Work-from-home life is not without its problems.
Ever since workplace advice was invented — shortly after Neanderthals discovered “the meeting” — it has focused primarily on our daily lives in office environments.
There are tips on dealing with annoying co-workers and unfair dress codes and difficult bosses, suggestions for surviving crowded staff meetings and detailed rules for proper break-room refrigerator etiquette.
But what good is all that knowledge to the growing number of people who work from home? Don’t employees who inhabit their own unique and solitary workspaces deserve advice as well?
Of course they do. And I’m here to help.
Studies by both the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the workplace strategy firm Global Workplace Analytics have found that about 25 percent of the American workforce works from home at least part of the time.
Also, a Global Workplace Analysis report says more than 80 percent of U.S. workers would like to “telework at least part-time.”
Companies that let people work from home save money on both office space and furniture, and the workers themselves tend to be less likely to switch jobs, more productive and happier.
The happier part likely comes from not having to read workplace advice about how to handle annoying co-workers, unfair dress codes and crowded staff meetings.
But that doesn’t mean the work-from-home life is without its problems.
With that in mind, I’m happy to unveil this first-of-its-kind Guide To Navigating The Workplace When Your Workplace Is Not An Actual Workplace.
Dealing with a difficult manager. If you work remotely, the manager you deal with most of the time is yourself, and let me say, you are a real piece of work. Moody. Indecisive. Hypercritical.
It’s the same with my manager. Sometimes I can’t stand me. But until modern psychology develops a way for us to get the “manager within” fired, we must find a way to work with ourselves.
The easiest approach is to keep your head down and stay busy. That’s why remote workers are so productive. A person’s inner manager can’t be a hassle when you’re getting your work done.
But you also can’t be afraid of confrontation. Maybe you need a break but your manager is in your head saying, “No, keep working or everyone will hate you!” Don’t stand for that.
Everyone needs to stretch their legs or get a coffee or stare out the window for a minute. Your manager needs to know that this is a two-way street, and it’s important you learn to respect you.
Lastly, if your manager is in any way harassing or bullying you, it’s time to see a therapist and acknowledge that working alone may not be for you.
Handling overly affectionate co-workers. Anyone who works from home even occasionally has had to deal with co-workers who don’t seem to grasp the idea of personal space. I’m referring, of course, to our canine and feline colleagues.
Nothing breaks a remote worker’s train of thought quite like a furry cat deciding a laptop keyboard is a great place to curl up for a nap, human fingers be damned. It’s equally hard to focus when a canine co-worker starts poking your arm with a cold, wet nose.
This is a difficult scenario to manage, as there is no legal precedent — yet — for house-pet workplace harassment lawsuits.
The only solutions are a) close a door and deal with the ensuing meowing or barking, b) gently shoo the co-worker away, crushing both its soul and your own; or c) briefly give in to the affection and hope your manager doesn’t raise a fuss.
Navigating a tragically comfortable couch. Arguably the greatest obstacle any home worker faces is the alluring siren songs of cozy furniture. Be it a couch or recliner, a daybed or nearby futon, all are out to entrap you.
You must resist. Falling victim to sleep-inducing furniture is a surefire way to halt productivity, angering your inner manager as well as your outer manager and quite possibly putting an end to your remote work, dooming you to the gloomy confines of a regular office.
If you’re not strong-willed enough to operate around even standard home furnishings, your only option is to strip your home of all cushions and replace them all with unsanded wood boards. (You can bring the cushions back in after work hours.)
If a couch covered in rough wood boards is still alluring, you need to stop staying up so late watching television. You have a problem.
Shutting down noisy co-workers. We already touched on feline and canine co-workers, and since you work remotely, you don’t technically have human co-workers. But you still have to deal with other humans, whether you work from home or from a coffee shop or other public place.
On the home front, the most disruptive human is usually named Dan. Dan is your neighbor who got laid off a while back and is now just spending some time finding himself. He fills his free time with home improvement projects, most of which involve loud, gas-powered machinery and the repeated dropping of heavy items into metal wheelbarrows. He also plays music too loud and swears a lot.
If we’re being honest, Dan is a total jerk. Plus, he never returned your weed whacker. You are morally justified in calling the police on Dan or reporting him for various code violations.
If you’re trying to work in a public place and people around you are being disruptive, just walk up to them and say, “My manager would like to have a word with you.” Pause a moment and then start speaking in a different-sounding voice, saying, “My employee can’t concentrate. You need to keep it down.”
They will either make less noise or gather their belongings and run out the door.
I hope this advice helps make your out-of-office work experiences better.
I have to stop now because that idiot Dan just fired up a jackhammer and I need to call the cops.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.