March 18, 2020
How to Work at Home and Get Stuff Done
School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org
A Little About Myself for Reference
I am 49 years old with a wife, 2 teenage boys (1 driving), and 2 dogs. I have worked as either a software engineer or an engineering manager for 25 years of which 17 of those years have been work at home. I earned a master’s of computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology’s OMSCS online learning program. I currently work remotely as a research scientist for Georgia Tech.
Working From Home is Very Different From Working in an Office
Whether you sit in front of a computer at home or you sit in front of a computer in an office the actual work you are doing is the same. At the task level, the job does not change. This is a very important concept to remember; you are paid to complete tasks, not work hours. When working at home the environment changes, communications change, but the tasks (and the need to complete tasks) stay the same. Unfortunately, your home is comfortable, full of distraction, and a barrier to communications with your manager and coworkers. All of which work against you when you are trying to get work tasks (stuff) done.
Your Home has Been Designed for Comfort, not Productivity
The first obstacles to getting stuff done at home are the couch, TV, and refrigerator. These distractions were purchased for comfort, to wind down after a day or week of hard work. These items will call to you when you are trying to get stuff done. The solution is a workspace out of sight of those distractions; preferably, a dedicated workspace with a door . When it is time to work, go to your workspace and if you have a door close it. Your home workspace should be designed for productivity by following the same rules as an office workspace in terms of layout and amenities.
I have a wife and two teenage boys that I love very much, but they keep me from getting stuff done by assuming that if I am home I am available. If you have a door in your workspace, close it, and when you are on a conference call put a sign on the door stating that you are on a video call and are not to be disturbed. Invest in a pair of comfortable noise-canceling headphones with a microphone. If you do not have a door, explain to your family that at any time you may be on a conference call and to approach you assuming you are on a call. I also use hand signals to signal to my family that I am on a call.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind – Communication is key
In my experience working at home as a manager and an individual contributor, this proverb is just applicable now as it was in 850 B.C. How do you get stuff done if you are not sure what the stuff is or you are unsure of the definition of “done”. Most people do not realize the amount of important information that is conveyed via impromptu hallway meetings until they have worked at home for a month or two. “Out of sight, out of mind” is human nature  and must be actively counteracted in order to understand what stuff needs to be done.
Over-communicating with your manager, your teammates, and your internal customers is the solution to, “out of sight, out of mind”. Check your email often during your manager’s business hours, be available on Slack, strive to respond to communications immediately. This is very easy to do by installing email and Slack on your phone. I consider it an important part of my job to keep my manager and team informed about what is going on, so I tend to send a lot of emails. This is very dependent on your manager; some of my past manager’s liked the fact that I kept them in the loop via email and others would rather be updated during conference calls. Make sure you figure out how your manager likes to communicate. Even if you have a manager that would rather be updated via a call, send an agenda email before the call with your update. In my experience, you are always better off over-communicating than under communicating when working at home.
Although over-communicating can do a lot to combat “out of sight, out of mind”, research has shown there is a potential work from home promotion (WFH) ‘discrimination’ penalty . This is situation-specific in my experience as both a manager and an individual contributor. Working at home needs to be factored into your career goals with the understanding that you may not have the same career advancement options as someone who works in the office.
The Advantages of Working at Home
If done right, research has shown that working from home (WFH) is beneficial to both the employee and the employer . Success requires a unique manager and employee who are both invested in making WFH work. The manager must be willing to trust and give up a little control, while the individual contributor must be willing to spend more time communicating.
The reward for the company is a more productive employee; research shows WFH employees are more productive than office employees . The reward for the WFH employee is flexible hours, no commute, and a flexible work environment. For example, I enjoy working at night so I split my day between meetings during business hours and coding at night; sleep flexibility is another advantage of working from home.
 Crosbie, Tracey, and Jeanne Moore. “Work–life balance and working from home.” Social Policy and Society 3.3 (2004): 223-233.
 Bloom, Nicholas, et al. “Does working from homework? Evidence from a Chinese experiment.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 130.1 (2015): 165-218.
 Schindler, Andreas, and Andreas Bartels. “Parietal cortex codes for egocentric space beyond the field of view.” Current Biology 23.2 (2013): 177-182.
Author Biography: Eric Gregori is a Research Scientist in the Design Intelligence Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology. His research interest revolves around the use of Knowledge Engineering, Machine Learning, and Natural Language Understanding in education and customer support. He is currently working on the Jill Watson conversation agent to support education by amplifying the utility of teachers. He holds an MS in computer science from Georgia Tech.