A few months ago, when the COVID-19 outbreak first started to impact how we all live and work, I wrote a column titled “Working From Home—5 Tips for Newbies” with my recommendations for being more successful while working from home. Having worked out of my own home now for 17 years, I’ve discovered a few things along the way, and my hope was that my experiences might be helpful for others.
Now that a few months have gone by, and working from home is becoming the new norm, let’s review these recommendations again and see how everyone is doing. Here’s an abbreviated recap of my five tips for working successfully from home.
1. Set an Alarm
One of the biggest traps that can derail an attempt to work from home is failing to keep to a regular schedule. It becomes easier and easier to sleep in, and soon, your 9-to-5 workday has turned into 12-to-8, leaving you feeling more exhausted than before. To maximize your productivity, set your alarm, get up, get dressed, and jump into your regular workday schedule.
2. Build a Nest
If possible, set up a spot in your home that you can designate as an office area (Figure 1). Not only will it signal to everyone else in the house that you are “at work,” but you will also be able to step right into your work without having to first search for a quiet corner of the house.
3. Manage Interruptions
How do you tell the people that you love and share your home with to “go away and stop bugging me?” The answer is that you don’t. Instead, you gently manage expectations so that everyone understands your schedule. If interruptions happen (as is bound to happen with children in the house), don’t let them frustrate you. Instead, try to look for ways to include everyone in what you are doing so they don’t feel disconnected from you.
4. Smile: You’re on Candid Camera
If you are set up for video conferencing, use it. We humans need to see and interact with each other. You wouldn’t hide behind a mask in a meeting at the office, so don’t hide now at home. Even if it doesn’t help you directly, it will probably help others. I know of one engineering manager who has made it his policy to leave his camera on all day long so that other people can see him and know that someone is always available for them.
5. Reach Out
There may be members of your own team who are struggling during this time, especially if they are extroverted and rely on regular contact with other people. Please seek them out and check in with them. If you can help your co-workers to succeed, then you will succeed as well.
I started with these five tips, but there are many others. I would love to hear about your methods for staying productive while working from home, so please don’t be shy about sharing with me. Who knows—maybe we’ll update this list to include your ideas in a future column.
The Benefits and Rewards
Now, let’s talk about some of the advantages of working from home. Of course, there are the obvious ones, such as saving money on commuting. I finally put gas in my car last week for the first time in three months. You can also save money on clothing and eating out, too—although, at this point, I think I would give a week’s pay just to sit down in my favorite restaurant again. But what about some of the other benefits that might not be as obvious but are still equally rewarding?
One pleasant surprise has been that, for many of us, life slowed down just a bit. Instead of the day whizzing by in a blur, I’ve discovered I am more focused on my work—and I was working from home to begin with. But with fewer external distractions that used to divert my attention, I’ve found I now have more clarity in my daily tasks.
Working from home also freed up time for some to invest in online education for both professional and personal development. For myself, I find I am doing more research into new design topics and ideas, with the byproduct of expanding my professional network.
And just for whimsy, I took the time to put together a 1,000-piece puzzle (Figure 2). Without my regular lunch appointments or errands to run, I was looking for a new way to take a break during the workday. It took me a month of lunches (along with some additional late nights), and just a tiny bit of frustration, but I got it done. I don’t think that I’ve built a puzzle since I was a kid (not counting board layout, of course).
Our entire industry has had to learn new ways of doing things, and it has been encouraging to see how both individuals and corporations have responded. One example is the increase in design-based webinars and online training sessions over the past few months. Even with the cancellation of some regular conferences and classes, the design information is still available online.
A second example is observing EDA vendors respond so quickly to those using their software to work at home without disruption to their workflow. And while engineering and other tasks are being accomplished remotely from home offices, management teams are devising new ways to support their at-home staff. There are even resources available for leaders who need help and ideas in this new world of managing teams remotely.
Our jobs and our industry aren’t the only areas where we’ve seen some of the benefits of working from home; however, there are personal rewards as well. For instance, I’ve talked to many couples and families who are cherishing the unexpected opportunity to become reacquainted with each other. Families are spending more quality time together, neighbors spend more time talking over their fences, and personal projects are being worked on at a furious rate. My wife and I even put in a small garden this year, which is something we haven’t done in a long time.
The problems related to COVID-19 are not something to be trivialized, and many have suffered greatly. I know that it is a long road to recovery, getting our personal and work lives back into balance. But for the moment, we can look at the silver linings and be thankful for many things. And as could be expected, the PCB design industry has become (in my humble opinion) one of the champions in this changing world in which we work. Well done, designers, you’ve done an exceptional job. Keep up the good work, everyone, and keep on designing!
1. E. Bailyn, “How to Manage Remote Teams Successfully,” First Page Sage, April 30, 2020.
This column originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of Design007 Magazine.