Man­ag­ing the Home Of­fice

Many ad­vi­sors can make the switch from a tra­di­tional of­fice to one in their own house.

Financial Planning - - CONTENTS - BY MICHAEL KITCES

In­sights on work­ing re­motely, from some­one who walks the walk.

The in­ter­net has af­forded pro­fes­sion­als a num­ber of con­ve­nient in­no­va­tions, and chief among them may be the abil­ity to turn a 15-mile com­mute into a 15-foot walk down the hall from the bed­room. But while shift­ing to a home of­fice may in­crease your avail­able time — whether by elim­i­nat­ing the com­mute or dis­trac­tions from col­leagues — it may not nec­es­sar­ily im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity, given the dis­trac­tions of home and fam­ily. Con­se­quently, to main­tain per­sonal pro­duc­tiv­ity in a home of­fice, it’s nec­es­sary to es­tab­lish some of the same of­fice struc­ture you might have taken for granted in more-tra­di­tional work en­vi­ron­ments, from hav­ing phys­i­cally sep­a­rated space to es­tab­lish­ing — both for your fam­ily and your­self — for­mal hours for when you should not be in­ter­rupted. At the same time, it’s nec­es­sary to have a plan for how to recre­ate the other es­sen­tial com­po­nent of of­fice life — in­ter­ac­tion with col­leagues (or other hu­man be­ings, in gen­eral). So whether you’re leav­ing a mas­sive of­fice en­vi­ron­ment, or look­ing to op­ti­mize the home of­fice space you al­ready have, here are some best prac­tices you can con­sider.

Cre­at­ing Space

The first key to work­ing from a home of­fice is es­tab­lish­ing a phys­i­cal space that is yours alone. It may seem ob­vi­ous, but this space should have walls and, ideally, a door, to es­tab­lish a clear for­mal bar­rier be­tween your per­sonal space and your workspace. In my case, the home of­fice space is noth­ing more than an ex­tra bed­room that I took over. De­spite the fact that a bed­room is nor­mally part of our per­sonal fam­ily space — and this one is lit­er­ally right across the hall­way from my daugh­ters’ room — this is un­der­stood by my fam­ily to be Daddy’s Of­fice. When I’m in that bed­room and the door is closed, they know that, for all in­tents and pur­poses, I’m not home at all. I’m at work. Part of the ef­fec­tive­ness of hous­ing an of­fice in a dis­crete phys­i­cal space is that it helps get you into the right frame of mind. When you’re in your of­fice, you’re work­ing … and when

It’s nec­es­sary to es­tab­lish an of­fice struc­ture you might’ve taken for granted in more tra­di­tional work en­vi­ron­ments.

you’re not, you’re not. How­ever, the phys­i­cal sepa­ra­tion is also an im­por­tant line to draw for your fam­ily. It may seem strange to some peo­ple, but if my wife wants to touch base with me dur­ing the work­ing day, she will send me a text mes­sage. We may be in the house to­gether, but, again, the point is that, if the door to my home of­fice is closed, I’m not re­ally at home. The home of­fice has to be hon­ored as a workspace at all times. It can­not be a per­sonal or play space. In other words, do not, at any time, make your of­fice into a rec room, home the­ater, “man cave” or any­thing else that isn’t re­lated to your work. Us­ing workspace as per­sonal space blurs the work and per­sonal line with fam­ily, and this blur­ring can lead to prob­lems. For your ben­e­fit and ev­ery­one else’s, it’s also im­por­tant to con­sider set­ting for­mal of­fice hours. Af­ter all, it can be dif­fi­cult to walk away from work, par­tic­u­larly for those of us who are ex­cep­tion­ally de­voted to what we do. Set­ting a sched­ule lets ev­ery­one know when it’s quit­ting time. I aim to start work by 9 a.m., and I typ­i­cally work un­til around 6 p.m. Then, I spend din­ner­time with fam­ily, oc­ca­sion­ally com­ing back to my of­fice to work for an­other hour or two af­ter 9 p.m., if nec­es­sary.

Tak­ing Breaks

Even the hard­est work­ers in a tra­di­tional of­fice won’t stay put at their desks straight through the day. That’s partly be­cause meet­ings may arise, and/or col­leagues may oc­ca­sion­ally in­ter­rupt for le­git­i­mate (or not-sole­git­i­mate) rea­sons. Some­times it’s sim­ply be­cause we crave a brief men­tal break — an op­por­tu­nity for some fresh air and a lit­tle so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. That’s why the of­fice wa­ter­cooler of­ten be­comes a pop­u­lar gath­er­ing place in a tra­di­tional set­ting. But therein lays one of the big chal­lenges of work­ing from home: There are no col­leagues with you. And while their in­ter­rup­tions can some­times be dis­rup­tive — and may in fact drive some peo­ple to con­sider work­ing from home in the first place — one of the pri­mary rea­sons peo­ple may give up on the home of­fice is the feel­ing of iso­la­tion and lack of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion that can ac­com­pany this life­style. Ac­cord­ingly, work­ing ef­fec­tively from home re­quires hav­ing a plan to cre­ate those so­cial con­nec­tions and spon­ta­neous in­ter­ac­tions that help fuel con­nect­ed­ness (and even cre­ativ­ity).

On­line team chat apps such as Sales­force Chat­ter or Slack can also help sup­port so­cial in­ter­ac­tion.

My start­ing point is so­cial me­dia. It’s one of the rea­sons I have be­come so en­gaged on var­i­ous plat­forms, par­tic­u­larly Twit­ter. When I need to take a five-minute men­tal break, I check in on Twit­ter, di­gest the lat­est buzz and re­spond to the ques­tions and com­ments sent to me. No­tably, I limit my­self to only a five-minute break on so­cial me­dia to keep from get­ting sucked in. My next out­put for so­cial en­gage­ment is my fam­ily. Be­cause I have a stay-at-home spouse and young chil­dren who are not yet in school full time, tak­ing a break from work for a few min­utes in­volves leav­ing my of­fice, go­ing to our main liv­ing area and spend­ing a lit­tle time with the fam­ily. Here, again, I must set a men­tal time limit, but the op­por­tu­nity to share mean­ing­ful time with my fam­ily dur­ing the course of my day helps keep me bal­anced in what are oth­er­wise fairly long, in­tense work days. An­other way to round out so­cial in­ter­ac­tion is to be en­gaged with col­leagues through a pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tion, such as a lo­cal FPA chap­ter or NAPFA study group. Go­ing to reg­u­lar meet­ings or get­ting in­volved as a vol­un­teer can pro­vide a much-needed so­cial out­put to en­gage with peers. It is no co­in­ci­dence that the bulk of ac­tive mem­ber­ship in the ad­vi­sor as­so­ci­a­tion groups con­sists of peo­ple who work for smaller in­de­pen­dent firms. This is why I was in­volved from the early days of my ca­reer in lo­cal FPA chap­ter lead­er­ship — as a for­mer chap­ter pres­i­dent — and in sev­eral na­tional com­mit­tees and con­fer­ences. Nowa­days, I’m also trav­el­ing to con­fer­ences on al­most a weekly ba­sis for speak­ing en­gage­ments, which also pro­vides a com­fort­able bal­ance of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion.

Tech Tools

For those who work from a home of­fice but are not solo prac­ti­tion­ers, us­ing tech­nol­ogy tools to sup­port team in­ter­ac­tion can help. These can in­clude video con­fer­enc­ing tools for reg­u­lar team meet­ings, as well as plat­forms such as Google Han­gouts, Slack video or even So­coco to sup­port more im­promptu meet­ings. On­line team chat apps such as Sales­force Chat­ter or Slack can also help sup­port so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. With some of my vir­tual teams, we have ded­i­cated Slack chan­nels just for daily in­tra-team work com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and a sep­a­rate chan­nel ded­i­cated to shar­ing en­ter­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion (whether this re­lates to work or not). It’s also im­por­tant to build in time sim­ply to step out for a breath. As of­ten as I can, I’ll do a walk-and-talk, where I take a con­fer­ence call on a head­set. There’s also al­ways the lo­cal

“Given how much time you’re likely to spend in your home of­fice space, it’s worth in­vest­ing your time and re­sources to get it right,” Michael Kitces says.

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