Before joining the Academy, I worked from home for over seven years managing over 100 employees. I loved every day of it and yet, when I left, I never wanted to do it again. Current events have put me back in my home office and it pains me to say that I am ecstatic about it. I hope the Academy allows us to work from home permanently, but I still will never look for another remote workforce job again.
There is a paradox in working from home; it is convenient, empowering, efficient, productive, and also depressing, stressful, isolating and frustrating all at the same time. What’s worse is that many of the very things that make working from home great are also the cause of the problems and will inevitably lead to burnout. In my experience, the trick lies in optimization of the benefits, and being flexible and responsible in how you take advantage of them. Creating structure and ground rules around your work, will allow you to enjoy the benefits that working from home offers.
One of the key benefits of working from home is the impact it has on your time. You no longer lose a significant part of your day to fighting morning traffic, packing a lunch, or ironing pants. Furthermore, you can find opportunities to fit some household chores in between meetings, or do some dinner prep, and it is amazing the impact it can have on the number of hours in your day. The ugly truth though is that, typically those hours are not spent doing things around the home, but rather on doing more work. Work is always with you. It is staring at you from your computer in the other room. It is the email count dinging away on your phone. It is much easier and more convenient to “stay late at the office” when your office is home, and “more convenient” then quickly becomes “more frequent.” Work/Life balance is challenging enough as is, but it takes on a new life when you blur the line between work and home, and the inevitable result is burnout.
The solution I have found is to create firm boundaries between working and not working. I know this goes against what I said regarding being able to enjoy the benefits of work from home, but I also said it was a paradox so hear me out. In order to be “at work” when working and “at home” when not, you need to create partitions between the two, figuratively and sometimes even literally. You need to wall off work, so that it does not invade your home.
If possible, have a designated “office” area that you use solely for work and can avoid the rest of the time. Not everyone has the space in their home to do this, so purchasing partitions or screens to create a dedicated space in the corner of a room may be necessary. A dedicated workspace helps eliminate the constant reminder of your to-do list when at home, and helps eliminate the constant reminder of household chores when at work.
Have dedicated technology for work and home. If you can have a separate work computer, great! If not, use different browsers and apps that are just used for work. For example, I use Chrome for work and Firefox for personal use. They have separate bookmarks, logins, etc. On my phone, I use the outlook app for my work email and the gmail app for my personal. Having a technological wall allows me to not get distracted by personal emails while working, and allows me to ignore work email when not.
Be rigid with your calendar. Start work at a set time and plan to be done by a certain time every day. Make sure your team is aware of your calendar so that they can have clear expectations of when you are and are not “in” office. If you are using a team messaging software such as Slack, clearly communicate the start and end of your day.
I cherish my lunch break with my family. One of the most amazing things about working from home is being able to steal some time with kids and spouses, or sneak in a belly rub for your dog. And while I selfishly love popping out of my office for some quick family time, I hate being disrupted by them. Setting clear expectations and communicating those expectations with family or roommates, will minimize disruptions. I feel ridiculous getting a text from my spouse who is literally on the other side of the wall, but it certainly beats having her walk right into my office when I might be in a meeting or in deep thought.
Clothing can be a powerful physical reminder of your surroundings. It is very common for people to have work clothes and non-work clothes. I recommend keeping that practice even if you have no scheduled on-camera meetings. Being dressed professionally acts as a personal signal and a signal to the people in your home, that you are “at work.”
Now that you have taken your job and very carefully built a meticulously engineered wall around all aspects of it, you are ready for my final piece of advice. Take a step back, look at your beautifully engineered wall and completely ignore it whenever it’s convenient. Think of your wall as a fortress to fall back to when needed, and don’t let it become a prison to get stuck in. That wall is amazing at preventing burnout but remember that the things that cause the burnout are also the things that make working from home so great. So go do that load of laundry, put on your sweatpants, and go watch cartoons with your kid during your lunch break. Then grab the laptop, sit on your couch and work until 10pm so you don’t miss that deadline. Just don’t make it a part of your routine, and be good about checking in with yourself and adjusting your behavior.
Practice Building Consultant
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128
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