I began working remotely in May of 2018 from the comfort of my brand new apartment in Lakewood, Colorado. I had been working in an office environment for nearly 15 years and I figured that working from home would be a seamless adjustment. After all, work is work, right?
Well, I was wrong about that. More than two years later, as a large portion of America’s workforce is working from home, I thought I might help with some hard-learned lessons about working remotely.
1. Get curious and proactive about IT.
When you work from home, you can’t just walk over to the IT department with your laptop that is acting wonky, or with your phone that isn’t accessing Outlook like it is supposed to. It is easy to ask for help with these things while you’re in the office.
The first few months of working from home, I was still in the mindset of IT taking the lead on all my technology. Then one day I came home from a lunch hour run and my docking station had stopped working. I was about to open a Help Desk ticket, but then I paused. Could I figure this out myself?
After unplugging and reconnecting all the wires, it worked! It was a small win, but I felt empowered!
Next came the printer. I hesitated to even take it out of the box due to its size, and assumed it would be complicated. It wasn’t!
I also had internet challenges, particularly on windy days. My Skype meetings would be choppy at best which, of course, made it hard to get the information I needed or deliver the information I needed to contribute. After some troubleshooting, I learned that on windy days I should just use my cell phone for a hotspot and it worked better!
I still contact IT for things that are more complicated, but it’s good to know that I can figure some of the low hanging fruit out myself.
2. Get fresh air!
When I set up my first home office, I wanted discipline. I didn’t want the distraction of seeing anything outside, so I set up my desk to face a blank wall in the corner of my dining room. I needed to align my intention and surroundings for optimal concentration! Right?
I smile when thinking about my attempt to isolate myself in a bubble, immune to the call of the Rocky Mountains. Eventually, 18 months later, I learned this wasn’t very helpful.
What happened that finally changed my outlook? My senior manager asked me to work on a project unlike any other I have worked on here at First Business. As I tried to strong arm my way through thinking creatively, I kept getting stuck. The creative juices refused to flow.
Finally, I decided to try something really different. There was a park about 20 minutes away that had a really beautiful shelter on an overlook with a great view of the mountains. I decided to make that my office for a day and see what happened. And guess what — I had a breakthrough! That was my most enjoyable, and definitely one of my most productive, days of creative thinking I have ever had. The fresh air and change in scenery really helped me to think differently, which is a benefit of working remotely. You can work from places other than your desk and you can get fresh air, both healthy things you often can’t get in the office. These can really get your brain firing in a new way!
3. Personalize your space.
Early in my banking career, I was in a traditional office and I really wanted my workspace to smell nice. I thought that maybe an oil diffuser or even a plug-in would work. I was talking about this to my co-worker when my supervisor overheard us and said it wasn’t allowed. Some people are sensitive to smell, and I understood the reasoning for not allowing scents at work.
As I mentioned earlier, when I started working from home I initially made my workspace as similar to my old office space as possible, including no nice-smelling goodness. A few months later, something reminded me of that plug-in I had talked about years earlier. I nearly slapped my own forehead when I realized: this is my workspace now and I can set it up however I like! That night I went to Bath & Body Works and came home fully prepared for a great-smelling workspace.
When we work from home, we can set up our environments conducive to us and what makes us feel good. Smelling nice things is soothing to me and makes me happy! I also worked in silence for the first year before it dawned on me that having some sort of music in the background would be nice. I didn’t do that in the office because some people may not like my musical choices, but now I was the only person who would hear it! Now, whenever I want to, I listen to hippie woo-woo music in the background. It gives my day an entirely new vibe!
4. Working remotely is a great way to work on new healthy habits.
We’ve all experienced it – a tray of cookies in the breakroom, a potluck with all kinds of cheesy goodness for a department celebration, sugary soda calling from the breakroom at 3pm. My personal downfall when working in the office was cookies. I could not summon the will power to say no to a cookie. After all, it’s just one cookie, right? Right.
After a few months working from home, I realized how nice it was not to be tempted by the food around the office. I felt better, had more consistent energy, and naturally made better choices because I chose the food that was around me — not someone else’s food.
Like I said in lesson #3, we can create our own personal environments when we work from home, and we can use this to our advantage! Knowing that we won’t be tempted by yet another cookie exchange or birthday cake means that we can set ourselves up for success to build healthier habits. We can’t eat the birthday cake when it’s not in our house, right? Right!
Adapting to remote work was a process for me, and honestly, it still is. Most recently, I set out a yoga mat in my office that is always there so it’s easy to take a quick stretch or down dog between tasks. It has been fun seeing more of my co-workers navigate remote work for the first time, although now some are returning slowly to their offices. I think finding out what makes you productive and happy while working outside of the office can only increase your productivity and happiness when you’re in the office. (Those cookies!)