Working from home -- tips and tricks?
May 27, 2008 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Working from home -- tips and tricks?

Starting next week, I'll be taking a job that will have me working from home 100 percent of the time. While I've answered email and such at home before, none of my past experience will have been anywhere close to the duration and degree I'll be doing now.

Everything about this company and position will be done virtually via Skype, Basecamp, Google Docs, etc. The team will be in the Pacific, Eastern and GMT time zones (Pacific for me and a few others).

I'm looking for your best tips, tricks, books, online resources, etc., to do this as effectively as possible. I've already got a nice, quiet, secluded work space to keep me away from the wife, kids and dog. I'm familiar with the major tech options. What else should I be doing, reading about, scheduling, planning and looking into?
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Work & Money (11 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
while working from home is just a dream for me, has tons of advice:

work from home query
posted by spacefire at 6:18 PM on May 27, 2008

Think about how you will leave work at the end of the day, otherwise you'll find yourself working anytime you are awake. For me, separate laptops are the answer. When I'm done for the day, I hibernate my work laptop and open my personal laptop. My personal laptop does not have my work email account set up on it at all. Removing the easy temptation to check work email makes it possible for me to get away from work at the end of the day.

Also, plan on getting out for lunch once in a while. Find other telecommuters or join some sort of networking group to have the opportunity to continue practicing your in person social skills on somebody other than your wife or dog.
posted by COD at 6:38 PM on May 27, 2008

Set boundaries. I live on the west coast, so in order to have maximum overlap with the east coast, I typically work from 7 to 4. I am up at 6:45, make some breakfast, at the laptop by 7. I typically do not take any breaks during my work day except to grab a bite to eat or maybe to lay in the sun (I am in SoCal) for 30 minutes in the middle of the day. You will need that sun as you'll be sort of a recluse much of the time.

Let the wife know she shouldn't bother you during your work day. She should pretend you are not there at all.

Get a good headset.

I keep plenty of food in the fridge so that I can eat every 2 hours or so. I have a good espresso machine and lots of high-quality Italian espresso.

Once my day is done, I close the laptop and try not to do any more work. I leave the house and head to the gym, because by then cabin fever is usually starting to set in. Resist the urge to check email more than once after you sign off for the day. Always go to bed with an empty inbox, though. This will make things easier for the mornings - you are on the west coast so when you wake up your colleagues on the east coast will have been up for a few hours and you will most likely have a bunch of new emails and feel a bit swamped.

Get a really comfortable desk chair. This is key.

Try to make part of one day just for personal business - paying bills, responding to personal emails, etc.

Buy a big wall calendar and a white board.

Make sure to have plenty of comfortable pajama pants, socks and hoodies.
posted by charlesv at 6:39 PM on May 27, 2008

- Document EVERYTHING you do. When you work from home you're not as visible to your co-workers and your boss. I've contemplated creating a blog with rss feed so my boss can quickly see what I've been doing. Did "Do x?" suddenly become a two month challenge? Make sure you let people know this and why. This depends on what you do, but my position is largely independent so I could probably go months on end without talking to but a few people in the company. Self-promotion needs special attention when you're not seeing everyone, everyday.

- Set aside a place to work. Make it not the same place you do non-work stuff. I know this is muddy, but if I'm in the same area I entertain people, I end up fiddling with things around the house. If I'm in an Office, with a capital "O" and lawyer-like furnishings, well I tend to work. I also like to fill my office with white boards so I can keep track of things going on. This helps me keep focused.

- Learn to prioritize people. President calling you at 8PM and you're still at your desk? Take the call, obviously. President will mention this to someone else and eventually it'll get down to Joe Schmoe in AP who can't remember how to do X and he's working late at night to figure it out. You'll find that if you work from home and become available all the time, some people will rely on you to help them get their jobs done. It is tricky. Don't let people ride you. Not all people are the same, and shouldn't be treated as equals when it comes to your time.

- Learn how to use VMWare. It is so, so much easier to have a separate OS install for your work. I have a VMWare Server running on Ubuntu Server with a Vista Business installed. I also have a Vista Ultimate workstation installed. I switch between the two all the time. Nothing is shared. I simply don't have problems with work interfering with play.
posted by geoff. at 6:43 PM on May 27, 2008

Think about waking up every morning and running through the same routine -- take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast -- that you do when you go to a job outside of your home. I work from home, and have noticed that I'm generally more productive when not sitting around in my underwear all day. But give yourself a few lazy days every once in a while; it's nice to occasionally take advantage of the benefits working from home offers you.
posted by nitsuj at 6:49 PM on May 27, 2008

Everything everyone said above. The hardest part about working at home is knowing when to quit, and making sure everyone else knows when you are "off the clock" (squeezing that between quotes because I assume you are not an hourly employee). Your regular desk hours will be especially important to make known since you have coworkers in different timezones. My company uses a web-based "Check In/Out" system so you can immediately check to see who's available, lists IM screen names, business phone, and an optional personal cell # (for emergency situations only). This is especially helpful because I can never remember what time it is in Beijing, and here in Hawaii, we don't have Daylight Savings Time. Earth's axis continually vexes me. Our system is home-brewed, but it shouldn't be that hard to replicate.

You might also want to impose a self-ban from MeFi. Or don't. We won't tell.
posted by krippledkonscious at 7:13 PM on May 27, 2008

Put on pants with a waistband every single day. If you sit around working in your sweats or elastic waist pj's you'll gain a ton of weight.

Perhaps not what you were looking for, but it's still good advice.
posted by 26.2 at 9:00 PM on May 27, 2008

When there's no one looking over your shoulder, it's awfully easy to goof off on the internet. LeechBlock is a nice little nagging reminder that you're supposed to be working, dammit.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:23 PM on May 27, 2008

I heard somewhere that a guy who worked from home was having difficulty mentally separating work time from home time. What he did that helped get his mind right was to start a routine of walking to and from work. In the morning, he showered, dressed in work attire, and walked out the door and around the block. When he arrived back, he was in work mode, and would only deal with work tasks. At the end of the workday, he would gather what he needed and then walk around his block the opposite direction until he was home. He thought that "going to work" and "returning home from work" gave him the alone time and perceived separation between work and family that helped him switch gears.
posted by DB Cooper at 10:10 PM on May 27, 2008

(It sounds like you have most of this sorted, but this might have a bearing for future readers)

My life has been a disappointing and painful pursuit of the Working From Home Idyll so I speak from bitter, angry, twisted experience

1) Sometimes there are obscure technical, manpower, logistical or miscellaneous reasons why a task that would normally be simple from the office cannot actually be achieved from home. Have you made a list of things that you would normally do in a working day and checked that they are all 100% possible.
2) Is there anything you can't do from home?
3) Can you do everything you need to do from home?
4) Have you checked that there's nothing that you can't do from home?
5) Sometimes there are things that seem simple but are actually impossible to do from home. Are you aware of any of these?
6) Really?

There is nothing more annoying than, sitting in your slippers and dressing gown and 11am drinking decent coffee and having a bit of a gaze out the window, having suddenly to down tools and schlep into the office because a server is suddenly IP restricted or a client suddenly needs you to do a task that involves Microsoft Obscuro, which is only installed on one dust covered machine in the server room.

You also need immediate access to a conference call facility. Things that would normally be matter of shouting across the room at two or three minions suddenly snowball into hour long phone tennis sessions that will leave your forehead throbbing. Casual conference calls take the arse-ache out of it.

Related: People are better at lying and hiding over the phone. Webcams are awesome for communication and, most importantly, proving that you're actually at your desk. (I always feel a bit out of the loop when I work from home both socially and professionally. Sometimes I leave my webcam live just so that people can feel that I'm actually there if they need me. I am famously maternal with my team though.)

As someone mentioned above, another problem can be that its hard to discern "at work" from "at home". I usually draw a line under the day by switching everything off and leaving the house for a good hour, usually for a run, a cycle or 8 - 10 pints of Guinness. I try to make a point of not turning anything back on until the next morning. Twitter is fucking with this rule as we speak.
posted by Jofus at 9:38 AM on May 28, 2008

I've worked like this for 7 years now. About 2 days a week I'm out of the home office but for the most part I work from home.

Family issues:-

If kids/partner are around regularly have a bolt on the door for when you're in teleconference, intense mode, etc., If the bolt is shot you cannot be disturbed.

Work issues:

If your company is not used to remote workers do exactly what geoff & Jofus say (Jofus rocks as always!)
Make absolutely certain that the private network arrangements are good or that you have priority access to your IT Dept. Cultivate a contact here for the problem times (Rich is my darling! srsly!)

Conference calls Maximum is 4, only if the issue is of huge importance exceed this limit.

Self-promote regularly, copy line managers into plaudits.
When in touch with the main office do ask personal questions and "jaw" a little. Keep in with the donations to so-and-sos leaving event, always make a nice comment by e-mail or phone when it's good news like a birth, promotion, etc., Many people in my organisation work in different parts of the building. Someone commented recently that they thought I worked on X floor, that's what you should aim for.

While it is useful to separate work from home time, having the main key people ring you at an ungodly hour and answering gets major points. Use that, screen calls, and make sure the office line and the home line are distinguishable by the colour of the handset.
Sometimes I'm happier in other parts of the house, depending on weather and light, so knowing which phone I'm grabbing is important. (try NOT to answer home calls during work hours for your own sanity)

My worst problem is the expectation from my husband and children that having Mommy home means having access to Mommy. No matter what I do it is next to impossible to get this through to them but I suspect that may be a gender issue or I simply want to please everyone and don't manage their expectations well.

Good luck
posted by Wilder at 12:34 PM on May 28, 2008

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