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Welcome to the new world of working at home

Closeup of laptop computer on table with home items

Welcome home, everyone.

Well, not everybody. But widespread and fitting concern among businesses over the spread of COVID-19 certainly has created a lot of new, home-based workers – hopefully for the short term.

I’ve got almost eight years of experience working from a home office. The converted bedroom that I work from these days is much more comfortable and far quieter than any of the desks, cubicles and offices that I worked from during more than three decades in the newspaper business.

My home office isn’t well-suited for meeting with business colleagues or other clients, though. So I try to meet with them in their offices, coffee shops or restaurants. That gives me an opportunity for fresh scenery, away from the phone or a computer screen.

I like to think I’m self-motivated, which is an important attribute for successfully working from home. Beyond that, I don’t think my circumstances qualify me as a particularly good or well-rounded source for home-work adaption strategies or productivity tips.

However, I’m fortunate to know several people who work out of home offices, and they are very good at it. So I asked some of them for suggestions.

Lenee McQueen in her Work From Home office
Lenee McQueen | SDN Communications Major Accounts

Let’s start with Lenee McQueen, a major account coordinator for SDN Communications. She has been with SDN for about 15 years. For more than five years now, she has worked out of a home office on a farm and ranch in the White Lake, S.D. area. She lives in a rural area roughly halfway between Sioux Falls and Pierre, and she visits both cities regularly for work purposes.

McQueen works out of a converted bedroom, too. The biggest adjustment in switching from working at SDN headquarters in Sioux Falls to working remotely was the social factor, she said.

“The most difficult thing was the social aspect is not having co-workers nearby,” she said. “I’ve learned to use the phone to stay in contact with people so that you know what’s going on.”

She and her departmental colleagues in Sioux Falls communicate regularly for business purposes using video-conferencing software. In one recent conversation, her colleagues mentioned they were concerned they weren’t getting up and moving around often enough.

McQueen said that becoming overly deskbound is a concern of hers, too. She suggests that home workers schedule 15-minutes breaks for exercise. Depending on the weather, she walks up and down the steps inside her house or goes outside and walks on the driveway.

In her case, a big advantage of working in a home is the lack of interruption. Her husband typically is working outside. A small dog is her only regular visitor. “When I’m working from home there’s less interruption. I think I’m more productive,” she said. “I’m able to focus.”

Elizabeth Hagen sitting on her front step
Elizabeth Hagen

Tips from a pro

Elizabeth Hagen has worked out of a home office in Sioux Falls for 20 years. She’s a speaker, lifestyle strategist, author, and professional organizer.

She encourages working-at-home newcomers to maintain an office-like approach to their jobs. Don’t work in pajamas, for example. “It’s a mindset thing,” she said.

If children are a factor, the family should make a schedule and enforce it. Set aside time that you’re going to be available for your kids and time when you can’t be interrupted, Hagen suggests.

When she started working from home, she had a desk and bookshelf near the kitchen, and family members frequently walked by. Now she works out of a converted bedroom and has more privacy.

“My kids knew if the door was shut, forget it, unless it’s an emergency,” Hagen said.

Friends, family members and others should be advised upfront that although you’ll be home more often, you have work responsibilities. Politely set boundaries, she suggests. For example, let people close to you know when you’ll be available for personal calls or when you might be available to meet for coffee.

Some people new to the experience of working from home might have to start by doing their jobs on kitchen tables, she said. If so, get a file cabinet and some boxes to store work materials during off-hours, she suggests. Don’t just leave your work sitting around the house.

When necessary for privacy, take a laptop and work in your bedroom, she said.

The adjustment to working at home might be easier for people with a lot of experience working digitally, she said. Even so, maintaining discipline in your work life is important.

“Structure is a goal. It won’t happen every day like you want it to,” Hagen said. “It’s a goal you work toward.”

SDN is a leader in providing business internet, private networking and cloud connectivity to businesses and organizations in communities such as Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Worthington, and the surrounding areas.