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Chris Tonkinson

tech {enthusiast, practitioner, leader, podcaster, mentor, entrepreneur}


Refactored Podcast

I co-host Refactored, a casual, ongoing conversation between two technology leaders trying to suck a little less every day.

Career Schema Project

I founded the Career Schema Project with the mission of developing open standards and technology to reduce the hassle of online jobseeking.

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© 2021 Chris Tonkinson

Making Work From Home Work For You

In 2006 I began working remotely (part time). In 2013 when I started my first small business, I decided to make the transition to full time work from home. Over the last 14 years, I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes working from home a productive, enjoyable, and most crucially a sustainable, experience, and what some of the common pitfalls are. As unfortunate as it is that so many people have been furloughed or laid off due to the spread of COVID-19, many are also blessed to have jobs that allow them to work from home and I thought my experience might be helpful for someone.

(As an aside, what happened to calling it “telework” or “telecommuting?” Maybe just stale branding? It does sound a little too 90’s I suppose…)

1. Routine

If you have any kind of routine to get up and out the door on days you (used to) drive to the office, stick to your routine when working from home. How far you go is up to you but keeping your routine is all about mental priming.

2. Workspace

Have a dedicated workspace. You don’t need a separate home office to do this — even if you’re working out of a bedroom or your kitchen table, simply setting up your laptop, notedap, etc. as you typically would will help establish normalcy in your day.

3. Boundaries

Give work 100% of your attention when you’re working, and 0% after you’re done for the day. While it’s true that remote work can offer some flexibility, it’s important to make it clear to others that although you’re home, you are still working and need to focus. This sets a healthy precedent whether you have friends or family physically around you or not.

4. Breaks

Take them as you normally would. make time to intentionally, physically, step away from the computer for personal care: restroom breaks, refreshing your water / coffee / etc., or if nothing else jest to get blood moving in your legs and give your eyes a break from the screen.

5. Downtime

Be sure to get outside daily. Exercise, if that’s your thing. Take a conference call while lapping the block if you’re able. If you have an indoor hobby be sure to keep with it, but know that working from home can make it easy not to leave the house for days — and that can be draining in and of itself. Even walking outside midday to get the mail can be refreshing.

6. Meals

Don’t eat full meals at your workspace. A beverage or small snack is fine, but you should move to a different spot for breakfast/lunch/dinner. TAke a walk, drive to the store, call a friend, listen to the radio, eat out on the porch, etc. It’s important to take advantage of that time away from keyboard and enjoy your meal.

7. Audio

When working from home, audio is now a primary — and ever more crucial — interface to the rest of your team. If you have a standalone USB microphone or Bluetooth headset connected to your computer, that’s your best option, but the mic built-in to your laptop will do. Only dial in over the phone as a last resort, as the quality is terrible. You want to sound professional, and be heard clearly.

8. Video

Losing the “high bandwidth’ of face-to-face contact can be a painful transition, but the one most important tip for keeping efficiency of communication high is to turn on your camera. Encourage your peers to do likewise. If you’re a manager, require it of your team and lead by example. if you have a higher quality USB webcam great, but the one built-in to your laptop is just fine. Don’t worry about the messy closet or cluttered kitchen island or whatever else is in the background — no one will care (if they even notice). Use your best judgement when communicating with 3rd parties but all teammates should be expected to use video for all internal Zoom/Skype/whatever meetings.

9. 1:1 Meetings

As there are no more chance encounters — hallway conversations, watercooler “oh hey’s,” and so forth — if you have standing meetings with your team members, keep these touchpoints. Consider even increasing the frequency to compensate for your usual level of interaction, if you feel it’s necessary.