By Phil White,

Scribe, Access

Though it has offices across the U.S., Access is also very much a ‘virtual’ company – though that term implies we’re not real, so maybe ‘remote’ company is a better term. Anyway, many Access employees, including me, work from home. This offers numerous advantages, including cutting out the wasted time (and soon, the horror of shoveling the driveway before going to work) of a lengthy back-and-forth commute, eliminating the ‘around the water cooler’ chatter, and being able to focus in a way that’s rarely possible in an office environment. We also minimize meetings – if someone sends you an invite for a phone conference, it’s because they have a set agenda that needs your input – a lot more efficient than the typical meeting-fest many organizations have become.

However, for all its pluses, working from home is, as our VP and Creative Director Matthew Korte rightly says, “not for everyone.” Even if you’re self-motivated, know your work responsibilities, carry them out at a high level and can navigate the route to your home office without spilling hot coffee on yourself every morning, occupying that office has its challenges. So lets take a look at how to not only survive working from home, but to also get the most from it.

1) Establish Boundaries

A single person, or indeed a married person without kids, who works out of their house doesn’t know how easy they have it!  When you add small children into the mix (in my case, two sons, ages two and four), things get complicated. My four-year-old is old enough to comprehend that when I’m working, I must be left alone. However, his younger brother doesn’t. In his mind, if Daddy is at home, he’s fair game for reading books, playing with Lego, and so on. I have a lock on my office door, but sometimes, when he’s banging on the door and shouting for me, I feel like the kids in Jurassic Park when the velociraptors learn how to open the door! (sorry, son, I love you very much!) So, I’ve asked my good lady wife to keep track of him during the morning, and then I typically…

2) Find a Second Work Location

…for the afternoon. This is my local coffee shop or a corner of the library at my alma mater. Even when my kids are older I will still do this, because it’s simply not healthy to be in the house all the time. I don’t have measurable stats for you, but I know that I am more productive when I’m in my home office in the morning and parking my laptop somewhere else after lunch. We are humans, and we need interaction outside of our immediate families – even if that’s a two minute chat with a barista at Starbucks.

3) Use the Right Tools

This past spring, I started suffering from horrendous nerve pain (what the clever folks at clinics call “sciatica”) in my lower back. This was almost paralyzing some days, and I wrongly attributed it to an old weightlifting injury acting up. In fact, it was sitting at a desk (mine or at the afore-mentioned coffee house) that was doing me in. So a family member kindly fashioned two wooden stands – one for my keyboard and one for my monitor, and I now stand to work all morning – though I wanted one of these bad boys! It took a while to get used to, but the back pain is gone and I no longer feel like I’m 95 when I get out of bed in the morning. Moving around while on work calls is also a must, as being stationary in any position for too long is bad for the back. And sitting all day, so the experts now say, may actually kill you!

Other essentials include my beloved, though admittedly pricey, Etymotic earphones, which are particularly useful for drowning out toddler tantrums and the clamor of coffee shops. I also use a laptop cooling tray and an extra laptop battery every day.

4) Get Moving!

I am more productive when I work out, and also find it disperses stress, makes me more confident and gives me something to talk about with my friend who can deadlift 600 pounds (ask him why on Earth he’d subject his lumbar spine to this and he’ll say, “Because I can!”). In all seriousness, it’s very easy to make excuses not to work out, when faced with a long work to-do list, family commitments and just doing life. But in the 24 hours you have each day, I guarantee you could find 20 minutes to get moving if you put your mind to it. Your heart, lungs and the rest of you will thank you in the long run (pardon the pun).

5) Be Organized

Not that he needs the plug, but Access President Mark Johnston’s Principles of Getting Things Done have had a huge impact on me. I now make weekly and daily to-do lists, with the latter segmented into the “must get done” and “would be great to get to” items. At Access, you have to be a self-starter and excellence is expected of everyone. With the to-do lists, removing clutter from my desk, and blocking out distractions, I’m able to consistently deliver my best work.

 6) Connect with Coworkers

Though I admittedly just wrote about eliminating water cooler chatter, that doesn’t mean that what used to be called telecommuters (and what the hipsters now call “cloudworkers“, which makes me think of angels for some reason) should exist in a bubble. At Access, we have several formal internal communications tools, including a company-wide newsletter, but we also make an effort to engage our colleagues regularly outside of such channels. The Kansas City team meets monthly at a set location, the home office crew (including our founder and CEO, Tim  Elliott) are “tight” and the professional services group recently gathered in Dallas. It’s easy for there to be a relational and informational disconnect at a company in which many employees are “cloudworkers” – nah, it’s still not working for me – and it’s up to each person to prevent that from happening.

If you work from home, please share your experiences & wisdom in a comment at the bottom of this post.

One Thought on “Working from Home: A Survival Guide

  1. Hello,

    Great post Phil, and thank you for the tips. This post is especially relevant to me since I have just joined Access last week, and this is my first full time remote work position. I have felt very connected to my immediate team members, but somewhat disconnected from the rest of the organization. This is probably a result of not only being a remote worker, but very new as well ;-) .

    I have contributed to various Open Source projects in the past, and one thing that helped everyone come together was to have common chat rooms, or IRC channels, to loiter in. It can be very helpful to ask one person a question and get an answer from several. Also, the answer may help someone else with the same question.

    Do you think it would be possible to get something like that setup at Access? I don’t think that Google Talk has “chat room” capability, but there are other applications that could be used.

    Anyway, just some thoughts I had. Thanks again for the great post.


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