As communities are dealing with the spread of COVID-19, remote work is a new or growing reality for many. Working from home has been the norm for me since 2013, so I thought that I would share my own experience. Admittedly, my circumstances for jumping in were very different from those driving many to do so now, but hopefully this will be helpful, and maybe add a little levity to your day.
I started working from home when I left my employer to pursue a startup idea and work as an independent consultant in parallel. My daily activities were tailor-made for remote work: lots of time on the computer, lots of time on the phone, face-to-face meetings not needed on a daily basis, some travel. We had an extra room in the house used for storage, and it became my office. (It remained a place for storage for a bit, as I didn’t need a lot of space). I was setting my own schedule until I became an employee of Cureo in 2018.
At the time, my wife had a stable job as a nurse practitioner, my children were both in school (ages 10 and 6), and we had help from my mother-in-law. Without those things being true, I may not have taken the path that I did. It is still difficult for me to imagine working from home with younger kids. God bless everyone proving that it can be done.
Here are a few relevant elements of my personality:
- I am more of an introvert than an extrovert, but I enjoy working collaboratively and creatively with others on solving problems
- Self-discipline and focus are strengths
- These strengths can at times get in the way of dealing with important things going on around me
Discipline of working
At first, this wasn’t difficult for me. The anxiety associated with my new circumstances was strong enough to motivate me to work. It took a while, but I eventually became comfortable with those uncertainties. It was then that the discipline of working became more of a challenge. There were more times during the day and during the week that I questioned the merits of working vs exercising vs family time vs taking a nap. For sure, there were days (weeks), that I probably should have worked more than I did. I would say it took me a year or so to get comfortable with managing this appropriately on a regular basis.
The ability to set my own schedule has its benefits and drawbacks. Much of my work as an independent consultant could be done at any time (research, analysis, developing presentations/reports), so it was great to be able to work at night, on weekends, etc, and adjust my schedule as circumstances changed at home. The downside was that there was always that annoying feeling that I could/should be working at any time.
Some will say that one of the more difficult challenges of working from home is the lack of in-person contact with others, especially peers at work. Two issues are often cited:
- Creative/collaborative work suffers
- Lack of personal contact makes people feel isolated
Regarding creativity/collaboration, conversations with colleagues and clients definitely suffered at times because we weren’t face-to-face. I adjusted my communications strategies as I learned some of the pitfalls. Also, in my opinion, nothing beats people in a room with a whiteboard for working through a problem, so progress seemed to be slower when group problem solving was done remotely. But I made the effort to get in a room with others when it was practical and clearly needed.
Regarding feeling isolated, there were times (especially in the middle of winter) when more personal interaction would have improved my mood. But I haven’t found that to be a major factor in my disposition on a daily basis. My introversion plays into this, but the nature of my work (working with clients, peers) and having people at home (including my in-laws, for the last 4 years) also have an impact.
A standard laptop/desktop, wireless connection, headphones, and a phone have been all the hardware that I have needed. Cureo, Skype, email, Google Drive, and Zoom have been my collaboration tools of choice for working with my peers, clients, and partners. The biggest challenges were finding the right tools for my work, getting used to using them, and in some cases getting people that I work with to also use them.
Impact on career
Career impact is an important consideration for employees of an organization, as the advice is that if you aren’t face-to-face with your manager and her peers and managers, you are more likely to miss out on advancement opportunities and important conversations. As an independent consultant, this wasn’t an issue for me. In my time with Cureo (going on 2 years) it hasn’t been an issue, largely because leadership has been comfortable with remote work for some time.
When distractions arise that I can ignore, I generally do well at staying focused. I don’t do as well with managing distractions that I can’t ignore. These include:
- Dog barking loudly and incessantly until the Amazon delivery guy is 3 miles away
- Kids’ schedules changing at the last minute
- Kids/wife yelling or barging into the office because they forget/ignore that I am “at work”, often requiring me to convince them that I am, in fact, working
Of course, there are some distractions that I can ignore that can also be a problem:
- A sunny day, which can be a rarity in Northeast Ohio
- March Madness games going from noon to midnight (sigh)
- Noise and activity around the house while kids are home, whether after school, on weekends/holidays, and especially during the summer
As my wife and kids like to remind me, I almost always have the option of going to work elsewhere. My favorites are the library, coffee shop, or a turnpike rest stop just around the corner that is open 24-7. Sometimes, I choose one of these options, often just for a change of scenery. But I find myself working from home for the most part.
This is where I believe that I will look back on my time working from home and be most grateful. Being home makes my wife’s days more manageable, as she’s often out the door by 5:30 am before the kids are off to school and back home after 6. My mother-in-law is also a major cog in keeping the household working.
Also, I hope that it gives my wife more peace of mind regarding her parents. They live with us as a result of some medical issues, and I can be helpful to them when I don’t overdo it with my tendency toward being oblivious to my environment.
Lastly, being around makes me feel more a part of my kids’ lives. I am in a better position to go to their events, take a break with them, talk with them during a drive, help them with school/peers, etc.
That’s my story. I will end with the most important piece of advice that I can give. TRIPLE CHECK that you have your video set to “off” heading into a web conference on days that you haven’t gotten “ready” for work.