You probably hear, “Oh, it’s so cool that you get to work from home!” from friends, family, and new acquaintances more than you’d like. Some people even go so far as to call you “lucky” or say that they wish they could work from home, too. And while working from home is undeniably awesome and many of us wouldn’t want to trade it for anything, it does come with its downsides.
People not “in the know” don’t see, for example, that it’s a constant struggle to get to work in the morning, even though it’s a mere dozen feet from your bedroom (or even in your bedroom). They don’t know that we have to constantly fight against our less-than-honorable inner voices, telling us that it’s OK to binge on a Netflix series for the day instead of working.
People who don’t work from home also don’t understand that you’re working just as many hours a day as they are, and sometimes even more, without the interaction that they have in an office or coworking space. There’s also the teeny-tiny problem most of us have with separating work and home, something online support professionals are very familiar with.
There are a dozen other everyday scenarios that pop up, making a work from home job just as taxing as an office job, if not more so in some ways. So how do you stay sane and keep doing your job when you can’t seem to escape your office or remember when you showered last?
Work from Home Tip 1: Set a Schedule
Working from home comes with massive amounts of flexibility – almost too much for some of us. Depending on the type of person you are, you may handle this flexibility with grace and it may help you do your job even better. For the majority of people, though, we operate best when we have at least some structure.
To help you function at maximum capacity while working from home, creating a schedule that works for you is highly recommended. Even if you’re not a “schedule person,” trying to find the best hours of the day to put in the work can help your job performance and happiness.
Start by asking yourself:
- How much sleep do I need to get?
- When do I want to get up?
- What time do I want to start working?
- When do I make time for meals and snacks?
- What times during the day am I most productive?
- How many breaks do I want to take in a day?
- When will I make time for errands, exercise, cooking, cleaning, etc.?
- Will I schedule non-work activities during my “work hours”?
- What time would I like to be done working?
- Will I respond to work needs or notifications after my outlined “work hours”?
If you’re not a planner and like to fly by the seat of your pants, this may seem a little forced – that’s OK. You don’t have to adhere to any specific routine every. single. day. All you have to do is analyze your needs and wants and implement that awareness in your workday.
If you like a little bit of a schedule, though, these questions are incredibly empowering. It also depends on the type of work you do from home as an online customer support professional. If you have set login times, you can obviously structure your responses to the questions above around that. But if you don’t have a set schedule provided by your employer or client, creating your own schedule can make you exponentially more productive (and therefore more valuable).
Setting Up Your New Schedule
Nobody becomes perfect at a new routine or process in a single day, and sometimes our ideas don’t work so well once we start putting them into action. If you misjudged your wake-up time, or if you find that you want to work until later in the day, your new schedule is flexible (or as flexible as your position allows). Don’t try to make the shoe fit if you’re not Cinderella!
To help you adapt a schedule or process that works for you:
- Test out your new schedule for a few days or a week
- Make notes about what feels right and what doesn’t
- Note how much you do in a day/don’t do in a day when you follow your outline
- Throw out what doesn’t work for you (early wake-ups, mid afternoon yoga breaks, etc.)
Remember: Don’t try to change your entire day all at once! Introduce breaks or start an hour earlier, and add a new step each week to prevent overwhelm.
Focusing on intentional decisions and being aware of when you’re most productive and “in the zone” will make this process so much easier, and make you feel productive, capable, and sane while working from home. This new “schedule” will also help you find space and time to get out of the house – the second step to preventing Full Hermit Mode.
Work from Home Tip 2: Get Out of the House Already!
If you’ve worked from home for more than a month, you may know what it feels like to have the glamour and excitement melt away. While it’s still really cool that you get to work in your pajamas, you also start to forget what other people sound like, and you have no clue what the weather is like outside.
If you’ve stopped wanting to see people, or if just the thought of putting on real pants exhausts you, it’s time to get out of the house. Getting outside and being around people are proven to boost your mood and improve your day, which can help get you out of a work-from-home rut.
Using that handy dandy schedule you just created, look at the open spaces in your schedule and fill some of those with outside activities, places, and people. If you’re raging against the schedule machine, take a minute and just brainstorm places you could go when you’re done working (or taking a break). If you’re a scheduler at heart, pull out your planner and start booking outings.
- Include grocery store trips, dental appointments, etc. if you want
- Ask friends or significant others to plan dinners, dates, and movie nights with you
- Plan for exercise or “you time” that is not just inside your home
- Make it a point to go for a walk or sit outside at least once a day (to air out, if nothing else)
You also have the option of mixing up where you work, depending on what resources you need for your job (a phone line, a quiet space, reliable Internet, and so on). If you work well in places other than your home office, try a new coffee shop, go to the library, or even think about paying for a coworking space.
Not only will you get to people watch, but you might find a place that increases your productivity and happiness level. More than that, stepping out of the house is an important aspect of the work-life balance that is so hard to achieve as a work-from-home professional.
Work from Home Tip 3: Focus on That Work-Life Balance
Did you just roll your eyes at yet another attempt to convince you that there is a balance between work and life? You’re probably sick of hearing that you need to establish equilibrium between your life and your career, which is next to impossible for most Americans, let alone for those of us whose office is a dozen feet from where we sleep. But as a work from home professional, it’s absolutely vital that you know how to separate the two.
Everyone “takes their work home with them” some days, but that’s nearly a constant for online support representatives. Depending on your client or employer, you may be expected to respond to last-minute support claims, or you may have to take calls later in the evening than you’d like. But most of the time, supporting customers can just be emotional and exhausting.
To recover from your “day in the office,” and to separate yourself from the work you do in your home, it’s time to focus on your personal life. This could mean:
- Shutting off notifications on your computer or phone during off-time and breaks (if you can do this – it depends on your job description)
- Having set times, negotiated with your employer or client, where you are out of contact
- Following your scheduled breaks and outings, especially if you’ve had a rough day on the clock
- Asking your significant other, friends, or family to engage you in activities or conversations that don’t involve work
If you still seem to struggle with leaving your work at your desk, that’s understandable. It’s possible that you may need to put more effort into establishing the separation between your work and personal life. You can try:
- Creating a more secluded workstation in – or moving your workstation to – a separate space so you can physically (and mentally) remove yourself at the end of the day
- Creating a more specific schedule with planned work hours and vacation/time off
- Connecting with other work-from-home and online support professionals who can understand your work and the demands placed on you
While there is no doubt that working from home is an excellent perk, it makes it that much harder for online support professionals to get the distance and time they need to do their job well each and every day. Focusing on creating that space, and giving yourself ways to recharge your batteries, is not a weakness – it’s a powerful tool that can help you do your job better and improve your happiness along the way.
We’re All a Little Crazy
Working from home is absolutely amazing, and it is something that few people have the opportunity (or ability) to do. There are so many perks, but that doesn’t mean it’s always perfect. Hopefully you can take the tips provided to create a work from home life that helps you excel in your online support profession and keeps you happy and healthy.
Make sure that you are taking care of your daily work from home tasks while also making space for yourself, your family, and your life. You can still work from home in your pajamas, talk to your four cats out loud, and occasionally binge on Netflix instead of working. But by creating a schedule, focusing on outside interactions, and building space between work and home, you’ll be able to return to work with a better outlook, higher energy, and increased productivity.
Best of all, you’ll have time to actually take a shower!
Latasha Doyle is a freelance writer living outside of Denver. When she’s not writing or reading, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.