Over my professional career, I have worked from home periodically for a day here and there. About three years ago, I joined the Nintex team and became a remote employee working out of my home office when I wasn’t on the road. I quickly adapted my physical and mental environment in this new world of being a contributor to the team.
Here are my best practices for working productively from home.
1. Prepare your physical environment for remote working
Picture this. Day 1 in my new work from home job, I lived in a house with my wife and three kids. The kids at the time were aged 5, 6, and 7 years old. On top of that, my wife stayed at home and homeschooled the children. That’s 5 people under one roof with a lot of energy and periodic drama at that young age.
The first challenge was operating as normal without revealing my “secret work from home” environment.
Sound distractions are the hardest piece to solve in your environmental challenge. The first priority is to figure out how to avoid background noise that would distract calls. Just telling my wife to “keep the kids quiet for the next hour” wasn’t enough. My approach was the use of an On-Air light that I wired up to a switch. I turned the light on during calls which served as an indication to the kids to be quiet and also an indication to my wife to get them on the other side of the house. This was very effective and seemed to keep the peach and set clear expectations in the household. A call would end early or get canceled and it was easy to turn off the light indicating the coast was clear.
Video distraction was a bit easier. In our house, we had a very large walk-in closet that was 10 x 15 feet. We basically made ½ of the closet my office and the other half a place to store clothes. The big benefit here is with one lock of the door all video distractions were avoided, but I did need to put up a backdrop to hide the clothes. At Nintex we now use Microsoft Teams or Zoom, both of which allow you to customize your background image, so this isn’t a problem anymore.
Internet speed constraint
Make sure you have great Internet speed. When I first started remote work, we had a DSL connection and it was only good for 3 to 5 megs and was hard. My wife and kids could not stream anything while I was on a call or screen share, so the On-Air light was also an indication to stop hogging the bandwidth. I moved about two years ago and the improved Internet speed at my new home was a significant selling point – 250 megs made sharing the bandwidth a non-issue very fast.
Good physical space
The ideal work from home set-up is having a space that is completely disconnected from the family living space. When I moved to a new home, we had the benefit of a large detached garage with a 20-foot ceiling. We quickly decided to make a work-from-home office. With a lot of sweat and a small budget, we constructed a 30 x 10-foot space. It is essentially a loft area in the red box as you can see in the picture.
This office quickly overcame the sound distraction, video distraction and surprisingly created a great mental space for the entire family.
When I walk out the door and across the yard, to the office the entire family knows I am now at work and mental separation begins for everyone.
No need for an On-Air light anymore, no housework distractions, and all fun from the kids is now contained to the family household.
2. Focus on your mental environment – it matters most of all
The mental environment is probably the most important part of remote work. They physical distractions around the household can be overcome with a little creativity, but once you get into your physical workspace your going to spend the next 8+ hours focused on what you are paid to do.
In an office environment, you have an established pace, tempo, and tone to the environment that encourages productivity and efficiency with your time. Subconsciously this influences your behavior.
At home, you need to create your own pace, tempo, and tone for your own personal success in your role. This is one of the critical pieces and why some employees are very successful at working from home and others are just complete disasters at home – yet awesome working from a corporate office.
3. Set a daily rhythm and don’t waiver
I personally have several things I do every day to keep my pace, tempo, and tone operating at good levels. Here are just a few:
Stay engaged with your coworkers
At Nintex, we have a ton of tools to stay engaged. I make an effort to engage via email, Microsoft Teams, Slack Zoom, Phone, Text, Skype and others all day long. Depending on what kind of pick me up or motivation I need, I use a different tool.
Get out of your environment
For lunch, I typically walk away from the “home office” and head to the house. This helps break up the environment and get me ready for the second half of the day. I typically take a walk to get the mail and do something outside as well between phone calls or meetings if I have time. Almost like treating myself to a reward for accomplishing tasks.
I personally leverage the ToDo’ist app on my phone and desktop to prioritize my day and tasks. Every time I have a task to complete, like this blog post, I add it to the list. Each day I go through that list and start checking them off. This has been a great way for me to not forget things and prioritize everything. I even look at this list the night before making sure I am mentally prepared for the next day.
Remember your strengths and weaknesses – we’re all human!
In summary, know your strengths and weaknesses. When you look at your “work from home self”, think about what you do well at your home office and, more importantly, where you struggle.
Build on what you do well and look for opportunities to support your weaknesses. Simply acknowledging what you struggle with in a remote work environment is a big step.
One of the first things that entrepreneurs do in their own business is quickly hire people for the things they know they struggle with.
As an employee working from home, you’re essentially running your own small business in your role. Identify your struggles and mitigate them as much as possible.
I really do enjoy remote work and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Interested in learning how Nintex is helping businesses to continue remote work during Covid-19? Click here to browse available resources!