Working at home is the dream job for many, and why wouldn’t it be? Strolling around your living room in your pajamas after a successful conference call, working in the comfort of your favorite chair, and who can beat the zero-minute a day commute?
It’s easy to get into your work zone and forget that the other members of the family have the right to be there, too. I made the mistake of getting in the habit of bringing my laptop with me wherever I went in the house until my husband asked that our movie nights were a people-only event.
The key to a happy work-at-home life is separating your work from your life and respecting the other members of your family who didn’t agree to live in an office. Remember the three R’s: establish rules, get in a routine and put up roadblocks to avoid crossover.
Here are nine ways to keep a happy home-office/life environment.
1. Do not disturb. Work out a signal system to let your family know when you don’t want to be disturbed. The easiest is a closed-door, which means “Do not disturb” for when you are on a call or working on a deadline. Teach your kids to touch your hand to get your attention instead of shouting “Mommy, mommy!” and ask your spouse to pass a note instead of hovering to ask a question.
2. Office hours. Avoid the temptation to work all the time. It’s easy to answer that after-hours call because it’s only 10 steps down to the office or fire up your laptop after dinner, but be strict about maintaining regular office hours out of respect for the family that needs and wants your full attention.
3. Work containment. Be aware of the work disturbances that you bring into your family’s living space and keep your work to your office. That includes the telephone that rings day and night, paperwork you don’t want anyone to touch, and your laptop.
4. Establish a "No-Zone." Make a list of activities that aren’t allowed during office hours and a similar list of tasks that aren’t allowed during family time. For example, my no-zone activities during office hours include watching television and taking personal calls.
5. Become a task master. Set daily productivity goals and task priorities to avoid frittering away your time on less important activities. It’s a good idea to focus on two to three core tasks instead of trying to tackle a too long to-do list.
6. Get an early start. Avoid the temptation to start your work day as you would a Saturday morning at home with a leisurely breakfast followed by a relaxing read of the paper. You are the most productive early in the day when interruptions and emergencies are at their lowest so take advantage and tackle your toughest tasks.
7. Separate office space. Instead of causing friction by expecting others to be quiet or not disturb your sofa paper sorting system, get an office with a door, preferably away from the busy areas of the house.
8. Noise barriers. Use headsets to both cancel out background noise from your family and avoid disturbing your family with noisy video conference calls. It’s also a good idea to have an iPod on hand when family life interrupts your train of thought.
9. Password privacy. Protect your important work data by keeping it secure behind a password protected profile on your computer. This is especially important if your computer gets co-opted for homework.