The best part about working from home is that you don’t have to leave your house and the worst part about working from home is that you never leave the office. You have to make your coworkers feel like you are available when they need you, but you can’t do that at the expense of your happiness or your family. Having a life outside of work is not only enjoyable, it is necessary. You have to spend some time unwinding and pursuing goals outside of work. If you don’t find time to relax, you will start to burn out and your work will suffer.
Keep Your Promises
Do your best to be available when you say you will be. Be available to your coworkers when it is time to work, and be available to your family and yourself when it is time to stop working. Coworkers will always contact you outside of your scheduled working time. This is especially true if you are working with people in other time zones. Nobody means to be impolite; they just forget about the time difference.
Make sure you display your status somewhere your team can see it. IM and IRC are good tools for reporting your status. When you are away let your team know that you are away. When people send you messages you let them wait a little while for a response. Screen your calls. Keep a separate phone line for work, or use caller ID. Remember that you can always call them back later.
Flexibility vs. Accountability
Flexible hours is a big part of what makes working from home great. You can get your work done on a schedule that works for you. The cost of flexibility is a lack of collaboration. If nobody knows when you will be working then they don’t know when to contact you.
Establish business hours. They don’t have to be eight hours every day and they don’t have to be planned out to the last minute. The goal is to set consistent expectations about when your team can contact you and when they can’t. Make it easy for your coworkers; make it clear that they aren’t disturbing you. Setting a schedule during the day can be very helpful.
Your schedule is an informal guide, not a rigid template. The key is consistency and setting expectations. Make it easy for your team to remember your schedule. Remembering that you work in the mornings is much easier than having to look up your current status.
Getting Away For A Little While
The schedule helps your team, but it also helps you. When you start working from home you may never stop working. You start early in the morning, close the door, and spend the day without coworkers walking over to ask you questions. It feels great to get so much work done and you work late into the evening most days. It is fine to keep this schedule occasionally, but it isn’t sustainable. Use your schedule to help you take breaks. It is important to make time to get away from work every day.
Move. Don’t sit in front of the computer all day. Get up and move around. Take a walk, go out for lunch, sit in the park for a little while. Make exercise and basic movement a part of every day. Find a little time to stretch.
Get away for an hour every day and get up and move at least once every hour. Take a quick walk around your house or just stand up and stretch.
In the office there is a pressure to always look busy. Most projects have busy times and slow times, but looking like you don’t have enough work can be a liabiliy. Many offices have pool tables, ping-pong, and other games, but they also have a feeling that those games are for lunch time or after work. This is unfortunate since distractions help you be more productive.
You never need to look busy when you work remotely. Your boss won’t walk past your cubicle and see you doing some idle Internet browsing. Take a break. Get out of your home office and get distracted. Run errands, put a basketball hoop outside your house, or read a book. Planning time for distractions helps you stay focused during work time.
Vacations from work are important, but taking a vacation when you are remote can be scary. What if I go away and nobody notices? What if someone tries to contact me and doesn’t realize I am away? The solution is to plan your vacation ahead of time and notify everyone you can think of about your upcoming break. If your company uses a shared calendar then list your vacation time. Make it easy for people to know that you are away. Once again, it is all about setting expectations.
Finding a decent work/life balance is the only way to make working from home a long-term solution. Don’t wait for that big project to end. Make spending time away from work part of every day.