Well, that’s the theory, anyhow. While the benefits abound, in reality, working from home isn’t for everybody. Distraction and procrastination lurk around every corner. Not to mention the lack of conversation can be difficult for any chatty extrovert to get used to. If you’re going to thrive as a telecommuter, you’ve got to get a little strategic. Here are ten tips for doing just that.
1. Don’t Work From the Couch
Hey, we get it. The couch is super comfortable. But believe us, that comfort will be your downfall. Not only are you likely to snooze as you work in your entertainment room, but you’ll also likely to start watching TV (“Just one show!”). The same goes for your bed, your living room, and pretty much any space where you regularly relax with family and friends. While the design of such spaces (i.e. the “comfy couch” dilemma) is an issue, the deeper problem is that these spaces cue your brain into thinking it’s time to let go, right when you need to be on top of your game.
That’s why it’s so important to set aside a space in your house that is solely for work. Ideally, this should be a separate office. But, if your home doesn’t have room for one, then at least devote a dedicated nook to the job. Even if your commute involves putting on some jeans and shuffling down the hall, your brain will be far more likely to reset and switch into active mode. What’s more, a dedicated office provides measurable square footage, which you can then write off on your taxes.
2. Give Your Space an Ergonomic Makeover
Just as important as a dedicated office itself is how you set that office space up. It may be tempting to cut costs with cheap desks and chairs, but your body will dole out some serious payback (otherwise known as musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive strain injuries) if you’re not careful.
To avoid the risk of injury, it’s best to go with an adjustable, sit-stand desk (easy to make on your own), a nice chair that provides lumbar support, and a good wireless ergonomic keyboard. Together, these products will keep you working comfortably for as long as you need to. If you’re worried about costs and you work for a company rather than freelance or contract, then ask them about compensation for your costs. No matter where you work, they are still responsible to OSHA for any workplace injuries. Therefore, they should have some sort of policy in place to help their work-from-home workplace keep comfortable and safe.
3. Set Boundaries
Hands down one of the most difficult aspects of working at home is that everyone thinks you’re widely available. The kids knock on the door to ask questions. Your spouse just assumes you’ll be home to give the exterminator a tour of the house. And friends think you can meet them at the drop of a hat for lunch and that you’ll be happy to watch their kids while they have to work.
Having a dedicated office will help, but it’s also good to have a repertoire of answers at the ready in case you’re asked to “help out” when you should be working. You may also want to have a family meeting to explicitly discuss not disturbing you during set hours. More than anything, let go of any social guilt you may feel to please and say yes. Whenever it begins to creep in, ask yourself, “Would I feel guilty about saying no to this commitment if I had an office job?” If the answer is no, then move on.
4. Make Your Own Co-Workers
Even if you’re a hermit to your core, at some point you’re going to require some socialization. Friends are of course great for this, but it’s often cathartic to get together with people within your same industry to talk shop and exchange tips. Meetup.com is an excellent resource, as many professional groups host talks and networking meetings and list them here. You can always start your own if you don’t see the right one for you. And, if you live far away from a metropolitan region, try turning to Twitter lists to find likeminded people. Even just grabbing coffee with a similar professional in your region can be helpful, as can working from the coffee shop itself or coworking.
5. Launch an Anti-Distraction Campaign
To say that maintaining concentration at home is difficult would be an understatement. There you are, finally sitting down at your desk, when oops, looks like the fridge needs cleaning, and hey, what’s happening on Facebook?
To combat distraction, start by making good use of apps like SelfControl or Freedom. These will selectively block distracting websites or turn off your internet access altogether. If you opt for the latter, set away messages for your email for the times you’ll be gone so that your coworkers know what to expect. And also so that you have a little social pressure for sticking to it. With measures like this, not only will you get more done, but your efficient mode of working will also ensure you’ve got more time to make the most of your flexible hours. And hey, if you’ve got all of your work done, maybe you can go out for lunch with a friend afterall.
6. Move Your Work to the Cloud
If it’s not there already, your work needs to move to the cloud pronto. There’s just no better way to work from a distance. With Google Drive apps like Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Presentations, you can work collaboratively and in real time with coworkers to create, edit, and polish your group projects. With Dropbox, you can provide access to your work with a simple share, or locate important company documents without having to hunt down the mystery person who created that essential Word Document. Working in the cloud is faster, streamlined, and exactly what you need to stay in the loop as you work from afar.
7. Track Your Time
If you’re a freelancer or contractor, tracking your time is non-negotiable in terms of getting yourself paid. But even if you’re a full-time, remote employee, tracking your time can be helpful. It will aid you in seeing just how you might change your approach so that you can get more done. It is all the more so if your employer considers your working from home to be an experiment, and you’re trying to prove your worth. An easy time tracking tool we highly recommend is Toggl. This app allows you to break up your time by project and emails you a precise weekly report. This is a resource you and your boss can use to see exactly how you’re using your time and how it might be better applied. Sounds like the kind of thing all employees could use!
8. Make Your Presence Felt
One of the biggest fears people have in working from home is that you’ll be forgotten, and there is definitely some risk to this — but not, however, if you actively make your presence known. You’ll do this by staying on top of your emails, proposing new projects to your boss, and making sure to call-in for team meetings so you can offer suggestions and stay in the loop. It’s also advisable to arrange a brief weekly meeting with your supervisor so you can touch base on any challenges you’re encountering, and make sure that you’re set up for success.
9. Set an Office Closing Time
The nice thing about working from home is that you have more control over your time. But too often that gives work-a-holic remote workers a free pass to overwork. That “just going to squeeze in one more task” mentality turns into working 12 hours a day. All the more so if there’s no physical separation between your work and home space. As such, try to set a regular schedule, whether that’ the typical 9 to 6 or working in the morning, taking three hours off, and then working all night (as long as that works with your employer’s schedule). It’s fine to work when your body and mind are at their peak and take off when they’re not, just as long as you know when to close up shop.
10. Don’t Listen to the Haters
Despite the steadily rising population of remote workers, misconceptions abound. Get ready to sit there patiently as friends and family members tease you about working in your pajamas, taking long naps and not really doing “real work.” Whatever. As they say on the reality shows, they’re just jealous. With the right approach, working from home is a fulfilling, flexible career that can give you the work-life balance you crave. If getting that requires a little ribbing, then that’s the price of doing business.
Are you a work from home master? Let us know your top challenges and tips in the blog comments!