Work It From Home

FANTASY LIFE OR A FRESH KIND OF HELL? LISTEN TO MEN WHO MAKE IT WORK.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

"WHEN I STARTED, I STUCK TO MY MORNING ROUTINE: BREAKFAST AND A SHOWER. MY BREAKS INCLUDE LUNCH, WALKING THE DOG, YOGA, AND PLAYING THE DRUMS."

It’s probably hit you mid-commute, maybe mid-meeting, or smack in the middle of just another day at the office: If I was working from home, I’d be much more productive. More and more men are listening to that voice: About four in ten Americans work remotely at least part of the time, according to a Gallup report published last year. Nearly one in three works remotely 80 percent of the time. No wonder: “Until you don’t have a manager, you don’t realize how much time is spent, and wasted, with a manager,” says Adam Cahn, 54, a CPA in the greater New York City area who started working from home about six years ago. “You don’t have that corporate BS. No meeting after meeting. You don’t have to show up in someone’s office and explain yourself. You just explain yourself to yourself.” Listen to a couple of guys who are doing it and loving it, and then maybe listen to that voice in your head.

THE ART OF FOCUS

Chuck Vadun, 51, communications director at Fire Engine RED, father of two, Carlsbad, California

MY WIFE wasn’t sure I could stay focused and productive working at home. That was almost five years ago, and I’m doing well. She even admitted it. I wish I’d recorded her saying that.

I’m in marketing, collaborative work, so I was used to saying, “Let’s go to the whiteboard and sketch it out.” I can’t do that now, so I use Google Docs and Sheets, Slack, and other tools to share ideas. It works very well.

When I started, I stuck to my morning routine: breakfast and a shower. My breaks include lunch, walking the dog, yoga, and playing the drums. I’m also a neat freak, so another break may be tidying up one area or doing one cleaning task, but then getting right back to work.

In my last job, my office was next to an open-plan area with music blaring and Nerf guns going off. Now it’s easier for me to focus and actually think about what I’m doing. This has made for better results.

Isolation is a problem, I’ll admit. But if you acknowledge it, that’s half the battle, and you just do something to counteract it. I meet friends for coffee or lunch. Sometimes I’ll take a yoga class in the afternoon and then make up the work time later that night. If I don’t have phone calls to make, I sometimes take my laptop to the library or the coffee shop. Just having a few micro-interactions with people— even if they’re complete strangers—goes a long way toward keeping me balanced.

All in all, this has been great, especially for my family life. When I worked in an office, people who left at 5:00 because they had kids got the side-eye a lot. Here, it’s not about when your butt is in your seat. It’s about deadlines and results.

So I’m fortunate to see my two daughters at 3:00 in the afternoon when they’re done with school. I get a hello from them, and my wife is supportive of my workday boundaries. She waits until my quitting time before asking me to do something. That said, I’m part of the after-school and sports carpool system. Our CEO is a big fan of this: Remote workers can leave whenever for that kind of stuff. As long as you’re doing good work, it’s all fine.

Crush it like chuck

Must-have equipment: a door on your office. You have to be able to shut out a barking dog or crazy kids. It’s best if that office is a separate room. Psychologically, having a designated work area reminds me—and everyone else—that in there is where work is done. And being out of the office means I’m done with work.

Boundary worth pushing: over-communicating with colleagues. We spend lots of time interacting via Slack, instant message, and conference calls. I’m out of sight but don’t want to be out of mind. So I over communicate. Not annoyingly so, but enough to compensate for the lack of office drop-bys.

Best body-and-mind stretchers: yoga and drumming. I started practicing yoga about three years ago, so I keep a mat handy for a five- to ten-minute mini-session. I also have a drum kit in the garage and grab my headphones and play along for a song or two. Short breaks help my creativity. If I take my mind off a task I’m struggling with, my subconscious often provides the answer when I get back to the keyboard.

 

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THE POWER OF FLEXIBILITY

Mike Gutman, 37, director of marketing at FlexJobs, Fort Collins, Colorado

ABOUT ten years ago, I negotiated for some time to work remotely. I had been commuting an hour each way, and I wanted that time back to live the life I wanted. Suddenly those hours were mine. That meant morning runs and afternoon bike rides.

Even though the whole idea is to escape the office routine and the meetings (and maybe some of the people), I found that you need both a routine and some social interaction.

I don’t wear pyjamas all day long. It helps to shower, brush your teeth, and dress as if you’re going someplace. That sets the tone for the workday. And I plan my day—work assignments, errands, workouts. That structure helps set a routine, and a routine leads to productivity.

One of my tricks is reading in bed—something unrelated to work—for 20 minutes as I gradually wake up. That stimulates my mind, and then I do 20 minutes of calisthenics. Then I brush my teeth. The time I would’ve spent commuting I invest in myself. It’s a form of self-love, and it’s hugely important.

I don’t miss the political jockeying of an office. With working from home, quality talks the loudest. I’m proactive, setting up phone calls and virtual meetings. I’m also my own IT support, my own research institute. You have to problem-solve by yourself. That’s a skill that pays dividends down the road.

Once your home becomes your home and your office, you’ll get sick of it really quick. Getting out is crucial, even for a short walk. Of course I have Slack and video calls, but I actively schedule recurring team meetings, just for the sake of connecting. I also feed off the energy at coffee shops.

"I DON’T MISS THE POLITICAL JOCKEYING OF AN OFFICE. WITH WORKING FROM HOME, QUALITY TALKS THE LOUDEST."

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That said, I have to put up a virtual wall between me and friends and family. It’s all about expectations and priorities. It’s essential to set expectations with your loved ones. If they need something, they have to tell you it’s absolutely urgent. If it’s not, it gets pushed off.

Coping with loneliness is a critical life skill. I say embrace it. You feel comfortable with your own thoughts and learn to become your own best friend again.

Be like Mike

Tally your time: For one week, write down exactly how you use your time. It can help you focus not just on what you’re doing for work but also around your home. You get a sense of where you need balance, and you can adjust.

Resistance is fruitful: When you wake up, resist the urge to check your cell phone. Create boundaries between the life you want and your work. Don’t let that stuff infiltrate your mindfulness every waking hour. You’ve built time back into your day, and it’s valuable.

Find your happiest place: I work from my laptop and have noise-cancelling headphones with a microphone, so I can have distraction-free meetings. And I will set up shop from my couch, my kitchen table, my office. That freedom to work throughout my house is my happy place.

"ONCE YOUR HOME BECOMES YOUR HOME AND YOUR OFFICE, YOU’LL GET SICK OF IT REALLY QUICK. GETTING OUT IS CRUCIAL, EVEN FOR A SHORT WALK."

TEXT ANDREW DANIELS  ILLUSTRATIONS MITCH O’CONNELL | PETER SUCHESKI

YOUR TIME, YOUR WORKOUT
SPEND 1 MINUTE— OR 15—STAYING LIMBER AND PAINFREE AT HOME. By Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.
 
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1. KNEELING HIP-FLEXOR STRETCH
For tight hips, hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
 
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2. CHILD’S POSE
To loosen your lower back, hold for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds. Do 3 reps.
 
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3. GLUTE BRIDGE
Do 3 sets of 10 to hone your posture.
 
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4. SIDE-LYING CLAM
To avoid knee pain, do 2 sets of 30 per side.
 
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5. LYING WINDMILL STRETCH
To avoid upper-back pain, do 2 sets of 10 per side.