AUG 16, 2016

When an “Office” Is No Longer a Spatial Thing

“You’re so lucky! You get to work in your pajamas!” That’s the most common reaction I get when I tell people I work from home. I don’t work in my pajamas. I’m pretty sure none of my colleagues do either. And if they do, they’re not sharing it. Obviously, it’s a personal decision, but, for me, when I’m in my pajamas, I want to chill, not work. And although my “office” is at times my recliner, I am working, not lounging.

Being part of a remote team gives me the opportunity to work from wherever I can access the Internet. In the past, when I lived full-time on a motorhome, I wrote articles for a desperate client while parked on Bureau of Land Management property just outside Joshua Tree National Park. Now that I’ve rejoined fixed-address living, I could choose to work from home, from a co-working space or anywhere else. I prefer to work from home.

And although there are many upsides to being in my personal space at all times, it does come with its set of challenges:

Becoming a Hermit

When I first started working with the remote team at Corgibytes, I spent an entire week without leaving the house. Okay, I stepped outside once to take out my garbage and recycling. But that was it. Five minutes, tops. As much as I’m an introvert and love being at home, as a human being, it’s in my best interest to interact with others. Lest I become that creepy neighbor who peers outside her window through a slit in her curtains. Plus, my friends are truly awesome. I wouldn’t want to lose them because they forgot I existed. So, now, I make sure I plan outings. Coffee break in the park, movie night, any kind of social outing will do no matter how small. As long as it’s outside the house and with another human being.

Developing a Couch Butt

I’m not proud of this one. But it’s a real thing. When I worked in an office, I had to get ready, walk over to the bus stop, walk from the bus stop to my office. During the day, I’d wander over to see my boss, I’d go to the restroom at the end of a long hallway. I’d also get restless from sitting in that office chair, so I’d get up and stretch. At home, I pretty much park it in my recliner, plunk my laptop on my thighs and don’t move for hours. HOURS!! Sure, I don’t have any kind of repetitive stress pains in my forearms and wrists anymore because I’m so darn comfortable. Flip side is: I barely move. Not healthy!

I started doing a few things to counter that: I now set a Pomodoro timer. For every 25 minutes of work, I take a five-minute stretch break. Whether I feel like it or not. I also started experimenting with working standing up. I picked a high counter in my kitchen overlooking my yard. The height is perfect, where my wrists rest comfortably on the keyboard. I’ll stand with both feet down for the first bit, until my back starts complaining. I then alternate standing only on my left leg, then my right, essentially performing the bottom half of a tree pose. Another thing I’ve done is sign up for a half-marathon. The training schedule is quite doable and, by having a concrete goal, I’m more motivated to head out on a run during my “lunch break.”

Needing to Channel Your Inner Monica Geller

This one applies to all remote workers. In a home office, temptations abound. Friends are texting you, Netflix beckons you to peek at the latest episode of your favorite show, Fluffy wanders onto your keyboard demanding to be noticed. I agree that in a traditional office, you still have Starbucks downstairs, the Chatty Charlie who’s bored and decides to waste both your time and theirs, and the phone that’s ringing itself off the cradle. But in that traditional office, there’s also visibility. Bosses and co-workers can see what you are or aren’t doing. There’s an inherent pressure that comes with the idea that others are watching you. When I’m working from home, 99 percent of the time, I’m by myself. If I’m to be productive at all, it’s imperative that I be off-the-charts organized.

To help me with that, I keep a list of all my tasks with due dates in Todoist. That way, I’m not wasting time figuring out what needs to be done. When I haven’t completed a task, I don’t leave it as an overdue task. I write down why I haven’t completed it and assign it a new, reasonable, deadline. That being said, anything that has an operational impact or an immovable date gets done when it’s supposed to be. I even often give myself an earlier due date, to account for the unexpected, like illness. Another thing we do here, at Corgibytes, is keep ourselves accountable to the team. In the morning, when we sign into Slack – which also helps define work time –, we all post a Stand Up for everyone to see. We answer three questions: “What did I accomplish yesterday?”, “What do I plan to do today?”, and “What’s blocking me?” And since we all read each other’s Stand Ups, if anyone notices that someone is blocked and we can help, we reach out to them.

It All Comes Down to Productivity

The thing is, being trustworthy is a huge part of being able to work on a remote team. The bosses and the team need to know they can count on you. I love working from home. I feel comfortable and am wildly productive. That productivity is how I show my bosses that I am reliable and trustworthy. That they don’t need to be watching over me to ensure that I get things done. That they’re getting value for their money. My high-level of productivity is what allows me to work in the conditions that I set for myself. Working on a remote team or from home is still a huge privilege. When speaking to friends who are in a traditional office environment, working from home is a once-a-year event that requires weeks of begging and negotiating. I get to do it every single week. I could choose to work in my pajamas, but I feel it would impede my productivity by setting the wrong psychological tone. If you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to work on a remote team, and wants to work in your pajamas, that’s up to you. Just make sure you deliver the goods. And welcome to the world of spatial freedom!