As a business owner who has an office in my home, I work every day on mastering the virtual workplace. Some days I do very well. Other days it’s a challenge. Through the last two years of the pandemic, we’ve all had to adapt in order to survive.
I’ve worked out of a home office for 24 out of the last 27 years. I approach this subject assuming you’re self-employed or running a small business, so you don’t have a complete corporate support team backing you up. Here are some hints on what I have found works – and what doesn’t.
Get the best laptop you can afford and guard it with your life. I use a MacBook Pro. I started with a Mac eighteen years ago when I went out on my own. I am on my third MacBook and I am very pleased with the track record. If you don’t have a tech group, Apple makes it easier than trying to master the seemingly endless iterations of PC operating systems.
Pay attention to data security. Encrypt your files. Put all of your data behind firewalls and with multiple backups. Get good advice on updating your security regularly. I never use public wifi. I pay the extra money for a separate portable hotspot. Yes, I know I can use my phone as a hotspot but it has paid off well to have a separate hotspot.
Get a tablet that shares files with your laptop. It’s often more convenient than lugging the laptop along. Again, Apple makes it convenient to share files and back everything up.
Find a local tech expert who can help you sort through any technical issues. Otherwise, I find nearly every tech answer I need by Google search.
Never, ever leave your laptop or tablet in your car. If you’ve ever had one stolen, you know what a nightmare that can be. My laptop was actually stolen in 2005 but then retrieved by the great deputies with the Milwaukee County Sheriff after only a few days of being gone. It turns out the guys who stole it were only using it to watch DVDs. No data was accessed or compromised. I was lucky.
Whether it’s a corner of your living room, a roomy closet or a nook in your basement, find a spot that can be yours and where you can work without distractions. If you have kids, you know what a challenge finding a quiet space can be. You need it to stay focused, organized and motivated.
Learn to take your work on the go with you. When things get crazy at home, I go over to the local library for a quiet session on the laptop. I keep my phone on vibrate and step into the hallway when I need to take a call. Take the laptop with you when you step outside. Don’t let it out of your sight.
Keep regular hours and plan out your day. You should learn to keep your agenda scheduled for almost every hour of the day – even if one of those hours is labeled “Creative thinking” or “Strategic planning.” Stick to the schedule and be disciplined about your work.
Learn your personal rhythms for work. I’m a morning person. I write and strategize best in the morning. I do calls mostly after 10am during the day. It turns out that I get another ability to focus on work between 7-9pm.
Take 20 minutes in the evening to review and finalize the plan for tomorrow.
Get help staying organized. Read, search the internet, find an app and work on it. This is an area where, as in golf, we are all competing only with ourselves. Strive every day to get a little better.
The difficulty with having a ten second commute to your workplace is that it’s so easy to jump back into work mode when something pops into your head. Try to stick to regular hours. Definitely change your routine (or your hat, your clothes or something) so that your family knows when you are off work. Do what Mr. Rogers did when he came home – take off the jacket and dress shoes. Put on a sweater and sneakers. Don’t slip into the trap of being a workaholic. Life balance is a beautiful thing.
No one succeeds alone. Find two or three business people who are on a journey similar to you. Share what you’re working on. Get their perspective. Don’t try to be the lone wolf. The lone wolf is a myth. Everyone knows wolves thrive in packs. Find your pack.