A note from Lisa and Claire:
Many of our Michigan museum colleagues are suddenly working from home and since we have always worked from home (MMA has all remote offices) we thought we'd share some tips we've learned, sometimes the hard way. We hope they are helpful.
Create a set workspace
Lisa says: Since I work from home in two different homes, I have A LOT of experience with this. I have found that one of the most important things about keeping my sanity while working at home is to claim some "permanent" territory. In the winter I actually have a room all to myself (it's in the attic, but whatever) but in the summer I literally just have a corner in the guest room. I think about that space at being "at" work and every where else is not at work. Even more helpful is having a door to the space so you have to walk in and out of "work."
Claire says: Having an official work space is really helpful! Keeping it official means shooing out children (or spouses or parents or neighbors) is expected. Plus, closing said door means you are busy and any visitors to your office will knock. Comfort is also key. Just having a door does not lead to a serene work environment. My office is in my basement and can be chilly because of that. Having a space heater has been a life saver. I am not sure about you, but when I am cold that is all I can think about!
Set a time schedule
Lisa says: One of the first things I did when I was hired as MMA ED was to set up official office hours. I know that the MMA board trusted me to manage my own time, but I felt like I needed that structure to make sure I had a beginning and an end to my day. Besides having a set space, it is the other major part of my work structure that keeps me sane. It also helps me to keep that work/life separation that gets fuzzy when you work from home. Also, having set hours not only motivates me to get off the couch and start working, but it also gives me permission to STOP working.
Claire says: I keep a schedule as well, which mostly revolves around the times the children are absent! I use an online tracking system to not only track my hours, but also what I am up to. Toggl is an online tool/app that I use to track my time and projects. Some weeks are crazy and this tool makes figuring out my time sheet simple. I know there are other trackers out there, but this works for me.
Make up a Commute
Lisa says: Find some way to give yourself transition time between your work time and your home time. I try and have a set morning routine and in my head as I do the last couple of things I am on my way to work. I take a shower and get dressed as my morning commute and usually by the time I'm done I already have my daily plan of attack started. And in reverse, it's good to have a little buffer when the work day is done. I will sometimes go walk on the treadmill for a few minutes. In the summer, I go sit in the hammock. Whatever I do, it has to break my work train of thought enough to let me be free of it.
Lisa says: I know, I know. Jammies are so comfy! But trust me. Get dressed. I'm not saying you need keep up the power wardrobe, but it will make a huge difference in motivation. OK, I'm going to totally admit that I often "fudge" looking professional. I do a lot of conference calls, so I need to look decent. But there's no way I'm wearing uncomfortable shoes when it's just me and the dog. If I HAVE to look super professional, I am still usually wearing my jeans. If I just need to look somewhat presentable, I'll often wear a t-shirt but I have several scarves by my desk and I just pop one on to look more dressy. Also, I am ALWAYS wearing slippers.
Claire says: I prefer athleisure clothing for work, but a shower is a necessity for me. I feel more awake and ready to tackle the day after a shower. I exercise too, at 5:30 am most days. "Ugh, that sounds awful," you might be thinking, but endorphins are powerful and I notice that I approach my day in a more positive way when I start off with exercise.
Defend your home!
Lisa says: If you can, try and keep your home out of your work, and your work out of your home. If you are in your "office", don't get up to change a load of laundry. If you are at "home" don't check your work email. If you let the two worlds converge too much, you will always be at work. I know this might not be possible right now, but if you still try to keep things as separate as possible, it might help.
Claire says: Agreed! But, be willing to be flexible. My kids are home these days and they like to come and show me the things they make or give me hugs. I figure I can take a short break for that.
Act like your boss is watching
Use of Space
Lisa says: To me, this is about ethics. If I'm getting paid to work, I should be working. It's been a long time since I worked in a real office, but I remember some extensive socializing. I do get a *little* chatty on conference calls, but I really do try and stay focused on work during my "work" time.
Claire says: I wholeheartedly agree with Lisa. One of the reasons I started using Toggl (mentioned above) was so I could keep track of my work time and turn it off if I was getting off track or needed to handle something personal during the day. On days that I find myself struggling to concentrate, I can stop the timer and call it a day. Remote work offers that flexibility, you can tackle projects when necessary, but also throw in the towel and not waste work hours when you are tapped out and just staring at your screen.
Lisa says: I am *still* working on getting my office set up the way I'd like, but a really helpful thing is to get a space set up to feel comfortable. Even when I'm working from the dining room table, I try and make the space feel work-like with a pencil holder and file shelves, etc. I have also found that working from the couch might feel good for awhile, but your back will thank you if you sit at a table.
Claire says: I used to have a job that didn't require me to be at a desk all day. I could get up and go work in other areas of the facility when I was stiff or hit a mental block. Although I can still do that, I won't be working anymore if I do! So, I have had to make some changes to how I work especially with repetitive motions, like mousing. I have two mice (mouses?), crazy right? I have a specifically right handed mouse and a regular mouse on the left. I was noticing that my right forearm was bothering me and started using my left hand. It makes a difference in my arm and in my back to be able to alternate. There is definitely a learning curve with that, but trying new things is good for your brain! Keep those synapses firing! Having background noise (my office mate Alexa) and a mug warmer keep me happy too.
Dealing with "Office Mates"
Loneliness, on a more serious note:
Lisa says: I used to just share my office with my dog, Bentley. He is usually sleeping, but he often thinks my day should end about 20 minutes before it does and starts whining. I have found my headset to be really helpful because it limits a lot of other sounds that people might hear on a call, and has a handy mute button. But sometimes the only thing that works is treats. Right now, I am not sharing my literal office, but we made a makeshift study area for my daughter, who is home from college and doing classes online, and she is right outside my doorway that has no door. She mostly has classes in the afternoon, so we don't completely overlap, but when we do, I am super distracted by her Spanish discussion group and she is TOTALLY distracted by my video calls and then I can hear her laughing at me. Whatever. I am considering starting work earlier in the day, so we are not overlapping as much. There are also three of us trying to use the wifi, which has been a big issue so we've had to "schedule" who gets to be streaming. We bought a wifi extender, so hopefully that will make it easier for Emma and I in the attic, but I am guessing we'll have to up our internet plan. I think the key is that we are all talking and trying to figure out the issues and resolve them without getting angry, and that everyone has their own space. Steve is moving his office home today, to that will add a whole other level of fun to the mix, but I will be in the attic so he'll have to work it out on his own. :D
P.S. I remember trying to work when my kids were little though, and that was really, really hard for me. At that time my work space was between the living room and the kitchen. It was great because I could supervise, but it was hard because I couldn't concentrate for very long. I did successfully teach my kids to know that if I was typing I was not listening to them and they should wait. As a parent we have to choose our battles, and mine was phone calls. If I was on the phone and there was loud misbehavior, there was a pretty hefty consequence. But if I could get through a call without interruption, especially if it was one I had warned them was important, something REALLY good happened. I'm not going to lie, though, there were some days and phases in my kids life that there was a lot of TV. WAY more than I felt good about. But they are almost all the way grown up now and they seem fine. And now that I have a little perspective, I think that them seeing me work was as good as my plopping them in front of a screen too much might have been bad. In other words, I think it was a wash. So my advice to you parents is do the best you can, and that will be enough!
Claire says: I have three children and a husband that I am currently sharing space with. My husband and I are battling over my awesome vintage Steelcase desk, and he is winning (see photo below). I too am finding TV to be a useful tool, but my two youngest still take naps and that is hugely productive time for me on a regular basis. My oldest can occupy himself for stretches of time luckily. Replacing "children" with "co-workers" makes everything funnier, for example: My co-workers are running around the office and stopping by my desk to poke me in the shoulder. Just in case I don't understand what they are doing, they say "poke" every time. Sigh... It is actually happening while I type this!
Lisa says: I was talking to another Executive Director of a state museum association and we laughed and laughed because most of us are extroverts, yet almost all of us have remote offices. It's really tough. I feel like sometimes on conference calls and in-person events I get a little goofy because I'm just so happy to be with other people. I can tell when it's been too long since I've had a decent conversation because I get agitated and stressed out. I've learned that times like those might be when I make some phone calls on my list, or maybe see if Claire is working to talk about something we're working on. I've also found that if it's a long lonely week in the office, I need to get some social time happening outside of work.
Claire says: Working from home has many challenges, one I was not expecting is the collegial isolation. I don't live alone, so eventually all of my people come home and there is noise and activity. Lisa and I have a video chat once a week, but that can't take the place of being around like-minded people and sharing your daily trials and tribulations. I encourage you to find ways to stay connected. Video chats are your friend. At a previous position, we used Skype chat to stay connected during the day without walking into each other's offices. I am sure there is something better out there these days. Keep those personal connections active as best you can.
Do you have any tips to add? Email us and good luck!
Lisa in her attic home office.