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Work From Home Like a Boss: Law Firm Edition

Many of you have talked to me personally and may know I’ve worked from home five out of seven years I’ve been at Nifty Marketing. My hope is to give you a few pointers as you make the temporary transition. But first a story: it was my freshman year at college and I didn’t have a lot of friends, being new and all. So, I decided to get out there and try something new – something they call: country dancing.

Generally speaking, this was fun. However, it wasn’t my kind of music (no offense) and there were people who knew what they were doing and people like me #newbie. One thing about country dancing is someone needs to lead, typically the man, but if that man doesn’t know how to dance…that’s pretty hard…and awkward. So in some respects, I had to pay the price and learn something new, listen to the music, and figure out what beat was playing so I could adjust my dancing style accordingly. Before long I was two-steppin’ and three-steppin’ away! YEEHAW!

So it is with working from home: the beat of your music has changed, you need to adjust, read the situation and at times it’ll be awkward and hard. You’ll have to learn new skills, be a leader to hedge problems, and learn how to set good boundaries. Your goal should be to figure out how to be effective regardless of the location you sit your butt. But, if done right – it can go great and won’t end in divorce. 🙂

Remember going from your office to a home office makes everyone dance to a different tune, not just you. Working from home impacts your company culture, your personal life, and how you interact with clients.

Let’s break down each one and I’ll add in some of my words of wisdom.

The Company Effect

Keep in mind that when you go from a support structure, that is your brick and mortar office, to solo structure – the natural tendency is to get lax. Here are a few best practices I like to keep in place to make sure I’m sharp and helping our company grow:

1. Keep a Daily Routine and Don’t Change Things Drastically

I know this might sound silly, but continue to make your bed, brush your teeth, shower, get dressed, eat food, drink water, and take regular breaks as needed. Do these things when you typically do them. Start work when you typically start and take some liberties to adjust as needed (not wanted). Good rest leads to staying focused, sharp thinking, better moods, and a myriad of other benefits. Practicing good self-care can help you stay out of the crosshairs of laziness and depression and sets you up for a productive day. Keep in mind, just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you can’t check in with team members, employees, partners the same way you usually would – shoot them a direct message via text or Slack. Keep in touch, it’ll help you feel anchored.

2. Limit Distractions

With this freedom comes distractions and those distractions can look like a lot of different things. For example, if you do not keep a running task list, or stay accountable to yourself, and allow distractions like movies, podcasts, etc to play while working you and your team you may very well be drowning in a week or two… Possibly even a day or two. I’ve even implemented a “Do Not Disturb” sign so my family knows I’m hunkered down. Bottom line: Control your environment and ask for what you need. Your mileage may vary if you choose to work from the couch versus a dedicated space with a brand new keyboard, great monitors, scanners, and some noise-canceling headphones.

3. Don’t Isolate

You may at certain points think “Man I need another adult in my life” during a transition like this because you will be in your house quite a bit at times. Make sure to go outside, walk the dog, go to a park for a little while and find ways to engage in. Obviously, follow your local city’s directions on social distancing too. But call your mom/dad, favorite friend, friend you have missed for a while, and have a quick chat. Do anything you possibly can to make sure that you are not completely engulfed by your home office.

4. Be Realistic

Sometimes you’re going to suck at this and admitting when that happens is good and allows you to get back on the road to be effective. Stay out of shame, you aren’t bad if you drop the ball! Do the next right thing and do it right now!

5. Stay Goal/Task-Oriented & Prioritize

Keep a running task list of things you need to get done, most likely in a project management software (we use Asana). Reward yourself in a meaningful way when you accomplish important things by going on a power walk, reading your favorite book, watching a tv-show, or finishing a project. Find out whatever keeps your tank full so tomorrow is just as good as today.

6. Practice Mindfulness

Look, working from home is stressful and rising cortisol levels will negatively impact your performance and adversely impact your health. If you’re looking for a way to limit stress and increase mental toughness, I’d recommend checking out any of these apps. I personally use Headspace. Additionally, if you need a boost of energy and mental clarity “The Iceman”, Wim Hoff, has some excellent breathing exercises that are alarmingly effective. Warning: Do not do when attempting to go to bed – these breathing exercises are like Adderall up in here!

Using these tips will greatly help you stay engaged and healthy and that just leads to our company being better each day.

Personal Life Effect

Remember that whole thing about the “music changing tunes”? That just happened big time! The personal consideration really centers around how to keep relationships healthy and avoid going nuclear on people you love and care about. Here are a few tips:

Start with Empathy

Having empathy for your family, roommates, or others who aren’t used to having full access to you during the day is super important. This requires you and them to get on the same page but do that by doing your best to see their perspective first.

Lead the Conversation

Take a few minutes to figure out what you want and take into consideration what they may want too. Think through what you need: schedule, self-care, environment, etc. Now, have that conversation and get on the same page.

Have a Conversation

Having this conversation is simple but not easy. Consider setting up a few redundancies once you get on the same page with your people by posting a schedule on your door or ask them to consider you not home so you aren’t tasked with anything that would demand your attention for prolonged periods of time. You can also set a schedule that is more flexible but really peg yourself to productivity by setting out exactly what you want to accomplish for the next 2-3 hours then spend a break doing something that recharges your batteries.

Revisit the Process

Remember that just as you’re learning a new schedule your family is also learning a new schedule so be gentle. It’s totally normal to be frustrated at certain times but ask for a “do-over” if you lose it. Use these flare-ups as a good opportunity to firm up your boundaries so that you have a good place to work at home. Make adjustments as needed to fit your needs.
Overall, solving the issue of unintended distractions is really important especially when considering you are billing for your time to someone who needs you to perform: especially right now amid this pandemic.

The Client Effect

People Will Understand

I found it particularly helpful especially when my kids are home from school and or during breaks or with the current #CoronavirusSituation to not worry too much about awkward screams, requests, interruptions, or any other myriad of curveballs that you will inevitably see. Your job is to hedge all of these concerns by setting the table nicely before phone calls, especially if they may be important or high stress. Yelling at your kids and forgetting you’re not on mute is a bad look (guilty). Also, yelling at kids while on mute and missing important information is equally ineffective (guilty). In most cases telling the other person what they might hear on the phone breaks the monotony and can lighten the mood if things are serious and gives you a little bit of a buffer if the unexpected happens. Here are a few one-liners I throw in:

  • “Hey [name], I’m working from home so if you hear any blood-curdling screams – it’s because my children are practicing for their “Lord of the Flies” audition.
  • “Hey just so you know I’m at home today and sometimes my children fight and scream during my calls. Super fun. So if you hear them…that’s what’s going on.”

Almost every time I use a segway like these I’ll hear something like: “haha totally get it…” or “no worries man!” etc. No biggy, right? So relax. Keep in mind everybody, especially right now, is in the same boat so you won’t catch heat. But store these little nuggets in the back of your brain for the next time you work from home and there isn’t a worldwide pandemic. If you don’t have roommates or people living with you – largely you can escape about 90% of these problems.