How to adjust to working from home

Daniel Adams shows off his home office.
Daniel Adams

Work at home tips

• create a space for working

• stay motivated

• manage distractions

• connect with associates and clients through messaging and phone calls

• keep set work hours

• maintain a routine

• don’t work too much

• take breaks

It’s the new (temporary) normal — more people than ever are working from home.

Those who are new to putting on their power suit and going to work in the laundry room might benefit from the experience of those who have been doing so for years.

One of the first hurdles is creating space to work. Daniel Adams, product manager for software company e-Courier, has worked from his New Castle home for more than 10 years. He recommends carving out whatever space you can and calling it an office. “Have a set work space. … Some people are limited to their kitchen table during these times, so just make sure to have a dining and working space on the table,” he said.

Doug Winter of Glenwood Springs has been working at home for about four years doing environmental remediation work for an engineering consulting company. He said ergonomics are very important, and it’s worthwhile getting everything set up well before getting down to business.

Even with space to work, it might be difficult to stay motivated when no one is peering over your shoulder. “We all have days that we struggle to work no matter what we do. I like lists on those days so I make sure to have some focus on what I need to do next,” Adams said.

“I have to account for my time in 15-minute increments to be honest about how much I get paid, and getting a paycheck is pretty good motivation,” Winter said. Beyond that, “I look forward to my personal time. I’m motivated to be efficient so I can enjoy my free time.”

Most people new to working from home will have to learn to minimize or at least cope with distractions, and there may be some family training involved. Winter said he and his wife have a good understanding. “We don’t interrupt each other when we’re on the phone, we work in separate offices in the house, and when the door is closed it’s a good indication that you’re not available.”

“A good set of headphones and tunes can keep a lot of the outside world outside,” Adams said.

Winter added, “Pets can be distracting, which is another reason having an office door is helpful.”

Working at home isn’t the end of social interaction. Adams said, “Being remote doesn’t mean that you don’t have a personal relationship with the people you work with. If your office is new make sure you have a virtual water cooler and touch base with each other. Slack, Skype or any of the messaging tools offer a great way to just say, ‘Hello, how are you,’ to your office mates even if they are not physically close.”

Face-to-face interactions, as so many are doing lately with Zoom, provide both social and professional feedback. “Many virtual companies make sure that people turn their cameras on during meetings so everyone gets the non-verbal communications that occur as well,” Adams said.

Winter recommends simply making a phone call instead of sending an email. “It gives you the chance to chat,” he said.

It’s also valuable to keep work time separate from home time and to maintain a routine. “Have working hours — clock in at 8, clock out at 5, and try to limit the other things you’re doing during that time. Have office hours and other times when you’re not working,” Winter said.

And try not to work too much, either. “It’s easy to get excited and work all hours and every day. If I’m working on a weekend I try to make sure I ask myself if it’s really something that needs done or if it can wait until Monday,” Adams said.

One thing that’s similar to working in an office is setting a break schedule to stay fresh and getting some exercise throughout the day, Adams said. Winter recommends a change of scenery every so often. “I take lunch away from my computer and stare at the clouds for half an hour.”

The current work-at-home trend could be good for businesses. Both Winter and Adams said they are more productive working from home. “On personal tasks I seem to be able to focus more. Many times in an office there is lots of waiting. Little things like walking to the conference room and being a couple of minutes early to each meeting just add up over the course of a day,” Adams said.

Working from home offers opportunities for increased productivity in other ways as well. With members of Integrated Mountain Group working from home when possible, Bob Johnson, founder and executive vice president of Integrated Mountain Management, said, “People are saying they are doing well multitasking by completing office work and keeping up on laundry all in the same day.”

Adams has had a similar experience. “After a couple of years working at home my wife started the phrase ‘laundry is the new coffee break’ because she would use that as her excuse to get up and move every couple of hours,” he said.

Winter, on the other hand, recommended not doing other chores during the day in order to stay focused on the work at hand.

Due to COVID-19 some workers are forced to stay at home at a time when they need to be home anyway. “A big benefit in many cases is companies will also let you manage your schedule with more flexibility when you are remote. Right now that’s important because our child care closed, and now my wife and I share the need to get our day jobs done and be parents,” Adams said.

So change out of your PJs, get a cuppa Joe and think of all the time and money you’re saving by not commuting.

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