Three Secrets of Home Office

Home office — everyone has an opinion about it.  And, as usual, those who are least affected, because their trade doesn’t allow them to work remotely or they simply don’t feel the need to leave the traditional workplace, are the ones who have the strongest opinions.

By now home office has become a central theme of our lives.  We were all thrown into it with life buoys and now have to sink or swim.  Most of us have already come to realize that working remotely is anything but easy.  It requires very special discipline which you first must master, and a routine that you will need to create from scratch.  If you haven’t had the need to do that before, and if you haven’t quite found the right rhythm for yourself yet, it’s no wonder you might have trouble working from home — it’s logical and it’s not your fault.

The first secret of home office

Home office is like money, sex or free time – you have to have a surplus of it in the long run to learn how to handle it properly.

Home office is difficult in that it requires:

  • self-discipline,
  • an established routine,
  • a habit that is not defined by the environment. 

What does that last one mean? We ingrain a lot of our habits in the environment where we do them.  For most of your career you have probably associated work with the office, and home with your personal life, i.e. “When I’m in the office, I work; when I’m at home, I try not to work.”  However, that dichotomy is over now and we find ourselves at home, in an environment we equate with family and free time, but in need of a completely different behavior.  No wonder it’s causing everyone trouble!

Home office is also difficult because:

  •  you lack the support of colleagues in the office — we often work better when there are people around who are also working,
  • your established schedule has fallen apart,
  • you can’t use another work environment for work.  (Many freelancers have always gone to work in cafes, teahouses, shared spaces, … but that’s not possible now. The current situation is thereby difficult even for longtime freelancers.

The home office we were thrown into is the most difficult because:

  • it happens exceptionally, and one tends to watch the news more than usual,
  • the family is at home,
  • the temptation to go outside is strong.

We were thrown into the deep end without preparation.  Now the media is full of dozens of tips on how best to work remotely.  Feel free to try any and all of them, but in the end you will still have to find your own way. 

The second big secret of home office

Home office is like losing weight: besides a few basics, everyone is different and something a little different will work for everyone.

I realize that this statement may not be what you hoped to hear, because people often want quick, simple solutions.  If I were the kind of advisor you find on YouTube, I’d say things like: “Keep the regimen as if you were in the office,” “Eat lunch in a different room than where you work,” “Buy a nice vase for the table,” etc.  But in the end you must face the fact that only you can figure out the system that is most efficient and effective for you.

Thinking tips for employees 

Don’t look at the current situation as something that needs to be endured with clenched teeth. Think of it as a fantastic way to get a whole new skill: the ability to work from anywhere. If your employer gave you one day of home office a week, it would take a long time to settle into a routine, so you now have a chance to master it much sooner. Despite all the difficulties, the situation is positive and should be seen as a challenge, not a complication.

You need to create a new routine – it will take some trial and error. Don’t be nervous when you fail, and don’t be angry at yourself when you find out that you are not as efficient as in the office; that would be expecting the impossible. It takes many freelancers up to a year to set up a work routine that suits them and is efficient enough at the same time. Don’t expect that you can do this in just a few days.

The first rule of working from home is to maintain boundaries with your family very vigorously – but you’ve probably figured that out, haven’t you? Honestly, setting and keeping boundaries with your loved ones who think that when you are at home then you are always available for them, this may be the hardest thing now. I keep my fingers crossed that there is no advice on this. (I’m not sure what she means.  “I don’t believe there is any one way to handle this situation”?  Or “I keep my fingers crossed that you can do this without hurting anyone’s feelings”?) 

Try different work systems. You can try sticking to what you know from the office: I’ll sit down at 8:00, I’ll finish at 5:00, and I’ll have lunch somewhere in between. But for many reasons, this may not work for you at home. Don’t panic! Just try out another system. Perhaps you could work for three hours in the morning, take a break; work three hours after lunch, and three in the evening.  You may even find that you work best at night … try it!

Whenever you can, be absolutely open with your superior. If working from home is simply impossible, tell them.  Only then can you find a way around the problem together.

Even in the office, there are days when you don’t get much done, and there are those when you go full on: one hundred and ten percent. Be prepared for this difference to be even greater at home. The temptation towards laziness will be even stronger, but so might tendencies to manic attacks of workaholism as well.  

What if you are feeling incredibly unmotivated on a day when you cannot afford to be unproductive? Sit down and work for 10 minutes. Ten minutes is MUST. Work for ten minutes, then get up and do other things. Then sit down and work for 15 minutes. At least accomplish something. Don’t worry, this feeling will pass and you will get into the rhythm of work again. It always passes.

When it’s possible, create new functional rituals, both personal (coffee at the exact time, a ten-minute walk after two hours of work, etc.) and with the team (joint online lunch, ten-minute morning meetings, etc.). This will help you give structure to your day that is more fun when you work from home rather than in the office.

There are a lot of methods, applications, and tools to work in the home office. Check out Brain fm applications, white noise or noise-canceling headphones, time boxing method, Pomodoro technique … you know lots of these already.  If you need new ideas, search! 

Thinking tips for leaders

Come to terms with the fact that your employees’ productivity will decrease. At best, it will only be for a while, perhaps for the first few days / weeks; at worst it will last the entire time of this forced home office. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s the result of the situation we find ourselves in.

Try to create a genuine atmosphere of openness so that employees can honestly tell you if they really can’t do the job at home. It’s better to admit that you can concentrate at home only in the mornings (so you can look for ways to improve it together) than to pretend to be working full-time.

Prioritize — determine which tasks are urgent and what can wait. Some things definitely must be handled immediately, but others can wait.

Agree on when your colleagues and employees will be available for contact (for example, 9:00-16:00, Monday – Friday), but try not to insist on normal working hours. Let your people find their own functional work system that may be different at home than at the office.

In the current situation, it is not so important how many hours people work, but what they get done. If they complete their assigned tasks, it doesn’t matter that they finished them in half the time. (Honestly – if that’s the case, congratulations, you have a great team.)  Nor does it matter whether they worked on them at noon or at midnight; they got the job done at the time that worked best for them, and that’s really what matters most.

There are some people who work great in the office but fail completely at home; they just don’t have the right environment, or they simply require the kind of structure that the office provides. If this happens, try to consider if they can do something completely different for a few days (sewing masks, volunteering in a center …). This is extreme, I admit, but in the current situation, this is better than having stressed and unproductive workers who don’t feel they have anything to offer.   The current crisis could last significantly longer than we all hope. As the number of weeks at home increases, so will the mood and performance of everyone – prepare for it, at least in your head, as an opportunity that may arise.

And finally, trust your workers. If you have quality people in your team, they will look for ways to work productively and effectively away from the office.  As they say, Seek and you will find. 

The third big secret of home office

Home office is not a bonus, nor a penalty; it isn’t a godsend nor a punishment.  It is just reality.

That being said, remote working can be a fantastic tool to strengthen your company, increase its competitiveness and expand the range of skills among your employees. Imagine that all your people are able to perform 100% of their work from any place, in any situation. They have already developed the habits, they’ve established a work routine and they are aware of the need for self-discipline to work remotely or in the office. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Work on it – now we have a unique opportunity! Because it turns out that companies whose employees will be able to work from anywhere will gain a unique competitive advantage and, in the end, will not be threatened by all sorts of crises, but will be stronger than ever.

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