My husband has worked from home for the past 15 years, and when I was still working in the corporate world, I worked from home for six of those years. At the time he started working from home, we had a baby and a pre-schooler. Both kids are now in high school and my husband is still working from our house. Here's how we made it work.
1) Separate Work and Home
When I asked my husband (who we'll call Mr. B&B) what he thought were the most important things to do when working from home, one thing stood out above all.
"As soon as you bring your work into your home for a long period of time, you have to find an activity to separate them," says Mr. B&B. "Whether it's getting a shower and morning coffee, going for a run, taking a walk around the block, or some other daily ritual, you need a consistent signal for yourself and everyone at home that work is starting."
Similarly, you need an end-of-day routine that indicates the workday is shifting to home life. At our house, Mr. B&B will pour a glass of wine and take it to his office to read the news and decompress from his work day.
"Without a commute, it's helpful to have something to transition between work and home life," Mr. B&B says.
He also recommends finding a way to signal that you're off-duty.
"If your office is on your dining room table, for example, close your laptop and set a time you don't work," Mr. B&B advises. "Even if you aren't finished for the day, it's important to know when to fully disengage with work."
Block it on your calendar so calls aren't scheduled. For us, dinner at the table as a family has been a priority since the beginning of working from home. Everyone in the family knows this is happening each night, and it's become a time we can all count on to come together.
What if your office is your dining room table? Find a way to clear the space easily. A simple-to-pack tote can help the transition. You can store office supplies in it while you work and move your home office with you. For example, if it's nice outside, take your office to the porch. If your kids are doing crafts and you need to be close by, the tote brings you to their space. I bought a tote insert for a cute bag one of my clients gifted me where I store post-it notes, pens, notepads, my label maker, my laptop and some file folders for projects I'm working on.
The one I chose is here (you can click the image to take you to the product...I measured the inside of my tote and got the XL size in beige):
If your current home office space isn't working for you, pack up and look around for other spots that might work for a more permanent set-up. A guest bedroom or even an unused closet space can be outfitted with a table and chair as long as you have power outlets for devices and light.
2) Set Up Near a Window If Possible
"Having a change of scenery is really beneficial," says Mr. B&B. Walkers, cars, trees and birds help keep the outside world in perspective.
If you're in space without a view, designate a time to get outside each day.
"Look for the opposite of being confined in a room," Mr. B&B notes.
3) Make Sure Kids Know What to Expect
When I worked from home for a technical recruiting company, I spent a good bit of time on the phone. I kept a post-it note handy that said "On a call...I'll help when I'm finished." I placed it on my door during the call so my kids knew I would get back to them shortly.
If you kids are too young to read, consider a red paper sign for STOP and explain ahead of time what to expect if the sign is up. Make sure you don't forget to get back to them when the call is over though!
4) Set Kids (and Spouses) Up for Independence
You can probably anticipate some of the things your family may come to you for, with food among the most common request.
Set up help-yourself snack stations in the pantry or fridge, kept low enough that everyone can reach it.
As for the ever-popular question of what's for dinner, place a written meal plan for the day in your kitchen. They will know what's planned and it will help you stay on track if you need to start a crockpot meal early or begin thawing or marinating your dinner.
5) Turn Kids' Screen Time into Your Most Productive Time
If kids are begging for more screen time, allow it when you need quiet or uninterrupted blocks of time to concentrate. You know they'll be focused and quiet so you can be too.
What areas of work-from-home life are most important to you right now? What solutions do you have that make it work?