Leaving Your Work at Work (When You Work From Home)

Leaving Your Work at Work (When You Work From Home)

Finding success as a remote worker is pretty darn hard. Unless you’re a complete natural, you will need to have the perfect combination of environment, corporate trust, family time and personal time. Failing being perfect, you can just take the route I took and try your best to follow a few practices that can help you disconnect at the end of the day.

To that end, corporate trust is just as tricky a puzzle as the rest of the challenges for work-at-homes; however, provided you are working at or moving to a company that understands remote work and empowers you to succeed, there are things you need to be doing to build and maintain that trust.

Establish A Routine

When you work in an office, chances are you have some form of a daily ritual that you partake in. You have things you do when get up as you prepare for your workday explicitly, and maybe some that happen subconsciously. You make some eggs for your husband or some bacon for your wife while they get the kids ready for school. Maybe you spend time in some personal study. Eventually you start to make your way to the office on foot, by bike, in your vehicle or perhaps on some form of mass public transit. Some poor saps have even parted ways with their cash to buy Segways and, sadly, they use those to get where they’re going. You swing by your favorite coffee joint, or meet up with co-workers in the lobby and chat on the elevator ride and at some point you find yourself at your desk.

The point is simply this: getting from point A to point B is part of the routine. You start thinking about work, your schedule, what happened last week. If your transportation is “hands off” then you can catch up on emails or start to plan your day out. The transition is more important than the destination in this case, but this is unfortunately the very thing that most remote workers will omit.

For me, I love walking to and from work. Yes, I work from home, but I’ve made the walk part of my ritual. In the morning it lets me tune into my work day and in the late afternoon when I’m leaving work I can reset and get ready to enjoy my family.

Moving directly from a work context into a home context not only blurs the lines, but it discounts the fact that you need a different mindspace to manage your work than you do to manage your home.

You need a line to say, “this is where work stops and my personal life begins.”

Define Boundaries

You have an agreement with your employer to perform certain units of work, but it’s your responsibility to set expectations accordingly. That means that you should engage in practices that allow you to define a clean break from the work day.

One of the ways that I do this is by virtue of leaving my contact points at work. I have a Skype number that is associated with my work duties that I don’t answer during evening and weekends. When I’m getting ready to leave work I change my email settings on my phone to only check for new mail on demand.

Another way to set boundaries is to actively engage in other things in the non-work times. That means dedicating time to your family, and if you must, signing your family up for things that happen during those evening and weekend hours, or getting involved with a group of friends that are active and motivated to do non-work-like things. This could be snowboarding, gaming, camping, playing music or hanging out for wings. If you make commitments that take you away from work, well, you can’t work.

Remember the Inverse

Let’s also note that the reverse must also hold true; if you are going to be setting limits on when you can and can’t access work, you must also set limits on when you can and can’t access “home”. I have done this in a number of ways:

  • I say “good-bye” to my wife and kids when I “leave” in the morning
  • I don’t have a home phone in my office
  • I don’t keep my personal cell phone handy
  • I don’t check personal email during work time
  • I treat my time in my office as though I was in a different place than my home, as though others were working in the next office or room
  • Things like arranging child care or planning to shuttle kids between activies happens during the evening
  • My wife and kids don’t re-engage with me until I come home and say “hello” again

There are, of course, some exceptions to these rules and there must be. My oldest son lives with Type 1 Diabetes, so when my wife is unavailable to assist, I bring the house phone into my workspace for emergencies. When I am expecting a package or someone to swing by I will indeed answer the door. But these are things that you can also make your co-workers aware of so that the disruption is not something that derails your work and they know that it may be coming. Emergencies, on the other hand, are emergencies and I don’t think those should be viewed any differently by your team and management than they would if you were in the office.

Shutting Down

Here are a few tips to help you close things off at the end of the day.

  • Flag important messages or tasks that need to be accomplished when you return the next working day.
  • Be sure to log your time daily and submit your timesheet - this is a trust device for your employer.
  • Change settings on your phone to check work email on demand.
  • If you will be away for an extended period of time or even just a long weekend, set away message.
  • Close everything. All your apps. Close your email client and your browser tabs and the TPS Report you’re working on (including cover pages) and everything else that is on your system.

With practices like these in place, you’ll find that you actually have some peace of mind through the evening, knowing that you’ve tied things off at the end of the day. You don’t have to worry about lost work, or missed follow-ups.

By the way, the same is also true when starting your day: you should have an easy way to get going in the morning so that as soon as you sit down at your computer you are ready to be productive and get into your daily flow. As a software developer, I actually have a script that I run that spins up my tools and opens the folders that I need so that everything I’ll be working on is in front of me. Even if my computer has rebooted or applied updates, I am ready to rock out on my project in just a few seconds. If you’re interested, here’s an example of a script I use to get my day started.

Finally, wind down! I walk home on most days to disconnect from work. I have friend who hits the gym and others for whom the timing works to break off at the end of the day and go pick up the kids.

Where Does This Leave You?

If you are currently working at home and don’t have these practices in place, it will take some time to work up to them. While they mostly seem simply on the surface, some habits are hard to break, and changing expectations is even more difficult if you’ve previously let work creep out of your home office.

As I always say when talking with folks about this, you really need to experiment and find the things that work for you for where you’re at and keep evaluating if there are tweaks or corrections you need to make along the way.

Any effort to help you move away from the feeling of constantly being connected to work will help you better enjoy your evenings and weekends. I hope you find a few gems in here that encourage you to work towards that goal.

Happy relaxing! (Now, go spend some time with you family or friends!)