When I began working at the Colin Powell Center two months ago, it was the first time I had had an office job in nearly two years. My return to the world of cubicles and business casual attire, while still working part-time as a writer from home, made me think about what techniques and habits work well in each environment.
These tips aren’t meant only for those who have a hybrid work life like mine; they apply to everyone who works in an office, at home, or both. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Wear the Right Shoes
One of the things that most threw me when I began working at the Center was that I had to wear shoes all day, every day. Alas, no choice here. Despite their floor locale, shoes are easily noticeable, and the only thing less professional than wearing sneakers in a business setting is going about in bare feet.
When I’m at home, I’m comfortable in socks; my feet are glued into my slippers from October to March. Being laced up three days a week makes me appreciate it all the more. It doesn’t make me a faster or smarter worker, but it makes me a happier one. The lesson: appreciate and enjoy the perks of wherever you work. My apartment doesn’t have free coffee, my office does.
Get to Know Your Colleagues – In Person
In the office, it can be more convenient to e-mail someone in the next room than to speak to them in person; you don’t run the risk of interrupting or bothering them. Don’t let it become the only way you communicate. Casual chatting builds personal relationships that make the office a more pleasant place to be.
If you work from home, make an effort to meet people you work or deal with on a regular basis. Set up a time for lunch or drinks. It will reinforce the fact that you’re real people—not just Skype accounts—and you’ll find out how close their profile photo is to the real thing.
Work When You Work Best
If you start slowly in the morning but burn through work from 5-6, make sure you’re at your desk at those times. Don’t assume that because you work in an office, you have to work from 9-5. If you prefer to arrive at 10 and leave at 6, check with your boss to see if it’s okay.
The key is to make it your regular, defined schedule. Don’t sleep in after a late night and figure you can just tack on an extra hour at the end of the day. It makes you look undependable and uncommitted to your job.
I’m sharper in the morning than the afternoon, so I push my lunch back as far as possible. It’s hard for me to concentrate right after I’ve eaten, so when I’m home, I take time afterward to do the dishes, walk the dog, or pick up some groceries. At the office, I reserve that time for less mentally taxing tasks. You’re going to have unproductive stretches throughout the day—arrange to have them fall at times when you can benefit from a break or get something easy done.
Even if you bring lunch to the office or plan on making a sandwich in the kitchen, make sure to get away from your building for an hour during the day. You can take your sandwich and eat in a park, or eat in the office then go for a walk. If you act on your freedom to go outside once in a while, the office won’t feel like a dungeon.
Make Your Work Space Fit You
You immediately adjust your chair to the right height upon arriving in a new office; don’t stop there. Make a run to the supply closet or the store and pick up what you know you use, so you're comfortable from the get-go.
At home, the challenge can be to have a work space at all. Despite this post’s title, the couch doesn't fly, at least not for me. The nearby television is too tempting, and I need a solid surface to write on. Designate a spot where you can be serious and concentrate. Try an afternoon in a coffee shop or the public library for a change of scenery.
I work well in spurts, so this is important for me. When I’m on a roll, I don’t want to stop. If I get a touch of writer’s block, I pause for 10 minutes and refresh. The lack of supervision at home means that you I take a full 20 if I feel like I need it. I just make sure it doesn't become an hour, or a daylong, break. - Alex Davies
Alex Davies is communications coordinator for the Colin Powell Center. Read more about him and our other contributors here.