Securing a remote job can mean continuity and continued career growth for a military spouse. Rather than resigning and finding a new position with every PCS, a telecommuting spouse might take a week or so of vacation time to move, and then resume working without missing a beat. The benefits of remote working have been covered in detail – increased flexibility, no commute, more time with your family…the list goes on and on. As more employers offer remote opportunities, more military spouses can reap these benefits.
However, making the transition from a collaborative office-setting to working from home has its own challenges. From balancing work and home life, to managing the quiet solitude of working alone, there are a few measures that can help you stay sane.
Tip #1: Set up an office
Once the movers leave, one of the very first things I do is get my office set up. Having an organized, comfortable and fully equipped work space has a major impact on your productivity. When you first start working from home, make sure you (or preferably your employer!) procure the hardware and office supplies needed to make you as operational as you’d be in the main office. For me, that means a desk with enough space to spread out, a desk phone with wireless headset to take conference calls, and two computer monitors. Also, I love having a window next to my desk so that I feel like I’m part of the world beyond my home (see tip #3 about leaving the house and you’ll understand!)
In picking your new home or preparing for the remote transition, make sure you have dedicated workspace. While working from the couch or the kitchen table might be a good interim solution or nice occasional change of scenery, not having an office space of your own can lead to difficulty focusing and staying on task. For me, walking into my home office in the morning demarcates the end of “home” and the start of my work day. Depending on your work, having a door that isolates you from the rest of the house may be a critical detail. I spend most my day on conference calls with clients – thus it is critical that I can separate myself from the potential sounds of a barking dog, a rummaging spouse or background TV noise. And even if your door closes, make sure that pesky little intruders can’t get in, even though it does make for great YouTube material.
Tip #2: Start your day feeling office-ready
Working from home, I really only wear a quarter of the clothes in my closet and spend so much less money on makeup. Why would I get all dolled up to sit at home behind my computer!? Nonetheless I do recommend that you start your day with whatever routine makes you feel “office-ready.”
My pre-work routine includes showering, putting in my contacts and having my breakfast outside of my office. I have a good milspouse friend whose routine includes full makeup and hair every morning before walking to her office down the hall. For me personally, I usually end up putting yoga pants or gym clothes on to work, but the action of showering is another signal to my brain that the day is starting. Without this routine, I find myself rushing into my workday and never really getting focused.
Tip #3: Try to leave the house once per day
To people that don’t work from home, this recommendation might sound silly, but remote workers know that a day can flash before your eyes. Before you realize, its 5 p.m. and you’ve never seen the light of day! For that reason, be deliberate about trying to leave the house, and preferably go somewhere that makes you interact with others. That might mean going to the gym, the grocery store, taking a walk with a friend or just going out for lunch.
Spouses transitioning to remote work often ask me what was most challenging for me. As an obvious extrovert who feeds off others’ energy, being “alone” all day was by far the hardest. After my very first month working from home, I was admittedly feeling a little tired and blue. I was waking up, doing work out videos in my living room, going upstairs to my office and repeating that same regimen every day. I realized that my lack of social interaction and my hermit-like behavior was wearing on me. Additionally, being home all the time, coupled with our small base, made it hard to make friends — my workplace was usually one of the first places I started making friends when we would PCS.
After this realization, I joined a gym and starting group fitness classes, and quickly felt so much better. A combination of scenery change and social interaction made a world of difference. Soon after I added a weekly Bible study to my routine, which provided me at least one out-of-the-house night per week to look forward to, and I made great friends in the process! When I worked in an office, the thought of deliberately adding more activities to my social calendar sounded exhausting, but in my remote-work world, it became a key ingredient to a happy work life.
Tip #4: Pick up the phone
Looking back on my days in the office, it feels like I spent more time sitting in other people’s offices than my own. If I had a question or hit a mental roadblock, I’d pop into someone’s office and talk it out! This not only reduced turn-around time on answers, but also provided social interaction and fostered workplace relationships. Obviously as remote workers we don’t have the luxury of physical proximity, but picking up the phone to call a colleague or client is the second-best option.
I find that time on conference calls and engaging in one-on-one phone conversations makes me feel part of a community and interacting with others. It is an efficient means to accomplish the task at hand, and provides the social stimulation that I need to get through the day!
Tip #5: MOVE!
I know that telling a military spouse to MOVE seems crazy, but don’t worry – I just mean your body! Another contributing factor to my initial remote-working blues was that I wasn’t physically moving around as much as I did in the office. After my first few weeks, I finished each day feeling physically exhausted even though I’d only been sitting behind my computer. It was then that I realized I was feeling exhausted because I sat behind my computer all day!
In an office setting you get up and move around to go to the restroom, go out to lunch, get coffee, walk to meetings, etc., while in a home office, you can easily sit in one chair all day. After doing some research, I decided to try an adjustable stand-up desk. Again, making that slight adjustment had a huge impact on my energy levels. Depending on the brand, the initial price tag can seem daunting, but many employers will help pay for the cost. I personally had to pay for it out of pocket, but it was worth every penny! There are many ways, however, to move around without the cost, including intermittent stretches, walking around the house, doing a couple jumping jacks, and more.
In addition to moving around within the confines of your own home, it is nice to get a change of scenery a few hours each week. When I start to feel a bit stir-crazy, I like to work at Starbucks for a day when I don’t have client calls scheduled. This provides me a good dose of ambient noise and people watching, and resets my brain to work from home again!
It’s a worthy adjustment
As you can see, my transition to remote working had its share of hiccups and road bumps, but it has been a worthy adjustment to make. While there are days where I miss the office shenanigans, I quickly remember the heartache and challenges I would have finding a new role with every PCS, and I immediately feel better.
Now when I go to the home office for a few days, and experience the loud-talking cube neighbors, the office drama and the extraneous meetings I avoid at home, I always leave thinking, “How did I ever get anything done from an office?!” After really embracing the remote routine, and experiencing the flexibility, productivity and lifestyle it provides, I don’t know if I will ever be able to work in an office again!Subscribe to Military Spouse's Weekly Newsletter