Tech Work from Home: A Survival Guide

Monday Mar 12th 2007 by Eric Spiegel
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Doing IT work from a home office has its perks – and major pitfalls. Here’s a guide to staying productive.

Bang, bang, bang! I was in the middle of a crucial demonstration with a large potential customer. The loud banging stopped me mid-sentence. I quickly turned my head to look through the glass panes of my office doors and was immediately disarmed by a very cute smile – of my 14-month-old daughter. She was banging on the glass with one of her big sister’s Barbie dolls, desperately trying to get her daddy’s attention.

When I tell someone I work from home, I mostly hear about what a wonderful life I must have with no commute and more family time. I’m here to present those folks with a taste of reality. Although I love not commuting (I live near Washington, DC and commuting is no picnic) and I love being around my family, when you need to focus on your job, both of these loves can have reverse effects.

After a long hard day, just getting off a call with an irate customer, I get to walk a few feet to the kitchen and have dinner with my family. Sounds great, right? Well, it is, but I truly miss the commute home because during this time I could decompress and remove the stress accumulated during the work day.

As for being around my family throughout the day, this is a blessing and a challenge. I get to see moments like my youngest daughters’ first steps and hear my older daughter belting out Disney tunes while banging on the piano. Sounds great right? Well it is.

Yes, here comes the “but” again.

But…the piano happens to be in my office. And although I have a rule that the kids stay out during the work day, I’m not very good at saying no when I hear “Pleeeeease Daddy can I play piano.” So as I try to write a customer project proposal, I have to work extra hard to tune out the background noise.

I can hear you commuters who just spent an hour stuck in traffic saying “Cry me a river!”

I get it. I’m lucky. But what I’m trying to point out is that working from home requires compromises and discipline.

There are many considerations that are more work specific, like having the correct equipment, furniture, telecommunications, security and processes that should be implemented as a standard company-wide telecommuting policy. But rarely do people understand the little things that can complicate working from a home office.

Here are eight guidelines that may help you navigate these “little things” to become more productive, while also keeping the peace in the house – which happens to be your office as well.

1. Stick to a schedule. The challenge here is that when working from home it is difficult to separate where work and family time begin and end. I may have dinner with the family at 5:30 pm, but I’m usually back at work that evening. And once you start family time, try to stick to it and don’t take a call in the middle of dinner.

2. Get dressed. You don’t have to go to the extreme of dressing to the nines, but I found putting on my business casual clothes made a difference in my attitude and helped remind me (and everyone else in the house) that I’m at work..

3. Closed office door means no entry. No knocking. No high pitch squeals or wrestling matches right outside the office door. Of course, there will be exceptions, but constant interruptions should not be tolerated. If you have a noisy pet, move them to another room or outside during important calls. If your neighbor has a noisy pet you may have to move (or threaten a call to animal control).

4. Don’t become the “go to” person for all errands. There is a certain convenience of availability that working from home offers, but don’t fall into the trap of always being 100% available for every sick child, doctor appointment, home repair guy, etc. It is okay to say no because you have to keep consistency through your day - -– and errands are meant to be shared, regardless of where you work.

5. Get out of the house! If you have no physical office that you can go to every once in a while, I strongly recommend finding a work spot away from home. About once a week, I go to my local Panera Bread that has free Wi-Fi. It breaks up my week and provides me and my family some needed space. And it is okay to “do lunch” even if it is just a quick ride for fast food. You need to find time to clear your head, and a change of scenery can spur creative thinking.

6. Hone your time management skills. Beyond keeping to a schedule, be careful not to get distracted by things you should not be thinking about during the work day. If your home phone rings, let the answering machine get it. If the faucet is dripping, let it drip. You wouldn’t fix a leaky faucet at the office would you?

7. Don’t hog the house resources. If you share space with family or a roommate, don’t expect them to share a computer, phone line, etc. while you are working. Your company should provide you with a work computer, a dedicated phone line – or just use your cell phone. The flip side is to make sure your kids (or roommates) know that your work computer is off limits. Lord only knows what your kids will download – probably not much worse than what your roommate might download.

8. Most important: Don’t be afraid to enjoy the perks of working from home. Turn up the music, take a break to play with your kids, take the dog for a long walk after lunch, or spend some extra quality time with your spouse. And I’ll admit every now and then I work in my pajamas. As for my interrupted demo, I smiled at my daughter and then soldiered on, having learned to concentrate on the task at hand. Plenty of time to play with the cute munchkin later, but at that moment it was daddy’s responsibility to work – not play.

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