Working from Home

By Bret Snider

The Covid-19 virus pandemic (thanks again China) has been a real scare for all and has resulted in many more people trying to work from home – some by choice, some by company directive. Watching my wife Lisa now working from home got me thinking about the transition I went through a few years ago.

I reached out to three others, friends and associates, that have experience working from home – Tim Daciuk, Ted Smolak and Mark Baker. Tim is a statistician and software consultant. Ted is a graphic designer. Mark is a consultant in disaster and recovery management. Each have different work from home experience and perspectives.

In September of 1989 Tim and I both lost our jobs. We met at the Feathers, a pub on Kingston Road, to discuss our mutual plight. After some deliberation and a few pints, we each chose our paths to victory. He decided to work as a consultant for an American software company which meant working from home with occasional visits to the US. I decided to start my own business, a local newspaper, which involved getting an office, hiring staff and investing in equipment – in those days it was hard to do that from home.

Since then Tim has continued to work from home for the software company. I have started five companies and worked for a sixth. The sixth, is a manufacturing company but it’s one of those situations you don’t hear about much – originally an American company purchased by Canadians. Based on its origins, and the size of the market 99% of its customers are in the United States. So aside from a two-year stint spending too much time in hotel rooms in a Chicago suburb, I’ve been working from home which meant a transition in thinking, focus and practice.

Ted, the graphic designer, and I first met when we both had companies located in downtown offices. We’ve worked together for over twenty years on different projects. We have a relationship based on mutual respect and trust. He’s been working from home for eight years and had some good advice.
Mark has worked from home ever since we met over twenty years ago. His business and experience is in planning for disasters so that companies can both weather the storm and recover as quickly as possible.

The first thing that is an absolute necessity is a practical workspace – not a kitchen table. Some place that is quiet and is equipped with all the tools required to get the job done. For most of us home workers that means; high speed internet connectivity, a decent computer with ample storage space, a phone that has features that are found in offices, a printer, a scanner, a comfortable desk and chair, additional seating that can accommodate the occasional visitor, storage for paper, pens, sticky notes, a filing cabinet because there will be documents and a radio but not a television – way too distracting. These represent the physical things that make working from home possible. The mental part is a whole different matter.

Mental discipline is paramount but for “work from home” warriors it sometimes takes time to develop the focus and the ability to establish achievable priorities. There are so many distractions that impede daily productivity; the needy pet, the phone calls from family and friends, the to do list from your spouse – they all add up. However, there are some tactics that enhance home based work productivity.

First and foremost is to establish daily goals. Tim recommends a priority list and ten minute increments and only plan on forty eight of them because of all the other distractions. Once they are achieved everything else is a bonus. Another thing is the importance of the door. Once the door to your office or workspace is closed – you are at work and spouses, children and others need to know and respect that. If your spouse works out of the house, this may take some time and understanding. When I get the “Honey would you mind” questions I respond by saying “I’d be happy to when I finish work or at my next break”.

Ted advises that a routine is important. He gets up early and is showered, dressed, has read the paper, shaved and has had breakfast before 9:00 AM. This sets a tone for the day. For him he’s most productive between 4 – 5 PM when the phones stop ringing and e-mails slow down. His comment – “Just because your responding to e-mails doesn’t mean you’re getting anything done.”

Mark recommends that you keep in mind your home office needs to have the same level of security as you would in a traditional office and that means alarms and secure back-up systems for your data and intellectual property because to be taken seriously contract relationships assume and sometimes demand that.

With the manufacturing company I found daily scheduled calls with the plant manager and supervisors to be of great value so even when I wasn’t on-site, I knew what was going on. I also made sure that any glitches were reported to me immediately so we could work them out in a timely manner.

In short, for many of us, it’s not easy at first but with some rules and discipline you can get a lot done and you can save on gas, travel time and expenses. Stay focussed and good luck.