours.

There is not a day that goes by that I do not consider myself lucky. Good luck in establishing your work patterns.
posted by zerobyproxy at 10:34 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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