How to Work At Home Without Ruining It For Everyone
I have lived the dream since July 17th, 2011. For just a little over a year, I’ve been a project manager at a major insurance company that has, in the recent years, implemented a work-at-home program. Since I was hired, I have been work-at-home straight away. It’s brilliant for all the reasons you might think it would be:
- No commute.
- No rush, so sleep until right before work.
- Don’t have to wear business casual, business professional, prom formal, or quite frankly – any clothes.
- No cubicles.
- Ability to have pets at work.
- Eat at your desk.
- Play music as loud as you’d like with no headphones.
- No silly “water cooler” chit-chat about last night’s game or “Honey Boo Boo.”
- Make your own schedule (May vary from job role to job role).
- Run errands when you like while stores and offices are OPEN (again, may vary depending on your responsibilities).
- Be more productive than your in-office coworkers because you actually have more control over your distractions.
- Rarely need sick days to stay home just to keep from “infecting” your co-workers when you’re well enough to work.
People Think You’re [Slacking Off | Lazy | Not Busy | Working A 2nd Job at Starbucks]
Most people who have always worked in offices who have closed minds and/or are jealous of you will assume you are sitting on your couch, naked, eating cheese puffs and watching The Price Is Right when “you should be working.” The funny thing is – most of us who work-at-home know this or at least worry that people think that. So we work harder to prove we’re not.
The other 98.7% of the global office workforce is putting in a full day’s worth of 20% effort. Calendar appointments, pointless meetings, “bathroom breaks” when they don’t have to “go,” internal newsletters and memos, “industry research” on the internet, training seminars and web events, interpersonal networking (shooting the breeze in the hallways), “personal projects,” are excuses people use to pass the time to punch the clock on an 8 hour day without having to work hard at all. I would like to offer that this isn’t everyone: some people are genuinely busy because they are overloaded with tasks. Some people are busy because they are highly inefficient and can’t fathom a better way to do things than the system they’ve worked out. Some people are “busy,” meaning they’re bored but they only really want more interesting things to do than their regular responsibilities. These people are masters of looking busy when everyone’s watching.
So why, then, do we need to look and be productive if no one can watch us work? Because for an employer, the advantages need to be more concrete than just “now you don’t take up room at the office and we don’t need to spend as much money on electricity or space.” They need to know you’re working smarter, harder, and better because of this nice perk they’ve afforded you. It helps your morale. It helps you think more clearly and find your own productive “zone.” They need to see results. Work hard, give them something back.
Even if your cushy new work-at-home job allows you to be so productive you afford yourself some down-time during a lull, don’t go AWOL. Stay logged in to your chat and use a status to let people know what you’re up to today. I set mine to “Busy” most of the time – it lets people know I’m around but that I might be slow to respond if I’m away from the laptop for a few minutes to make a sandwich or put in a load of laundry. Whether you have chat or not, also keep an eye on your e-mail inbox. A prompt response means you’re probably on the ball and not slacking. I try to get back to people within an hour or two at the latest. My boss and direct teammates I get back to as quickly as possible, usually immediately but not later than a half hour.
Take legit time off if you are going to be unavailable. Realistically you’re getting no work done and no one can reach you when you’re unavailable – so just tell people you’re unavailable when you need to go do something. Your boss may or may not require you to record time away from home as time off (I don’t always have to if I have my blackberry with me to check e-mail, etc.), but set a reasonable expectation of your availability for the day if you have special plans. Don’t try to take a vacation to another country in a different time zone and stay “on the clock” unless the trip is really business related.
Try to check your attitude as well – read and re-read your e-mails; what may come across as enforcing a company policy or process may come across like you just don’t want to do something. It’s a sad prejudice, but it’s true. People will tend to think if you can’t bend the rules or go out of your way to get them what they need that you are too lazy to help them. Since I do mild tech support for Sharepoint, this goes extra for me. So what do you do? Put on a physical smile, use extra-pleasant and positive words, go the extra mile, and whether it’s an imposition or not and regardless of their attitude – do not speak unprofessionally or try to place blame. Your ego is irrelevant; your sweet gig makes it all worthwhile. If anyone is especially abusive, remain calm, polite, acknowledge their input, and then tell them you’ll get back to them with more information and then consult with your supervisor or manager.
Don’t Be a Dumbass
People already assume you’re goofing off (see above), so if you find yourself in a lull and don’t have anything to do – for Pete’s sake don’t do things that make it clear you’re not working or busy! Don’t add your boss or your coworkers on Steam, Playstation Network or XBox Live if you’re going to play video games for a while. Even if they’re ALSO work-at-home and are doing the same things, you don’t really want to broadcast that you’re goofing off for an hour because you need a break from looking at a spreadsheet all day.
Facebook and other social media is an iffy topic at best. If your employer doesn’t care if you’re on Facebook, good for you. If you’re going to play games on Facebook, you probably want to either change who can see those game notifications or don’t add your coworkers or boss as friends. Facebook has lots of permissions settings – the rule of thumb is if you can’t get them all straight, don’t post anything you would mind your boss or coworkers seeing. If you can’t handle that, stay off Facebook during your work hours.
And especially stay off games and social networks if it’s becoming a problem and keeping you from being productive.
Working From Home Isn’t For Everyone
Day after day, night after night of being in your home can be taxing on the nerves, especially if you are a social animal. If that’s you – you might find that you miss the coworker interaction you had at the office, or even the comfort of just knowing someone else is nearby. If your family or roommates are not also work-at-home or stay-at-home, you won’t have that. Interoffice chat is great, but if your coworkers are also work-at-home, you can easily move the conversation to your personal computers and use non-corporate chat services like AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Live Messenger, or Google Talk. That way if you start talking about your personal lives or want to use unprofessional language, you can use your best judgement about the relationship with that person and not fear corporate records or repercussions.
I know from my experience in college I worked better from my dorm room with creature comforts, the door locked, and music blasting. I could never get anything done in the library cubicles and I never seemed to retain any information when I tried to study there. Other people I know only got work done if they left the dorm room and went for peace and quiet in a study room with no distractions and no music with words. Your high-productivity environment might be better suited to the office than your home, so consider that before you try to make the jump.
Don’t Flake Out
Finally, make your appointments on time. If you invite someone to a meeting, don’t overbook. Give yourself a buffer between things scheduled on your calendar, in case something runs over. Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself from one meeting for another if the meeting holder goes over their scheduled time. Keep your commitments. If you say you’ll do something for someone, do it. We all make mistakes, forget things, get busy and caught up and might let something slip occasionally. Just don’t let it be your modus operandi. Use post-its; develop a reminder system; use your work calendar – whatever you have to do.
Remember, what you do while working-at-home affects the rest of us. If suddenly the studies start showing we aren’t smarter, faster, better workers than our in-office counterparts, our sweet gigs go away.