Working from home: Are you doing it right?

Companies have a variety of alternative work options that allow folks to work from home, if only just occasionally. Developers, with their need for deep work, can appreciate avoiding the distractions of the work place. Home makes it much harder for a co-worker to “fly by” your desk to interrupt you and take you out of your zone. Having your own space, desk and setup is comforting. Of course, eliminating the commute is also a selling point.

Yet, remote work is an art form. You have eliminated an entire communication channel and are at the mercy of a good internet connection. Your co-workers and manager now make assumptions based on your responsiveness to emails, messages and production issues. There are also distractions at home as well. Family, roommates, Netflix, social media etc. are all easier to avoid in the office.

Folks have all sorts of remote arrangements from occasional to regular to permanent. Regardless, working from home takes discipline and, despite the perks, is not the best fit for everyone. This post will go through the occasion and regular arrangements.

Working from home occasionally

How to define it

Working from home for random events that occur at most once or twice a month:

  1. Package delivery
  2. Contractor/home service
  3. Life related (child care, school events, travel)
  4. Not feeling well (but well enough to work)
  5. Disrupted commute

The list goes on, but you get the point.

How to do it

Here are some steps to take before, the day of, and after the day you work from home:

  • Before
    • Let your manager and team know as soon as you do that you might have to work from home. Letting folks know the morning of, especially if it was scheduled, gives the wrong impression.
    • Check your calendar and make sure that you are not missing any meetings that would best be done in person and make the necessary arrangements (office visits, VIPs, meetings your manager is in etc.).
    • Block off the time on your calendar where you might need to step away
  • Day of
    • Set your communication status to “working from home”
    • Remind your team and your manager that you are working from home
    • Minimize distractions and work in quiet place
    • Be responsive to your team or let them know when you will get back to them
    • Be on time to all rituals and meetings that you are expected to attend
  • Day after
    • Ask your team lead or manager if you missed anything
    • If your team does stand-up, make sure to highlight what you accomplished

Look back every couple of months

Working from home occasionally is all about perception and accountability. Every couple of months, look back and see how often you have taken advantage of this privilege. Are you becoming predictable? As in, do you seem to take every other Monday from home? People will notice or subconsciously expect that 8am announcement that you will not be coming in. You may want to consider working from home regularly (see below).

Remember that it is a privilege and that the company’s reaction will ebb and flow. If the office starts to feel like a ghost town, you can be sure that the company will start to review the policy!

Working from home regularly

How to define it

A predictable, communicated, set schedule that is agreed upon with HR and your manager.

How to do it

First, go through the following questions to figure out if it is right for you.

  • What is your reason?
    • Be very specific about why you are thinking about working from home. Convenience/avoiding people is not a good reason. Working from home should correspond with something in your life that has changed or has had an impact over time. (e.g. a long commute).
  • What is the official policy with your company?
    • Does HR have a policy, and/or can they give you examples of how others have defined their schedule?
  • How does your manager feel about folks working from home?
    • HR and your manager might not be entirely in line. Once you know the company stance, find out what you manager feels about working from home. Do they do it occasionally or regularly?
  • How long have you been with the company?
    • Do not consider regularly working from home if you have not been working at the company for less than a year. The two exceptions would be if you negotiated it in your contract or if there was a significant change in your life.
  • What feedback have you received?
    • Are you a top performer or have you received some negative feedback? When requesting a privilege, you should do so from a position of strength.
  • Are you distracted easily?
    • Working from home takes a lot of discipline. Signs of good working habits are hitting sprints regularly, planning and executing a work day and not getting lost down rabbit holes. You also need a good spot in your home to get work done.
  • What is your career path?
    • In your discussions with your manager, are you trying to expand your reach or influence with folks outside of your team? Meeting with folks in person has more impact and working from home may work against your long-term goals.
  • How long will your alternate schedule be in place?
    • Is this a short-term proposal (3-6 months) or long-term (indefinite)?

Second, establish a predictable schedule through a formal proposal. This should be presented to your manager and HR and all three parties should agree. Think about the proposal in several sections:

  1. Reason
  2. Proposed schedule
    1. Days you will work from home
    2. Short term or long term
  3. Accountability
    1. Expectations of yourself
    2. Expectations of your manager
    3. Expectations of the company
      1. Do you need anything to support your remote space? (VPN access, laptop charger, etc.)
    4. Next review date
      1. Suggestion: 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, then every 3-6 months.
    5. Communication plan
      1. How will your schedule be communicated to your team and other folks you interact with?

Finally, take the next review date seriously. Your situation may have changed or your manager may have feedback on how things are going. Go through the areas of accountability and make sure that you your both are on the same page.

The review can also be a time to note any changes in your organization that might require you to communicate your schedule again. Folks will never remember your schedule. They have their own life’s complexities to remember!

Get back to work

Working from home occasionally and on a regular cadence is about perception and accountability. Remote work takes more discipline than coming into the office and you should evaluate whether it is right for you before you do it.

With a supportive company, clear expectations and accountability, you can work from home and meet the needs of life.

Do you have success or horror stories about working from home?

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