Your family and work life should remain separate whenever possible. Family expectations such as cooking dinner, answering the home phone and attending to children are distractions that can and often do make working from home unproductive. Friends may also misinterpret your new work arrangements as time off and view this as great time to catch up. Avoid the trap of socialising during work hours.
Family and friends will need to understand that a day working from home does not mean you have a day off work. Here are some of the things I have found to be successful, which you can try to help separate your home and work life.
Set Work Rules
Ask your family to agree on your work hours and conditions before you start. Print this agreement and display it where everyone has access. The rules should apply to you also. Review them often to make sure they are still fair and relevant. If you are running a small business from home you should perhaps discuss part of your business plan with family.
Sharing your business plan with family members or those you share a home with can help them see what you are doing on a day-to-day basis. They will also be able to see how and when your business expects to make a profit. It’s easy for people to assume you will start making a profit from the first day. You should set realistic expectations to avoid this and similar misunderstandings.
When you are working at home it may help to create physical barriers to your office space so you can separate this space from the rest of your home. Close the door if possible and if that’s not possible put up a physical barrier such as a curtain or screen. Symbolic barriers may also help.
Symbolic barriers are anything that you can use, which will help communicate that the office is for work, not for play. Placing an “office” sign at the door, removing toys and leisure items from the room or getting dressed as if you are going to travel to work are each an example of a symbolic barrier.
I recently heard a story about a graphic designer; let’s call him Greg who used to work from home. Greg had two young adult daughters who became accustomed to the fact that they could walk into his office at any time during the day. His home phone would ring constantly and pretty soon the distractions of his personal life were stopping him from working productively. Greg decided he needed to take a new approach.
At the start of his new work week, Greg picked out a suit and tie. He got up early Monday morning, had a shower and got dressed for work. After eating his breakfast Greg said goodbye to his daughters and walked out the door to go to work but instead walked back in through his garage and into the basement. His family still do not know he has been working from the home basement on several occasions since.
The above example may seem a little extreme but it’s a good illustration of the problem so many face when working from home. It also gives you one example of a solution.
Avoid the temptation to answer your home phone during business hours. If possible you should turn the ringer volume down so you can’t hear it from the office. If your friends or family need to reach you urgently they will call your mobile or office phone. Home phone calls interrupt your work day and can be very unproductive. Your friends may think if you are working at home that you have plenty of time to chat. If they are forced to call your office number or mobile it may serve as a reminder that you are in fact at work.
Specify Work Time
You should set reasonable work hours. I find it most productive if I fit my office hours in between 8:00am and 6:00pm, Monday to Friday. This is mostly when my customers, business partners and colleagues are in their office. Setting work hours allows you balance work with other things in life. I try to avoid the temptation of sleeping in and working later because I believe there are too many interruptions late in the day.
When you sit down to discuss ‘work rules’ with your family it will help if you explain that you can contribute to cooking dinner, looking after the children or vacuuming during family time. In my case this is after 6:00pm on weekdays or sometimes on weekends. I don’t think it’s fair that your work should impact on time you spend with your family, however, for this to be possible you also need to keep work hours free from interruption.
There will be times when life has plans that disrupt your own. Try and fit these unexpected items into your plan. For example, you may need to work late when a client is expecting something the next day. Maybe you could agree on a rule with your family that you will need to work late up to 2 nights a week. If you need to stop work to help a family member at 1:00pm on a Friday you may come to an arrangement that allows you to work for a couple of hours on Saturday morning instead.
Setting work hours is not only about family. It’s important for your own sanity as well. Make sure you exercise, socialise and fit in some of the finer things in life.