Exploring the space-time continuum of working remotely
by Dan Booth
For many years in a prior life, I was an entrepreneur and owner of a small business. In that time, I spent a fair amount of my days been working from a home office. Even today, I’m privileged to lead the editorial team of Business Traveler that’s situated all over the country, most of us working in our own remote environments and connected by technology.
As someone who spent years trying to escape from the cubicle farm, I was a bit bemused when a friend of mine called me from his Manhattan apartment a couple of days ago to express his distress at being forced to work from home. He’d been stuck there for a whole 24 hours, and was already wondering how he’d get anything accomplished. Believe me, for those of us who have had any experience working from home, that’s a constant worry.
So let me share a couple of key elements to remote working I’ve discovered for myself: Time and Space. Lest that start to sound too existential, let me clarify.
Time: • I found early on I needed to set a schedule. Work is still a four-letter word, and I needed to make a clear delineation between what was work time and what was home time.
• Likewise home shouldn’t intrude on work. This one’s particularly hard for me – there always seemed to be 101 different household tasks that demanded my attention. I find keeping to a schedule for both work and home keeps one list from consuming time that should be focused on the other.
• Speaking of time-consuming, while remote working would never be possible without the Internet, it can also be a major time-suck for me. I have to ration my time surfing, especially these days when the 24-hour news cycle is so fast-moving and compelling.
Space: • In the early days of my home office experience, I figured out if I was going to get serious about getting the job done, I’d need to set up a dedicated work space. Balancing my laptop on the coffee table in front of the TV was not going to get it. (TV being the second major time-suck of the work-from-home crowd.)
• There’s an old saw in corporate America about mission creep: “The project will expand to fill the time allotted.” The corollary is, “The remote office will expand to spill over into every area of your home, if you let it.” The upshot for me was setting aside ample space, then keeping the work corralled so it doesn’t mushroom out of control. (Anybody’s who’s ever seen my office will know this is a losing battle for me.)
• The space I carved out for working from home was important for another reason. It became my Fortress of Solitude. As we try to work in the time of coronavirus, with the kids home from school and everybody on top of everybody else, this is critical. For me it has meant carving out a space where I could shut myself away, do my work, write my e-mails, make my phone calls, and then re-emerge to join the family, the conquering hero home from battle.
Finally, I choose to look on the bright side. My commute’s down to 30 seconds, and that’s if I stop upstairs in the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee.