I write this in a friend’s apartment in Queens, New York sat at their dining room table with my Surface Pro 4. This is normal for me as I try and balance a busy work life with my personal life. There are aspects that make this good and aspects that make this bad. On one side I have flexibility to be productive wherever I am and on the other, I have flexibility to be productive wherever I am. That’s not a mistake, mobile remote work is great when you need it but a problem when you don’t necessarily want it. There’s always something to be done and a Surface in the room to help me do it. It can be difficult to escape.
The trick to making this work is following some rules, I’m not going to profess to being good at all of them – kind of do as I say, not as I do.
Rule 1. Space
You need a space in your home that’s “the office”. It needs, preferably, a door and can be closed off from the rest of your home. We have very different psychological feelings about our work space and home space, confusing the two can be unhealthy. I have a room on the first floor’s that’s easily closed off from the rest of the home. My office space used to be a converted bedroom but it felt too much like a bedroom. I didn’t enjoy working there so I moved and I’m much happier now.
The space must also be a nice place to work. I have a desk, chair and sofa with cabinets to keep clutter away from me. Pictures of my family and friends make a good feelings and I have the luxury of big windows for lots of light and a balcony in case I want to step outside.
Rule 2. Equipment
To make remote working productive great equipment helps. You’re going to spend a lot of time with this stuff so don’t economize too much, you’ll just have a frustrating experience. The good stuff is generally more reliable which saves downtime due to technical issues.
I’m addicted to anything with a battery so this one is part indulgence. I have a ludicrously over spec’d 27 inch retina iMac that could be used to edit the next Star Wars movie. The screen is beautiful and virtually nothing gets it out of breath. It’s an absolute joy to use and I look forward to spending time with it every single day, which is the important part.
For comms I use a Plantronics Savi W740 headset which connects to both PC and mobile phone via bluetooth. It uses DECT so I can wonder away from it whilst on calls. I spend a lot of time on frequently long conference calls and the headset is light, leaving me free to type and make notes. The microphone is great so I’m clear on the line and background noise is cut out.
Rule 3. Working hours
You need to pick your working hours and stick to them. Hours will have many external influences due to the needs of colleagues and clients which all needs to be accommodated. As I live in the US and work internationally, I’m generally up early to speak with clients in Europe and the Middle East. That suits me as I’m generally more productive in the morning and prefer an early start. I have colleagues who are night owls and work after the family has hit the hay. That’s fine.
There are two considerations here. The first is to be very conscious about the hours you work and be happy with your choices. If you need to work late, do it by choice and don’t resent it as you’ll effect productivity. We all need to put in extra hours to get a job done so see this as temporary for a particular project or purpose and not a permanent alteration to your working hours. Just because you can work past midnight it doesn’t mean you should.
The second point is to set expectations with your family about your hours. Communicate so you can all be respectful of each other’s time. Just because you’re working from home, it doesn’t mean your family can bug you whenever they feel like it. Conversely, close the office door behind you and spend time with them without thinking about the jobs that are only one room away.
Rule 4. Breaks
Working from home can be pretty intense at times. There are few impromptu chats around the water cooler and you don’t stroll to a colleague’s office to ask a question. Therefore taking breaks is necessary and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Let me put it this way, I feel no guilt about taking my dogs to the beach at lunch time. I sometimes ride my bike in the afternoon and listen to an audiobook about a particular subject I’m attempting to master. If I started work at 6.30am I have no problems about being on my bike at 4, especially as generally get back to my office to close out any actions for the day.
Rule 5. Objectives
This is not remote work specific but it certainly helps. You generally don’t have anyone breathing down your neck so you need to make sure you have a set of objectives and you nail them. Look, we all know that stuff comes up every day that throws you off course but that happens anywhere. An achievable list of objectives for the day and week that you prioritize and cross off as you complete them makes you a more productive person, no doubt about it.
I use OneNote for notes about my day and tasks in Outlook. I also have a set of overall objectives that I review daily – pension planning and that kind of stuff. This helps me stay on track for the big things in life.