Tag Archives: office

A Simple Fix to the Do Not Disturb Problem

I work from home full time.  I have an office with a door that is located right off the main living area of the house.  While this is terribly convenient to the core of the house, it can mean that there is often a lot going on around me.  There are 3 other humans, and 3 dogs living in this house with me.  In the summer, they are all here most of the time.  As I’m sure you can imagine, my door has to be closed a lot.

Whether the door is closed or open, my family struggles with knowing whether or not I’m in the middle of something or on the phone.  I use SKYPE primarily, and often on speaker, so there are no tell-tale signals.  Because it is a home office setup, I don’t have a slick red light that lights up every time I am on the phone either.

I’ve always been very flexible with my family about interruptions during the workday.  I’m not one these people who close the door and tell the family to ignore me all day, or pretend I’m not here.  That policy can negate one of the biggest advantages of working at home:  you’re there when all of the important things happen.

I needed a way to signal to them what’s going on behind these doors, and how they should or should not interact with me at this time.  I searched all over the internet to find something.  I looked for a traffic light that I could change between red, yellow, and green.  (I didn’t find one, but admittedly I wasn’t looking real hard because I’m sure my wife doesn’t want one in the family room).

I even tried to make my own signs.  Let’s just say it didn’t go well.  Finally, after a lot of searching and much frustration,  I found a really simple solution and it was very cost effective too:  less than $5. You can buy it here on Amazon:   https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00USOBIQI/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

I bought this 2-pack of door knob hang tags (like you see at hotels) that are printed with various messages:

Come In (Green), Busy (Blue), Do Not Disturb (Red/Orange), Gone for the Day (Orange), Away (Yellow).  They are printed on both sides, so you can just flip them over to change the message.

Screenshot 2015-08-20 10.54.35

I use the Come In, I’m Busy, and Do Not Disturb the most.  Here is how I use them:

Come In:  I’m working, but not on the phone or really tied up.  It’s OK to pop in to chat or ask a question, etc.

I’m Busy:  I’m on a call or working on something pretty important.  Please knock before entering, don’t just come in and start talking.

Do Not Disturb:  I’m leading a call or really, really, really head’s down on something important or requiring my full, uninterrupted concentration.  Unless someone is hurt or the house is burning down, DO NOT DISTURB!

I’ve also begun to use the Gone for the Day to indicate that I’m done with work!  This process works on an open door as well as a closed door.

I simply explained this to everyone, and it has worked out great.  Their only request was that I make sure to swap them out as needed during the day.  So far, I’ve done a good job keeping the system updated.

What ideas have you found successful?


The Messy Home Office

I’m kind of a slob, it’s true.  But I do wonder if my office space is messier because I work at home?


For the short 3 years I worked in an office, I’m sure that my desk(s) were not cluttered with this much stuff.  Why?  Well, I had to meet with people there!


Here in the home office, its just me and the family.  And let’s face it, they know I am a piler of paper, so why pretend!

I guess it’s time to clean it up.

Do you have any tips for taming the piles?

Prioritizing the Home Office

Where does a separate office rank on your must-have list?


Closing the door is not a luxury
Closing the door is not a luxury

What do you look for when looking for a new home?   For me, a separate room for an office is not only a must-have, but actually a deal killer.  When we bought our current house 7 years ago, our priority was for a guest room.  At the time, I was working in an office, so needing a home office was not even on my radar.  (Turns out, we got both)

I read an article on real-estate and the author was suggesting that you shouldn’t invest money in a home office.  It was no longer high on anyone’s list for resale value.  The argument was that with wireless and mobile device usage on the rise, people weren’t working in a home office anymore, but rather on the couch or the dining room table.

To me, this was naïve.  I guess if you work in an office, you don’t need or want one at home.  But, if you’re going to be serious about getting work done at home, a separate office is necessary.

You can’t successfully work at the dining room table or on the couch long-term.  In my current situation, I don’t even have to share my space with guests.  My office is exclusively an office, and I can close the door anytime, including when I am not working.

Don’t underestimate the value of a dedicated office space at home.  Where do you work?

Excellent Communication is a must for the telecommuter

Communication is key

Most job postings say they’re looking for someone with “Excellent written and oral communication skills”.  It’s like there is a job listing template that has this and everyone says, “yup, need that”.  But the truth is, this is essential as a remote worker or telecommuter.

When you don’t work in a traditional office, you are neither seen nor heard (mostly).  Your work, and how you communicate about your work, is what establishes and maintains your worth and reputation.  It’s a lot harder to simply be the loud voice in a conference room during a team meeting when you’re not physically there.  In fact, you may get only one shot to express your opinion and ideas, so you need to make it count.  Plan ahead if you can, and craft your message to be clear and concise, without the need for your audience to key off of non-verbal cues.  Even in a video conference, you should focus mostly on your words.  They will be what counts.

Email Communication for the Teleworker

As for email communication, less is more.  Kristin Yerecic suggests in a blog post on the OU ImPRessions blog that you should batch your submissions and requests to your manager into as few emails as possible.  I really like this advice because it reduces the amount of clutter your boss sees from you.  Since you can’t personally drop the work off on her desk, you need to make sure that your work (and you) are seen and heard.  A few well written emails in a week should do the trick.  If you’re emailing your boss 10 times a day, what you have to say will not be received well, and your manager will put less importance on everything you say.

Pick up the phone

Finally, don’t rely on written communication for anything that can be nuanced or easily misinterpreted.  Pick up the phone and make a quick call.  You can (and should) follow the call up with a confirming email, but when it is important enough that you need to make sure the other party understands, voice to voice is always the way to go.

Not everyone is cut out to work remotely or telecommute

Can anyone telecommute?

A blog post by Scott Behson of Father’s Work and Family about the considerations needed when setting up flexible work environments really got me thinking:  this remote work isn’t for everybody.

Scott suggests that one important aspect of building a flexible workplace is Person Diagnosis.  That is, assessing individuals for their ability to flex-work.

I think this very point is missed by many when looking at flexible work. Many companies are saying if I allow Steve to flex-work, then I have to allow Joe to do it as well. The truth is, Joe may not be well suited to this at all.

I faced this as a manager many times. I had some employees who were well suited to work from home, and others who would be completely unproductive.   Equality be damned, I didn’t allow flexible work for those potentially unproductive employees.

What makes me cringe is that my company just announced the closing of a number of small offices with everyone being designated as a remote worker now. Wow, are we sure everyone is suited to that?

I doubt it, but maybe that’s part of the plan? (RIF through attrition?)  I believe this may have been part of Yahoo’s plan, albeit in reverse.  (You may remember that Yahoo banned remote working about a year ago).

In a future post, I will discuss some characteristics of a good remote worker or candidate.  In the meantime, what has been your experience with a one-size fits all teleworking policy?


Poll: Interruptions at work: how much time does it cost you?

One of the greatest things about working from home is fewer interruptions.  When you’re in the office, how many minutes of your day are wasted on interruptions in your office / cube?