We’re going to make today’s post a Reader Mail Day because some of our followers have been sending us a few questions they are hoping we will answer on our blog.
Today’s question comes from Ryan and he asks “Can you give us some information on how to work from home?”
Yes Ryan, I can most definitely answer that question as I have been working from home for more than 10 years!
In this article, I’m going to tell you a story of how I became the expert at working from home and being productive while doing it, and then I’ll give you 4 Simple Tips for working from home in 2021 and how you can structure your home office, and your workday, so you can stop the distractions and become more productive while working from your home.
There’s a common misconception amongst employers that allowing their employees to work from home will make them less productive or they won’t be able to engage with their team, share files, or have regular meetings in an effective way.
If you believe this myth, I want to start by telling you that it is 100% not true!
While we do have a physical shared office space that we use for meetings, as a the owner of a Digital Creative Agency, I’ve spent the majority of the past 10 years working remotely with my team. The beautify of technology means we no longer really require “in person” meetings, handwritten work orders or physical file folders to get the job done.
In 2020, my company Mediavandals has become what is what is known as a “Virtual Agency”, which means each member of our team comes on board for specific jobs, as opposed to traditional agencies where the you have a number of staff on the payroll at all times and they may not be the right fit for every task they’re assigned.
By being a Virtual Agency, I get the best work my team as they can choose the projects that excite them to work on, which in turn produces great results for our clients.
I also means we don’t need a physical space to work because everything we do is virtual, which allows my entire team to work from their homes, and in turn, this makes for a better overall work experience for them.
Working from home takes practice and discipline
Working from home takes practice and discipline, but it can be immensely rewarding once you’ve become accustom to it. It can also help your staff to become more productive, not less, because they are in their own environment, their own space, and it’s very comfortable when you are in your own space (think back to any vacation you’ve ever taken, while it may have been a blast, you’re always happy to be home).
When your staff is in a space that can decorate their own way and be creative, rather than being surrounded by cubical walls or company regulations, they are happier.. and happy employees perform better and have better output. It’s a fact, I challenge you to prove me wrong on this.
Now when I first started working from home I had just started this agency, in fact, this agency wasn’t even a formulated though in my brain, at this point it was just me and a laptop taking on design work.
I was doing absolutely everything, I had never worked from home before, I have never experienced what it was like to run a business and my entire live had consisted nine-to-five type jobs.
This meant I would get up at a specific time every day, take a shower, have breakfast, get in the car, go to work, sit at my work desk, stare at the clock and try to look like I was being productive until quitting time, and then get my car go home. At the end of each day, that was it, I didn’t think about work anymore until it was time to get up and do it all over again.
I had a very structured life, when I wasn’t “on the clock” I was free to do with my time what I wanted, and so when I finally left my job and started freelancing, I had no idea how to go about working from home productively. Without someone micromanaging or looking over my shoulder, there was no accountability to keep me in check.
You see in design school or college or anything other school, they will teach you all the things about accounting, or Photoshop, or spreadsheets etc. They will teach your the tools you’ll need to know for a career, but what they don’t teach you in school is how to structure your day if you start a business, how to properly manage your time, how to find freedom by creating structure and discipline in our schedule, or how to even be structured and disciplined.
They don’t teach you the actual ins-and-outs of day-to-day business or the life skills you need in order to run your own business. So when I started this agency, I had a laptop and a desk that I had set up inside my bedroom. Now at the time I had a huge bedroom in a shared house that was roughly 10 ft by 21 ft, so I setup my bed at one side with a TV or a rotating stand, and on the other side of the room I setup a desk that faced in the general direction of the TV.
Now that I no longer had a day job to frequent, I found myself sleeping in until 11 or 12 in the afternoon, and then I’d get up, have some breakfast, prop myself up back in bed or on the couch with my laptop in my lap, turn on the TV and start working away.
I would give my cell phone number to anybody who might interested in getting website and not be clear about when I worked or what contact method was acceptable.
I had zero structure to my day and lacked the discipline or knowledge to create any, so I’d be working until 10:00pm or 11:00pm at night, still be sitting on the couch or in bed (I would never use the desk), and clients would be calling or texting my cell phone at 11:00pm at night when they had a thought or idea for their project.
Here’s an important thing about clients, if you allow them to call o text at any time, then you are teaching them that this is an acceptable practice. YOU are the reason for their bad behaviour at that point, so plug that hole immediately!
Because I was up working all night, I would sleep all day and then get up the next day and do the same thing all again. This freelancing adventure I thought I would love had become a job that I hated, but instead of 1 boss dictating my time, I had 20..
I had tried to turn something I loved into a career and create an agency, I had all of these big dreams of building this massive agency and then selling it for millions of dollars, I thought I’d be able to retire young on all the money I would make, but I was literally working myself to the bone for peanuts, taking on every single thing I could get and allowing everyone else to dictate my time because I had no structure while working from home.
I would stay up all night building a clients website to get it done by the deadlines they were dictating to me, I didn’t know how to say no and I had no structure. This thing that I loved had, within six months, burnt me out and hated it,
It took me a while, but I began to realize that the structure of a 9-to-5 job which I previously thought was chaining me down in life, was actually the this that would provide me with the freedom I was craving. You see, when you work from home you need to keep the structure of going to the office everyday in order to help you achieve any goal, whether it is freedom, of financial gain, or having more time with your family, that structure is what will get you to our dream.
Tip #1: Create a routine and stick to it.
Routine = Results.
There’s no way around it, creating a routine will give you more freedom because you wake up in the morning and you don’t have to think or worry about what you should be doing. Your day is structured so you know that at 5pm, you’ve completed your goals for the day and can spend time with family, friends, or adventure.
Now when you first start working from home, it will be difficult getting into a routine. You’ll want to sleep in, or work in your pyjamas.. it’s just too darn easy and who will know?
Don’t fall prey to the seduction of your comfy pillow. The best way to get into a routine when you first start working from home it to continue on with the things you used to do at your 9-to5.
Wake up at the same time as before, shower, have your breakfast, get in your car and just driving around the block. As silly as that sounds, this is the routine you are used and by following it, something in your brain will click. By staying consistent with routine you are putting yourself in the mindset of it’s time to go to work now.
Once you’ve taken a drive around the block and gotten to the office, grab your coffee and get to work. What is the first thing you need to do? Write a list of the days priorities? Check in with the team? Whatever it is, have at it.
Tip #2: Schedule a daily water cooler chat
The human species is a social animal and one of the hardest parts of working from home is that you’re no longer surrounded by co-workers. It can get lonely.. really fast.
How my team combats this is by schedule regular water cooler chats. Which is essentially a 15 min period during the day where we all meet on Skype with a beverage in hand and literally “shoot the shit by the virtual water cooler”.
We don’t chat about work, we just check in and gossip about what we’re all up to life wise. Now this may sound silly, but it actually is incredibly important for not only your mental well being, but also productivity. Having those quick little catch ups about things non work related like you would at a day job provides a big boost to the rest of your work day (and sometimes gives you some great gossip as well).
Tip #3: Create a dedicated space for work
This is a golden rule and so very important. DO NOT work from common areas in your house like the kitchen or the living room. I know it’s going to be tempting to sit at the kitchen table or plop yourself down in the living room in front of the TV so you have some background noise while you work, but there are too many distractions when you do this.
Even if no one is home and you think you’re focused on your task, trust me, it’s all an illusion. When you work in a common area of your home, it’s too easy to flip on a TV for background noise and suddenly you’re invested in a show, or sports, or the news. It’s too easy to get up and grab a snack, check the mail, or look at your phone “just for a second”.
All the little nuances of home will creep in and pull you attention away without you even realizing it and you won’t have full focus on the task at hand.
Working from a “common room” in your house will put you in the wrong frame of mind for getting work done. Now this is usually where I receive some objections and the standard “I have no problem staying focused in my living room”. Really? You didn’t just look up at the TV when you heard something interesting?
As a part 2 to this, common rooms are just that.. common. By definition they will be a highly used room by everyone in the house, so your family, roommates, dog, mother-in-law, whatever.. are going to be walking in and out of that room with no concern over what you’re doing. They’re going to be sitting on the couch beside you, flipping through TV channels, talking on the phone, and all of that becomes a very big distraction. You can’t get upset with your family for using a rom as intended, you’ve now invaded a common space and to think of it as anything else is unrealistic.
Using a common room for work is a hard no.
Find a low traffic spot in the house, and whether you take an old bedroom or room in your basement or a den, ensure that it isn’t something others in your house have plans to transform it into something they’ll highly use.
In my house I’ve picked a room that has two full walls of windows. I’m not stuck in a dark room, it keeps me energized and in a great mood. I can watch my cats playing in the yard. I can watch squirrels running around. I see the nice green gardens and trees outside. And most importantly, I get the sunshine, good old fashioned Vitamin D, which is proven to reduce depression (see tip #2 above).
Once you find a room that is perfect for your new office, set it up to actually function as an office. Don’t bring in a TV and a Playstation. Don’t set up a cot for naps. Keep it professional with the essentials you’ll need to get work done. Computer, pens, notepad, calendar, phone, good lighting and something inspirational on the wall.
Oh.. and lastly, if you can, install a door 😉
Tip #4: Tell your family / housemates your office hours
Now that we have our dedicated workspace, the next thing you’re going to to do is tell your family / housemates / mother-in-law when that door is closed you’re working. They need to understand that they’ll need to treat this the same as if you had left the house and gone to work. No popping in just to hang out and what you work, no seeing what you’re up to, anything that wouldn’t be acceptable practice at a day job, won’t fly here.
If you go over the rules with the others in your house and ask them to respect those rules, you’ll be surprised at how understanding they will be.
Let them know your office hours and if that door is closed, it means you are either on a phone call with a client, or in the middle of a Zoom chat, or you’re fully focused on what you’re doing and need it to stay that way.
Make it clear that if the door is closed, anyone that comes knocking or enter the room is now going to interrupt and distract you from that phone call, that Zoom chat, or that work that you are fully immersed in. And that’s just not cool.
Tip #5: Set client / co-worker expectations
Finally, tip #4 is to set your business hours and how you handle communication, and then let clients know those “rules of engagement”. Again, this took me a really long time to realize. But it’s so important to put those rules and that structure into place.
We’ve set our business hours to be 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but the beautiful thing about working from home is that sometimes in the summer, we’ll change our hours from 10:00am to 4:00pm depending on how busy we are.
When you work from home you can do this and still remain productive with a little bit of discipline and some solid communication with your clients and co-workers about office hours, how you communicate, and those rules for engagement surrounding meetings, phone calls, email response times and anything else everyone needs to know to work effectively as a team.
I’m in this office once the clock hit’s 5:00 p.m. this laptop gets closed, I go at that door, and I am out of this office for the rest of the night.
Outside of business hours If I want to read a book or whatever, I’ll do it in another room in the house. This room is for work and if you treat it as an office and not as just another room in your house, it will put you in the mindset that this is a place where business happens.
Having that separation of work life from your home life will keep you focused and productive, and improve your work/home life balance.
I know it’s going to be hard at first, but once you get that discipline and that structure it’s going to make a world of difference in the productivity you achieve working from home, and your overall happiness.
Oh.. and one last thing, once you leave your “office”, don’t bring your work with you to family, that’s family time.
Let me know in the comments below how you make out with these tips, and if you have any of your own.
Thanks for checking out or blog, and we’ll see you in the next one!