I’ve Been Working From Home for 4 Years, and Here’s What I’ve Learned

How to stay focused and productive when you're forced into the work-from-home world

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I’ve been working from home for 4 years now, and suddenly much of the world is joining me. People seem to be groping to figure out how to make this work, especially as the possibility grows that this becomes the default way that white collar work gets done for the foreseeable future. Most of the advice I’ve read about remote work, however, has either been actively awful or focused on secondary issues. So I’d like to offer my thoughts on how to be successful when you’re forced into the work-from-home world.

1) Over-deliver on what really matters. 

Some people have a hard time separating critical tasks from the busy work, and being in an office makes this easy to do. You spend all day bouncing between meetings and don’t realize how little you’ve actually done because you felt busy. But no one is going to think you’re busy if you dial in to 12 meetings a day, and it will be increasingly obvious if you’re not actually doing anything to advance the actual goals of the business. So figure out what you do that’s really important to the success of your company, and do that really well.

2) Carve out daily productivity time. 

You’re going to be more distracted than you are used to being, if only because the social pressure not to slack off is greatly diminished. So figure out how to have a daily two hour block where you aren’t distracted and can really churn on those key tasks you’ve identified. Send your perfunctory emails early in the morning when you’re half awake, or over the sad lunch you made from whatever five ingredients were left at your picked-over grocery store. (I kid!) But have that one block of time where you really go deep on work. Even if you feel like the rest of the day was a mess, you’ll probably do more than the 90% of people who don’t dedicate that time.

3) Accept the mess. 

If you worry about your kid bursting in during a conference call, or feel guilty that you were doing laundry when your boss called, you’re doing this wrong. The blessing and curse of working from home is that the lines between personal life and professional life are blurred. That means you can exercise during lunch time, but it also means you’re probably going to be reviewing a document while you’re making dinner. The office creates a bright line between work and home. That’s gone for now, and you have to learn to live with that rather than pretend it isn’t true.

4) Be gracious, but be clear. 

This one is particularly important for managers. You can’t manage the same way when you can’t see what a person’s doing most of the time, and you can’t do the “swing by” to get a raw sense of what your subordinate is up to. If you’re flying blind, there can be a tendency to overreact and try to control the details in a way that adds stress without solving anything. Instead, try accepting that everyone is adapting, and there are bound to be hiccups. Don’t sweat it if people don’t perform perfectly, especially early on. However, be very clear about what is critical to success and hold people accountable to deliver on those items.

For people that like the structure and camaraderie of the office, this is a difficult time. I’ve always been a bit introverted, so remote work suits me pretty well. If you’re of that disposition, remember that not everyone is, and be supportive of your colleagues who may struggle more with this change. Finally, if want to talk about working from home or need any more specific advice, do feel free to reach out.

Originally published on LinkedIn.com

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