So you’re working from home now. You always craved this kind of flexibility to help you balance eldercare and career but you certainly didn’t want to get it this way! But now that you have it, make it work – for now and for the future. For you and for future working daughters. Here’s how.
You decide how best to work. Traditional work from home guides will tell you to set clear boundaries between being “at work” and being off duty. Clear boundaries? Hah! You’re a caregiver – you work where, when and how you can because you never know when you might get interrupted. There could be a crisis or a phone call from the doctor. If your parent lives with you, they might call for you to help them throughout the day.
So choose the rhythm that works for you and set your schedule accordingly. If your super productive in the morning, then get up, pour your coffee (you do use a programmable coffee maker don’t you?) and get busy. More of a night owl? Save the big assignments for evenings when the house gets quiet. Of course, make sure to plan your work and your availability so you meet deadlines and are available to clients and coworkers. I work a 9-5 job but I get my best work done in the morning so I usually start working around 6:30 a.m. I work steadily until around 3 and then I do laundry, dishes, make whatever personal calls I need to in the late afternoon, all the while keeping an eye on emails and joining meetings as needed. After dinner, when I catch a second wind, I try to get big projects started for the next day. If your parent lives with you, take their schedule into consideration too and plan your meetings or your thinking time, if you can, for when they are asleep or occupied.
Do set boundaries at home. If you live with your parents, or kids, or a roommate, make sure they understand you are not on vacation, you have just relocated your office. Tell them when you can and cannot be interrupted – when your office door is shut, or you have headphones in, for example. Also discuss what does and doesn’t warrant an interruption. And then, be patient. Parents, especially those with dementia, as well as young kids, will forget and will interrupt you. Don’t let it fluster you and don’t sweat it if they make an appearance on a web call. In times like these, there is no more clear separation of work and home; just do your best.
Be clear about availability. While you may decide to get your solo assignments done on a schedule that works for you, you have to be available when your boss expects you to be. If your work team is on Slack or some kind of instant messaging app – use the status options. If you’re on a call and won’t be responding to messages, let your teams know. Taking a quick break for lunch? Set your status accordingly. If you have some kind of caregiving crisis and have to step away, send a quick email. It’s more important, and professional, to indicate when you’ll be back, and whether or not you’re available via text or cell for questions, than it is to explain why you’ve stepped away. And if you do take advantage of the flexibility of blending some life into your work hours, remember that means you should be willing to blend some work into your life hours. Now is not the time to be rigid about being on and off the clock. Now is the time to be smart about it. Being flexible doesn’t mean being on call 24/7. It just means if you’re gonna take, you gotta give too.
Over-communicate. Along those same lines, know this: you cannot communicate enough right now. Remember, it’s not only your work ethic that will affect other’s perception of your productivity; it’s theirs too. I have worked from home for years – and I love it. I can get so much more done alone than in a cube surrounded by others. And I always assumed people knew that about me. But then, some of my coworkers started working from home from time to time. And when they did, they would send out messages saying they would be available “all the usual ways,” and would be joining all scheduled calls. No kidding, I thought. Why would they need to tell anyone that? Work from home, means “work” – at home. And then I realized, they didn’t already know that. Their perception of working from home, prior to trying it themselves must have involved some fantasy of wearing fuzzy pajamas all day, working on home DIY projects, and answering incoming calls. And while I have had a handful of those days over the years, 1. they are rare and 2) I usually work past midnight to make up the time. Speaking of fuzzy pajamas:
Dress professionally, from the waist up. Traditional work from home guides also suggest dressing for work from home the same way you would dress to go to the office – to get yourself into the work mindset. That recommendation is half correct. If, like most remote workers, you will be joining meetings via Zoom or another web conferencing platform, then yes, you need to look professional – from the waist up. Your hair, your face, and your top will be on camera. Hair, especially matters. Nothing says too laid back like a messy bun or ponytail. If you want to signal that your all in, use your hair dryer! But you are also blending work and home and possibly caring for someone, so your pants and shoes should work for you. Pro tip: If you want to signal to your coworkers and clients that you’re all business when you do connect on camera – don’t forget your earrings! If you wore them to the office, then wear them at home.
Master the technology. If you want to be successful working from home, and you want to make it a reality post-pandemic, then master the tools. If you don’t know how to log on to the company server – get instructions. Ask the company’s tech support person to give you a call and walk you through it. If you can operate Zoom but sometimes the camera, or the mic just don’t seem to work, ask some friends to hop on a call one night and practice. It is your responsibility to be fully functional at home. Period.
And a word about web conferencing: if you do plan to wear pajama bottoms with a power top, make sure you are seated before a call starts and that you stay seated for the duration. If you need to get up mid-conversation, turn off the camera. Also, check your background. Make sure it’s not distracting, it’s not embarrassing, and it doesn’t take away from your professional image. A big pile of laundry will make you appear disorganized. Your bed will make you look clueless about your professional image. And your stuffed animal collection? Just, no.
Pack your lunch the night before. It may seem silly to pack your lunch to go nowhere, but it’s a smart strategy. If you think, you will just go into the kitchen and prepare a healthy salad, think again. Either, you’ll be tempted to get one more thing done before you grab lunch and you will miss your window, or you will feel guilty that you’re playing chef when you should be at work. And next thing you know, you’ll be snarfing down Smartfood and a Diet Coke before your next Zoom call.
Get up and move. Do plan movement breaks. It is very hard to hit 10,000 steps, much less 100 when you work at home. Plan some breaks in your day to get up and move. Do some yoga or basic stretches. Better yet, take a walk around the block. If you have a one-on-one call scheduled with a coworker, take it while you’re on the move – just use headphones!
Enjoy the commute!