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Settling in at your new office: Two veterans of at-home work share tips

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NORTH ADAMS — The COVID-19 outbreak has sent much of the nation, including the Berkshires and the Shires of Vermont, home to continue working.

To work at home effectively, practitioners say, involves technology and technique. And it comes with a set of unique obstacles — such as undone daily chores, lonely pets or stir-crazy children.

But, done right, it can be an oasis of productivity, free of spiraling chit-chats with associates, distasteful office politics or the commute that, for many, occupies five or more hours every week. Working from home is a fairly common practice, but might be new to others just settling into the routine due to the threat of exposure to the coronavirus.

Jeffrey Thomas, executive director of Lever, often has worked from home — as he was doing at the start of this week. Lever helps entrepreneurs and offers a co-working office space environment for startups.

"We already have a significant home-office culture here in the Berkshires who telecommute to work in Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., and beyond," Thomas said. "It's easy to do here, as long as you have access to reliable internet."

He noted that distractions pop up, and without self-discipline, that can reduce productivity. Even so, "a lot of folks will still find it easier — there are distractions at the office, too."

In fact, Thomas said, one of the dangers of working at home is that, despite the distractions, some get so caught up in their work tasks that they lose track of the hours — and leave little time to take care of themselves, which is essential in maintaining productivity. So, it's important to set work hours, stick to it, and to take a break now and then.

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He noted that some people might not be suited to working at home and prefer the office environment.

"It's not a `one-size-fits-all' situation," Thomas said.

John Wall, of Williamstown, has been working remotely from home since 2015. He is a partner and head of business development at Trust Insights, a data science consultancy that helps analyze market statistics.

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"Two big things you'll need to do," Wall said. "One, is to make sure you have what you need to communicate. You don't have that opportunity for face-to-face work like in an office."

Being able to communicate electronically by text, voice and remote face-to-face meetings is important. Chat applications and face-to-face live streaming apps are helpful, he said.

"Two, you need to be vigilant of your time," Wall said. "Don't get completely absorbed by your job."

It's important to set aside time for personal needs and repose. The good news is without all that commuting, a lot of people will have more time available to them.

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Wall said that, if space allows, the home worker should try to identify a separate space in the house that is just for work — a space where work happens and nothing else.

Overall, Wall said he prefers working at home to the corporate office environment because he has found he can be more productive.

"And it can really improve your quality of life a lot," he said.

Williamstown, Mass., is sending municipal personnel home to work from there. Other municipalities and companies are considering the same.

"Each department is thinking through what are the most effective ways to scale back operations how and where it makes sense, and provide the tools they would need for remote work," said Jason Hoch, town manager in Williamstown. "Most of what we do is cloud-based already, so a good chunk of our operation is already highly mobile."

He said that out of 15 Town Hall employees, eight to 10 will wind up working remotely from home.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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