10 Ways to Prepare for Telecommuting Agency Life
When I started here at Mediacurrent it was my fourth job I’ve had doing development. However,it’s the first I’ve had in my career where I’m not the only developer in the company. This is also my first job working from home instead of in an office. Needless to say, it has been quite the change from what I am used to in a normal work day. After my first 90 days on the job, these are the things I wish I had known from the start.
1. You may be at home but you will be working! (no honey I can’t go mow the lawn now)
Most people think when you work from home that you have the flexibility to do whatever you want during the day and work whenever you feel like. While it does offer you some flexibility to shift your time around a bit, the majority of your time should still be done during regular business hours. One of the biggest assets an agency has is its team and if everyone worked whenever they felt like it, it would be difficult for questions to be answered, meetings to be had, or to know when tasks will be done. So don’t go into working from home thinking you can work 3am to 7am then sleep till 4pm and continue your work day from there. If you aren’t available to your team during the day it’s a detriment to yourself, your team and your clients.
2. Have a routine (wash, rinse, repeat)
Part of making the mental disconnect between work and home life is having set routines to start and stop your work day. I always get up, shower, get dressed and move to the living room with my laptop for the first few hours of the day. Since my office space also happens to be in a nook in my bedroom, this break from that room allows me to disconnect from sleep time to work time.
When my work day finishes I am sure to shut off the lights in my office space and try to avoid going back over to that area. I also do not use the company laptop unless I’m actively working. This keeps me from sliding back into doing more work without thinking about it.
3. Have a dedicated work space (even if you don’t always use it)
Working from home allows you to work anywhere there’s internet, which is a great benefit. That said, it still helps to have a home base from which to work from. Having a consistent work environment helps keep you focused.
Make your space comfortable. It’s worth it to spend a little extra on a quality chair as you will be spending at least 2,096 hours a year working! (262 work days * 8 hours a day = 2,096 hours! Holy Cow!) So with that in mind, if you spend $300 on a chair you’re really only paying fourteen cents an hour for that chair. Pretty sure your back is worth that.
Another added benefit of a dedicated work space is you can claim the space as a tax deduction. You can claim a portion of your mortgage or rent, insurance, and utility bills as long as the space in your house is solely used for your work.
4. Get a good pair of headphones with a mic (can you hear me now?)
If you are going to be working from home, chances are you will be in meetings almost every work day . Most laptops now have built in webcams with microphones attached, however, these typically sound terrible and can make conference calls a less than pleasant experience (noisy environments, quiet talking, and feedback looped audio aren’t fun to listen to). Having a pair of comfortable headphones with a microphone make conference calls easier both on your hearing and on the hearing of others. They are worth the investment.
5. Limit Distractions (oooh look! A top ten list!)
With no one looking over your shoulder it can be easy to turn on the tv, browse the internet or see all the chores around the house that need to be done. Mario, another Mediacurrent developer, discusses in his post - Working from home, a year later, that his first attempt at working from home wasn’t successful because he couldn’t get himself away from the distractions. When he got himself a dedicated work space, made a routine, and kept distractions to a minimum was when he finally found a successful formula for making telecommuting work for him.
6. Keep an accurate time log (what was it I worked on that last Tuesday of July. . .)
Staying organized and keeping track of your work on your own is one of the more important things I have learned to do while working in a fast paced job. Not only does it help me to stay on task during the day but if there ever comes a time where I need to know what I worked on and when I worked on it, I always have accurate notes to look back on.
For my tracking, I create a new spreadsheet monthly in Google Sheets. I then use one sheet in the spreadsheet for each week. Each sheet is then divided into days, with two columns per row. The first column I use to put the ticket I’m working on and any notes for that ticket and the second column I place the exact time span I worked on that ticket and the duration I worked on that ticket i.e. 45m (9:30 - 10:15). Then each row I color code based on what project the work went to.
7. Don’t Stay Stuck (PC Load Letter?! What does that mean?)
When you get to a point on a ticket where you can’t find a path forward, it’s time to address the situation. If you find yourself stuck with no way forward and it is to a point that with the estimated time left you fear you won’t be able to finish, it’s time to raise a red flag to your team that you have hit a roadblock. Before you reach out though be sure you’ve done as much as you can with researching and looking it over yourself. It is great to have the team as an asset but they should not be relied on to do your googling for you. As you ask your question, be sure to include any steps or attempts you have already made so they know what you have already tried. The more detail you can provide the better chance you have of getting the answer you need. Remember it’s better for both our company and the client to just ask for help and have a ten minute conversation than be stuck on something for a few hours.
8. You aren’t alone out there! (reach out and touch someone)
I would argue that the relationship building could very well be the biggest thing. You're not in an office and visible for accidental communication and interaction, so you have to make a conscious effort to be involved. I had a lot of trouble feeling like an active participant in the "office community" until I got to know more people outside of just the project conversations. Also, with the more limited bandwidth for communication it's much easier to present a facade of how you think people expect you to behave. If you can get past this and present yourself more personally and realistically then you can build those relationships much more easily and genuinely. Building personal work relationships makes you feel more invested in the company as a whole which makes putting in the hours that much easier.
9. Create personal goals (better, faster, stronger)
Personal growth is important and should be part of your work week. Whether it’s taking time to learn a new skill or volunteering for tasks you would find challenging, taking the initiative to better yourself increases your chances of upward mobility and job satisfaction. Set monthly goals and assign tasks to yourself for each week to accomplish. It’s easy to only set yearly goals with no set date for when you will do them as most likely, you won’t. When you set yearly goals, like “I want to be complete the Acquia Dev Certification this year” set sub goals that you can accomplish that will set you on the path to your larger goal. Set dates on your calendar for when you expect to accomplish those sub tasks. Taking the time to map out goals makes them attainable and no longer just wishful thinking.
10. Limit your day and avoid burnout (if I have to look at one more line of code. . .)
While it’s important you are getting your work done within estimates, it is also important that you don’t get burned out while doing it. Contrary to what you may think, no one at your job wants to see your personal life suffer. Yes we will need to work late sometimes and yes our clients need to be happy. That being said, if you reach burn out, it benefits no one. Not the company, not our clients and most important not you. It can be tempting when you are working to not stop and continue on even though your resourced hours for the day are used up, or to check slack after the work day is finished, however taking that break oftentimes allows for answers to questions to come to you that you otherwise wouldn’t have found. I can’t count the amount of times I spent hours on a problem only to sleep on it and find the answer within the first thirty minutes of my work day. A brain is just a computer and it needs a reset sometimes.
Working from home can be quite satisfying if you can learn to adjust to it. No more fighting traffic or having to sit in a tiny cubicle anymore are reasons enough to give it a shot. It will take effort though on your part to make it work. You have to be able to self-motivate, stay on task, and stay organized without someone keeping direct tabs on you. For some that could be too much of a challenge but at least for me, it would be hard to ever go back to a traditional, on-site office.