A year ago this month I was RIFfed from my long-standing corporate job. Oh, RIF? It means Reduction In Force. According to .gov layoffs are called reduction in force (RIF) actions. In other words, when an agency must abolish positions, the RIF regulations determine whether an employee keeps his or her present position, or whether the employee has a right to a different position. All fancy talk for a year ago this month I got the boot. I wasn’t needed any longer. Truth is I had been contemplating leaving the corporate environment for a while anyway. I had already built up a few private clients and felt strongly like I could work from home and still pay the bills. Don’t get me wrong. I never thought it would be about working form the comfort of my couch or going in to work at 11am and getting off around 2pm. I knew it would be challenging. But maybe I wasn’t facing the facts of just how challenging.
CONFESSION: I have been a remote employee for the better part of my professional career. I have maintained a home office and kept regular hours just as I would at a corporate office. I was logged in by 9am. I didn’t take extraneous or long breaks for coffee or the occasional episode of Price is Right. I often stayed in the office past 5pm and the in between hours were filled with conference calls, video messaging, group project work (via Google tools, etc), and other various tasks. Other than the fact that I was in basketball shorts almost every day, I was still surrounded by the noise of an office. And so perhaps that was the hardest things to adjust to. My days had become so quiet. Save for my 5-year old daughter occasionally wondering down to the office, I hardly heard more then the whir of my laptop processor fan. Within the first two weeks I realized that it takes a certain “toolkit” to work from home and to work away from any semblance of a corporate environment.
So here’s what I have learned in the last year.
FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS
Just because you can keep Facebook open 24/7 doesn’t mean you have to answer every private message that comes in. You’ve got to learn to resist the constant emails and message. You must stay on task. Distraction is everywhere in the home office. Unlike an away-from-home office, you have the ability at home to hit the fridge every hour, on the hour. RESIST! Stick to your two-cup-a-day habit and keep a water bottle on your desk so you aren’t tempted to get up for ever a few minutes.
I also find the days I conduct myself professionally to be my most productive days. I shower. I shave. I get dressed. Being prepared to “go” to work helps me transition from home time to work time much easier.
Don’t let your desk get cluttered. Keep your mail sorted. Take dirty dishes to the sink or dishwasher daily. Don’t become a post-it note depository. Empty your trashcan regularly. I have found that keeping a small white board at my desk helps me stay infinitely organized. I can make to-do lists, jot down ideas, and even plot deadlines. Just take the time to find what works best for you and stick with it.
Working in a corporate environment means a daily diet of conversation and banter. You interact with *gasp* other adults! When I first started working from home, for myself, I found that I spent more time talking about 5-year old topics than anything else. Since then I have relished building relationships with clients, my next door neighbor, and even the post office lady. I don’t bore them or monopolize their time but I do take that extra second to listen to them and converse with them. It is so important to stay involved with the world around you.
Congratulations! You can now spend long hours playing Farmville or other random games. There is no boss to walk in on you. There is no colleague to rat you out. Heck, you can even take the day off to see an early afternoon movie at the cinema. But if you want to be successful even in this working situation you have to keep yourself motivated. Give yourself goals. I have alarms set on my calendar that help me maintain weekly, daily, and sometime hourly goals. My productivity runs parallel to my happiness.
STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES
Above all, see the fortunate in such a unique work scenario. When it is time to work, work. Work hard! Stay focused and keep your goals prioritized. But when it is time to clock out and play. Play hard! Remember, the goal is to work to live, not live to work.
What is your experience working from home? Have you ever had such a position? Are you currently pursuing one? What would you do if you could work from home?