Emotions and Remote Work

If you work from home you probably already know about all of the benefits and pitfalls that come with working in the same place that you sleep, eat, and relax. Sometimes it’s pretty great to be able to wake up, stagger to the kitchen for coffee, and then stagger back to your desk to start your day. Other times it seems like you’re stuck in place, and it’s that feeling of being stuck that can significantly impact your work performance. It doesn’t matter how great the positive aspects of working from home are if you feel like you’re trapped. You can have fantastic days where your output is almost unbelievable, and yet you’ll still feel like the day was a loss. You can have days where your output is almost negative and feel almost the same, and that is the heart of the issue. You’re working from home to increase output and job satisfaction, so once it starts to look like that might not be working you need to find new solutions, and fast.

I’ve been working from my home office for almost two years now, and in that time I’ve run the entire emotional gamut. I’ve been ecstatic about the opportunity, comfortable in my decisions on when to bother putting on pants, happy to see my kids come in the office door to tell me something interesting about their day, annoyed when my kids come in the office door to tell me something interesting about their day…and increasingly disconnected. I’m probably more connected to my family and home than ever before, which is an amazing thing, but I’m increasingly disconnected from friends and my community. It seems like that’s quickly become a significant issue for me, but it might have been creeping up longer than I realize.

Maybe you’re just getting settled into a role where you work remotely, or maybe you’ve been doing it for a lot longer than I, but either way you’re going to experience many of the same emotions and concerns during your homebound adventure.  Let’s talk about some things that I’ve learned to help get you out of the ruts.

Vary Your Workspace

Just like in an office building, sometimes you need to mix up your workspace to help spark new creativity and ideas. Coming into a room that looks exactly the same every day for months or years is not conducive to energizing your work or helping you think outside the box. Rearrange your desk, add a new item, take something away, change the direction your desk faces, add some plants, the list of small inexpensive changes you can make is almost endless. You’ll be surprised how just the smallest changes can help make things feel new, if only for a little while.

Don’t get dependent on co-working locations or coffee shops to provide you with variety. It’s a good idea to make a trip to a new work location at least once a week, but it needs to be on the day you have the most flexibility with your schedule. If you’ve got a ton of calls and important notes to review then it’s not a great day to be sitting next to the college kid telling you all about his new app idea even though you haven’t responded to anything he’s said for several minutes. Just try to be smart about your out-of-office-but-still-in-office days.

Don’t Be a Recluse

It’s a very real danger, as silly as it might seem. “If you work remotely then you can work from anywhere. I’ll just work from an new coffee shop each week.” Probably not. The draw to your home workspace is going to be pretty strong, especially when you need to concentrate and the constant stream of distraction in a public place just won’t do. At some point you’re going to realize that you’re no longer engaging with your community in any real way, and no social media is not enough.

You’re also going to occasionally get into the habit of waking up at the last possible minute, getting your coffee cup, and shuffling to your desk to sit down and start working while you’re not even fully conscious. That probably sounds pretty good if you’re used to getting ready and hopping in your car for a commute that makes a day in prison seem like a vacation. Eventually though it starts to eat at your soul. You’ve got to get and get ready for the day, no matter how tempting it is to skip your shower until lunch time (or never), and let yourself feel like a real and productive human.

Speaking of feeling like a human, get outside! Take walks during the day. Find local trails and walking parks or just walk around your neighborhood. If you were participating with clubs, groups, or civic organizations and you see that you’re no longer really going to the meetings or engaging in real world conversations then it’s time to recommit to those causes. Remember, you joined these groups for a reason and they provide a necessary outlet for decompressing from work.

Monitor and Organize Your Time Better

It’s too easy to spread out your work over a 10-14 hour period when you’re working from home, and sometimes that level of commitment is absolutely necessary for a project to be successful, but it can’t be your norm. You also start realize that you’re not necessarily getting more done in those extended hours, you’re just spreading it out more and eating into your personal and family time.

Organize your time into manageable chunks. Make lists and check things off, but make sure those things are actually doable in small chunks. If you have a project in place and one of your lines on the list is “complete project” then you’re never even going to get started. You might feel like you’re spending too much time just breaking down your workday into lists when you could just be working, and for some people that might be true, but for most of us the benefit of marking off real progress outweighs any lost time.

Be a Part of the Team

This is probably the most important thing I’ve learned in the last two years. Being several hours away from the rest of the team makes it hard to feel like you’re a part of the company. You can start to feel like a third-party contractor more than a vital part of a cohesive group. There’s a lot of ways to try and overcome this feeling, but none of them work as well as actually going to the office and seeing the people you work with in person. I make it to our office at least once a quarter, but really it should be more than that. If you live in the same city as your company HQ then I highly recommend going in and working in an open space at least once a month.

Conference calls and video chats only go so far. Don’t go into working from home expecting to never have to speak with people again. An email or Slack only existence is a lonely and unfulfilling nightmare. Don’t let that scare you away from being an amazing remote worker though, and don’t let the naysayers convince you that it’s impossible to be super-productive and away at the same time. It takes a lot of work and commitment, but if you know you can do it then just strap in and enjoy the experience!