This week marks my one-year anniversary of being a full-time telecommuter for LifeSize. After getting engaged to my now-husband, I had to relocate about 200 miles away from the company headquarters in Austin. Thankfully, working for an HD video collaboration company made this task an easy one. So, I packed up my office and headed to my new home in Houston with my LifeSize video conferencing unit in tow.
Friends and family couldn’t believe the news: You can sit on the couch and watch The Real Housewives all day! You can work in your pajamas! You can wake up five minutes before work! What they didn’t understand was that telecommuting means doing your full-time job from home; it’s not a daily “staycation.” In order to make this work, I knew I had to maintain my professionalism and let my coworkers know that even though I was working at home, I was still just as responsible, dependable and engaged as when I was in the office.
Though I was thrilled for the opportunity to work from home full-time, there were a few occurrences that I had not anticipated (and a few lessons I picked up along the way).
1. You will memorize the mailman’s schedule. With my home office next to my front door, I am greeted with all kinds of sounds from the outside world – the mailman, UPS/FedEx delivery guys, trash pick-up, the ice cream truck, etc. Without even trying, I have managed to memorize all of the delivery schedules for my neighborhood. You know you WFH when you think to yourself, “hmmm…the mailman is running late today.”
2. You realize that your pet is just like any other officemate. Sometimes, it’s great to have them around for a smile or for some company, and other times you can’t WAIT for them to leave your office so you can get back to work. My dog has unfortunately interrupted a few video calls here and there with his barking at … well, any of the above (see #1), but luckily I’ve developed lightning-fast reflexes on my mute button.
3. Working in your pajamas is a no-go. Having HD video conferencing is not exactly conducive to working in your pajamas or sporting a bed-head hairdo, especially when you have a public-facing role like I do. I have to admit that black yoga pants are a great alternative to dress slacks, but when you are working full-time via video, professionalism is the name of the game and a ratty old college T-shirt simply won’t work.
4. The Real Housewives can wait. When my friends and family first heard the news that I would be working from home, they thought I would just plop on the couch with my laptop and have the TV on in the background. That is NOT, I repeat NOT, how any telecommuter should work. I have a dedicated office that I rarely leave, and there is no television anywhere close to me – it is a work-zone exclusively.
5. Setting boundaries and sticking to them. When you WFH, work/life boundaries become even more blurred, and it is sometimes hard to unplug. A lot of my colleagues told me this piece of advice when I started my journey a year ago, and they were absolutely right. At the end of my work day, I leave my home office, close the door and focus on family time. The same idea goes for my lunch break. It would be easy for me to walk to the fridge, grab a sandwich and eat at my desk. But since I do not have any coworkers to eat and chit-chat with, my lunch break would often turn into work time – with no mental break. Now, even if I eat at the table in my breakfast nook with a magazine or my Kindle, I am giving myself a much-needed break and helping myself stay energized for the rest of the day.
6. The importance of a COMFORTABLE chair. When I first started working from home, I grabbed one of our plastic IKEA dining room table chairs from the kitchen, scooted up to my little “built-in desk/cubby hole” and started working. It didn’t take long to realize that this was NOT a sustainable model, and after weeks of back pain and eye strain, I realized that it was necessary to invest in a comfortable office chair, a bright lamp and a full-size desk. When you are sitting at a desk for 8+ hours a day, even if you are at home, you still need the right office equipment or you’re setting yourself up for failure.
7. There’s no way I could do this without video. I think the single most important factor in my WFH success has been my HD video conferencing unit. Not only am I able to join every single meeting from 200 miles away, I can laugh at jokes, nod my head, add my ideas, and truly feel like I am a part of the meeting. I’ve even used video for non-work related calls just to catch up with my coworkers, ask about their weekend plans and laugh about a funny YouTube clip. With video, I never miss a beat. I am sure there are folks who can telework using audio or web conferencing, but video adds another layer of interaction that is invaluable.
I am so lucky to work for a company that values its employees and offers flexible work programs, but I am even luckier that we use a technology that allows me to be the best I can be – no matter how far away I am.
Are you a full-time telecommuter? Share your best WFH lessons with us in the comment box below.