When you have a dream job in mind, you need to investigate, dig into the facts, and really understand what the job is all about. Only then can you take on the dream and be able to create a reality. As I began my work-from-home experience, I quickly discovered how my life changed and new challenges emerged from a human-connectivity point of view.
I previously discussed the art of traveling while working from home, how to balance the desire to travel with the realities of a full-time job. I also wrote about autonomy in your work-from-home job, which can be a refreshing concept if you know how to remain productive, efficient, and professional.
So let’s dive into the next important topic, which is maintaining a healthy set of social skills. Believe it or not, this can be a real challenge and a crucial part of keeping your sanity.
Take me for example…
When I first started working from home, it was a bit of a cultural shock because you don’t interact with your coworkers in the same way that you would in an on-site position.
Some of the things you might take for granted in an on-site position are just… different when working from home. Taking hints from a facial expression is impossible if you’re on a voice-only call or talking via chat. Sharing your teammates’ failures and successes (you know, those small talks that are common in working relationships), don’t happen as organically when you’re not sitting near them. Even knowing when is the best time to approach a coworker or boss is not as evident. In most on-site jobs, you can actually see if someone’s on the phone or in a meeting; that may not be as clear in the virtual office.
Outside the “office,” you may encounter other challenges. A common one is explaining to your friends and family (in a way that they really understand!) that working from your home does not mean you are free and available at all times.
So, this is why we members of the “moving laptop” tribe should always take care to exercise our social skills with those around us. (No, the cat does NOT count.)
Here are a few tips and tricks that I think will put you on the right track:
- At work, don’t become a robot. What do I mean by that? Two examples: sending short e-mails without a greeting (with a “template” aftertaste), and never going beyond work-related topics when meeting with colleagues. These tendencies can, and will, make you sound and feel more like a cyborg with no interest in human emotions. So while you don’t want to become a Chatty Cathy, you do want to include some warmth and personality in your daily communications. Try to pick up on cues: Does your coworker seem a little down or particularly happy today? Be empathetic.
- There are always solutions. Find them! If you come up against a challenge, you can always find ways to improve. If you aren’t connecting with others as you would like or you miss picking up on facial expressions, take the initiative and suggest a video call or conference. If someone is nearby or traveling and in town, reach out and grab a lunch or dinner. Set a good example for your team by always keeping them informed of your current activities, such as updating your Skype status and keeping an up-to-date calendar. By doing so, they’ll know when they can reach out to you. If you want to organically connect with your coworkers, clients, and others, use (in a smart and professional way) your social networks. Create new groups with privacy rules so that all of your personal shares reach the specific group of people you intended.
- Seek every opportunity to go out of the house. Let’s be honest, we usually spend so much time indoors, we might rarely even see natural light! Go and have a “Zen” break in your garden, walk around your block, plan small and big trips, visit friends and family, and go out for dinner and drinks. These activities will lower your stress level and help you keep your sanity. Life’s not all work and no play, you know.
- Be clear about your time and needs with family and friends, but don’t shut down their (and your own) need for contact. They may be used to just “dropping by” (or think they can now that you’re working from home). They need to understand that when you are working, you are in fact at work and shouldn’t be disturbed. At the same time, don’t let this make you a hermit who refuses any human contact. Instead, encourage them to reach out at times that are convenient for you. If it’s feasible, make dates for meals or a quick coffee break, and put them on your calendar with reminders. Then, enjoy your time together! (And…of course, play with your cats.)
The bottom line is, no matter how much work you might have, always make time for human connections with your friends, colleagues, and those who love you. (And, make time for yourself… don’t fall in to the trap of being at work 24/7.) Making and maintaining social connections is very much part of the art of working from home.
If you have any questions about working from home, I would be happy to answer them in future posts. Just leave a note in the comments below.