Home office. Part 1. Common challenges and other dangers

Almost my entire professional career, I work remotely. You might remember the movie “The Net” with Sandra Bullock starring a programmer who worked from home, remotely. It was awe-inspiring to me when I watched this as a kid. The scene, where she worked from her laptop while lying on the beach, for me was most satisfying.

Now, I have over 12 years of experience in working remotely, and I know that working at home is not as easy as it can be seen in photos that are flying around on social media. I have been asked many times “How do you withstand it?” The time has come to share everything I have to say about it. I am going to focus on the challenges and problems that a home office can create. However, I am not going to demonize or discourage you from working on the Internet under any circumstances.

Because there are so many factors, I decided to divide them into two parts. The first part deals with psychological and social issues, i.e. those that can be seen after a few days or a few weeks after working from your home. The second part concerns technical aspects, which are, unfortunately, always considered in the first place, yet have the least impact on our lives.

Psychological and social factors

You don’t have to waste time getting to work, preparing a food container with lunch, you have your family next to you, you can work from your sofa, and you can check what’s happening on Facebook. From all of these “benefits” of remote work, none of them is really a benefit. It’s time to face it.

I am 10 steps away to my work

Going out to work is a privilege, especially if you haven’t been doing it for several months when you work from home. This unwanted moment when you have to wear your winter coat or arm yourself with an umbrella when it is raining or defrost the car’s windshield is one of the most beautiful moments. When you leave your home for work, you leave all your private concerns in your nest. Even if you have a bad day and some argument with your partner burns through your consciousness, after a few hours, the problem fades away, and you can focus on your duties. When you don’t leave your home for work but are always in the same place, your mental attitude continually revolves around the same things. Separation of private and business matters can easily get blurred, and ultimately you are neither at home nor at work.

A friend of mine, when he had to work remotely, in order not to “go crazy”, he decided to go out “to work” with his girlfriend. He left the house with her, and after a while, he was going another way. Then he walked around the block just to return back home and start work. When eight hours passed, he left the house, made round the block and joined his girlfriend so that they could “come back home” together. Who’s crazy here?

Make sure you have a clear border between work and home. It must be clear and aggressive.

Eat regularly and rarely

A fridge is a place where inspiration can be found. Opening it for 30 seconds to make sure that nothing has arrived in the last 10 minutes is soothing. This compulsive behaviour to snack something not only distracts your attention and focus from work. Snacking raises the level of insulin, which does not come from nowhere – it is a product of pancreas. When you work at home, it is more challenging to control yourself as no one is looking at you nor to pay attention that you are chewing all the time. Believe it or not, it can create disease, and I don’t just mean obesity. I was not aware of it myself, but it’s something I’ve learned from my colleague. He got into a stage where he had to look for medical attention due to snacking.

Working at the computer, when nobody is watching, does not allow eating in front of the computer screen.

Your household members are not your work colleagues

“We don’t talk about work after work.” When working remotely, the number of situations in which you can talk to a co-worker about the current situation in the company, annoying project or Mark from the HR department, rubs zero or stays at zero level. So it’s normal that after work you talk to your loved one about problems and what frustrates you, just as you share your achievements. As for the latter, do it regularly.

However, there is a difference between the answer to the question “sweetheart, how was it at work?” you can hear after your work, and the chat you may have when you leave your home office for a short break. Such contact disturbs the boundary that you should build between work and private. Just as you do not answer private calls while you are at work, you should avoid talking to your household members while you are at work.

It was the problem I had to cope with the longest, was changing my family’s habits when, as a student, I was working from the attic of my family home. These were also different times, where remote work was more a scene of the movie rather than something ordinary, as is now (am I really that old?). When you are physically at home, for your family or housemates, you are “at home”. It means they can ask/say something or just call you because “something is happening”.

Talk to the household members that you work during these specific hours, it means as if you were not at home. Ask them for help in creating the right conditions for your work.

A couch-teleporter

Couch, sofa, corner – generally are made to rest. There is nothing about work or duties in this word. And let it stay that way. Mixing these two things is extremely dangerous and can even lead to depression. Just like in the case of “going to work”, physical separation of the place where you work from the space where you rest and spend time with your loved ones is not only a good practice but crucial to maintaining mental health.

If possible, arrange one room into an office, which you only enter when you start work and close it for good when you finish your job.

You are not alone on the Internet

Compulsive checking of social media by people who work from home, in my opinion, is not caused by boredom. I’m sure it’s a self-defence mechanism against alienation. We are social creatures, and it is normal that the longer we stay alone, the more we need contact with someone. Social media is the perfect substitute for a sense of belonging, so I am not surprised at all that remote workers are resorting to it and checking it up “what’s on Facebook”. At work, you can always talk over a coffee or a cigarette, exchange these five sentences while walking down the hall or leaving the job in the parking lot. Remote workers have these little pleasures amputated.

There are several techniques on how to deal with it, such as renting a desk in a co-working space, renting an office with other people who work remotely or, as I use it myself, jumping into a cafe to work among people for 4 hours and get such “social kick”.

If all of these things that I have described so far, this problem affects you the most, remote work may be simply not for you.

Uniform – what is your role

My friend, who is a Doctor, said that the best medicine for most of his patients’ problems is just seeing someone wearing an apron and a stethoscope. The authority of the person wearing the uniform is so significant that it can affect not only the behaviour of the other person but also their health. No prescription.

Sporting pyjamas is the worst idea ever, not because it is a lack of respect for what you do or your clients/co-workers. Just think what message you will send to yourself when you work in a crumpled shirt. Dressing correctly to do the job in your home office is one of the most natural things to do to separate two worlds.

Personally, I practice this method, and even though I work in the home office, I dress as if I would go to a meeting with the client. First of all, I feel better, I know what function I am into and no sudden video call is a surprise to me.

Get to work dressed as you would go to an office.

Clock in and clock out

If your work does not require constant communication with the team, then one of the dangers lurks around the corner that effectively deters you from remote work.

The end of the working day will be shifted when you decide to put personal things into your schedule. The house requires certain activities to be performed, and in some cases, it is better to do them during the day. This can result in benefits for two worlds. You have to remember that you have to do the work anyway, so the more you add to your todo list, the later you will log out of work. At the beginning it will be 6pm, then 7pm, and before you look around you will finish work late at night, feeling that you work at home longer than when you went to work at the office.

When starting work late, taking frequent breaks, you risk falling into the vortex of eternal work.

Do you watch Netflix on the laptop you work on?

This is partly a technical aspect, but I would like to mention it also in this part. It is challenging to have two separate equipment, but the best solution is to have a computer for work and private activities separately. However, if you want to take a laptop from the office to surf the Internet and work on something in your free time, create a separate account for it. Thanks to this, in your free time, you will not “accidentally” look at the email, you will not open your project files “by mistake”, and you will not disturb your peace of mind. A right solution is to use a separate browser for private purposes.

However, there is a bigger problem with the phone because it is a more personal tool. Sometimes we have to be reachable. These devices do not yet have extensive features that would allow you to set profiles so that it does not display email notifications from work over the weekend. In particular, it is difficult when we have many addresses connected to one email account, some more important, some less.

Why is this so important? Think about what you will do and what you will think about all weekend when on Friday evening you will receive an email from your client: “A new way of settlement …”.

I haven’t found a solution to this problem yet, although I’ve tried different things. At the moment I am trying to “redirect” my loved ones to a new phone number that only they know and keep the other people on the old phone number. I’m doing so well that I have 4 phones on my office desk… but weekends are a bit calmer.

Discipline is a good thing

Do not confuse discipline with monotony. Let’s collect it all: the right room, the right relationships with the housemates, compliance with the rules, the right attitude and separation of professional and private life. There is really a lot of it. In my opinion, if you want to work remotely for a long time and mentally feel well, you need to plan everything, set a plan and stick to it. Indeed, it can not always be realized in one hundred per cent, and there will always be a knock on the door, and you will be tempted to see who came – do not open when you are at work. Most likely it will be a person distributing leaflets, Jehovah’s Witnesses or just a neighbour that pops in. You know that you work during these hours and if someone would like to visit you now, he or she should be appointed during these hours.

Despite the many imperfections of the ideal remote work plan and the number of factors that you did not take into account, remember that you will work out everything over time and it will get better.

Change techniques and experiment what works best for you during remote work. Do it regularly.

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