Recently, a friend of mine called to share that her new job allows her to work from home. Like clockwork, she started to rattle off all she could now accomplish by working from home. I was silent. It’s not that I wasn’t happy for her, I just knew the reality of working from home. I have worked from home for about 20 years and can appreciate the time it saves, the work that gets done and the flexibility. Not to mention all the surveys and studies (see this one from Remote.co) confirm, working from home is a benefit to the employee and company they work for.
However, working from home isn’t easy. In fact, I found it to be a huge adjustment and it took quite a bit of time to “settle” in and really be productive. You might think, why? In my opinion, for all the wonderful things that come along with working from home, there are a few things you should have in place to really relish this change. Not to mention, avoiding the “freshman 15” can be a real problem (yes, the fridge is there - All. The. time).
Here is my advice on how to make working/telecommuting from home successful.
Set-Up A Real Office
I learned this lesson early in my career. Working from home is just that, working. Setting up at the kitchen table or coffee table just won’t work. You need a space that is all yours. When I was in my 20’s, I took my first sales job and traveled (driving) 3-4 days a week and was home every night. I had a room-mate and we only had 2 bedrooms, so my office was also my bedroom. Work was all I saw, all the time. I had no way to get away from it, Yuck! That was when I decided I would always have my own office space.
Having your own office space and making it your own is key. Spend time finding the right desk and chair, be sure you have enough space for your 2 monitors (if that is how you work), a place for your calendar or notepad, etc. Over the years, I have become quite particular about my office. In addition to the items above, I have my files set up, my rug is my favorite color, and the pictures (some are my paintings) all bring me peace. This is my space and it needs to be functional, pretty and easy to be productive. Adopt this mentality and I promise, you will get more done. Not to mention, if you use a video conference tool at work, your colleagues will comment, and you want positive comments.
Routine, Routine, Routine
I know most of you are rolling your eyes at this one. I know, rigid, right? Well, if you don’t follow a routine, I promise, you will find yourself at 4 pm in your PJ’s and realize you didn’t even brush your teeth yet. (Ick!)
This is probably the hardest thing to stick to when it comes to telecommuting. It seems so easy to roll out of bed 30 minutes before you were supposed to get to the office, turn on the computer and get started. The problem, you can easily get sucked in. You get into a groove and there are no distractions, unless someone calls. You will just keep going, answering emails, and doing your job. You will have sat at that computer for hours and realize you forgot to check the time. Or you don’t get started at all. I hear this complaint all the time. I have a friend who is a real estate agent and he says if he doesn’t go to the office he does everything but his job. His wife is happy, the house is clean, but he quickly realized he wasn’t productive with his real estate business. His decision to go to the office every day is the best for him and his personality.
My advice, set a routine and stick to it. I get up at the same time every day (I know, another eye roll). I have my coffee, get to the gym (hopefully more this year), shower, dress and then start my day. I am at the computer between 8:30 and 9:00 am every day. It works for me. I can also share, I have lots of success with this practice. I don’t feel overwhelmed, I get things done and find I can handle when the unexpected comes up.
If this is your first time working from home this might be the biggest adjustment you will have. First, the social aspect of work becomes very different. The second, getting your questions/project to be top priority is a challenge (remember, out of sight, out of mind). Let’s tackle these issues separately.
When it comes to the social aspect, you can’t just get up, walk to the next cube and ask your best work buddy for some advice. You will have to pick up the phone (text, email, send smoke signals) to chat with anyone. Not to mention, you might not have that person's undivided attention. When someone is on the phone, you don’t know what they are doing. Are they reading emails at the same time? Is someone else hovering waiting to get a question answered? You may feel a bit disconnected from your colleagues and what is happening in the company. My tip, get into a routine of reaching out to various co-workers throughout the day. I also advise you visit the office at least once a month. It gives you an opportunity to meet new people, re-connect with those you know and re-enforces any priorities you have for your goals.
As for getting your questions or projects done on time, start setting deadlines. Be sure to set a deadline for any project you are working on and communicate that deadline to the team. There are some great tools out there (that are free) to keep teams on track and on time. If your company doesn't have a tool like this (Asana, Teamup, Microsoft Project), outlook or google calendars work just as well. Using these tools will keep everyone on track and you will deliver your project on time.
Get Out of The House
This is another big one. You can be in a groove and forget you haven’t seen a person in days. (Yes, this can happen). Be sure to schedule something every day to get you out of the house. You need to interact with more than just your pets (I love my cats, but that isn’t enough). Schedule time to get coffee with a friend, lunch with Mom, or hit the gym (this will also help the “freshman 15” that can creep in). I promise, this will give you a sense that you are still connected to the outside world.
Those of us who have been working from home for years know work can go on for hours. Especially if you have a home office that is in a different time zone. I have had my share of 9 p.m. conference calls because my management team was on the West Coast. You can get burned out quickly. This is the time to add some boundaries. Schedule yourself out of the office (actually put it on the calendar), just like you would a doctor’s appointment. If the extended team knows you aren’t available, you will find you have the time you need to re-charge which leads to more productivity. Not to mention, your happiness. A happy employee, means a productive one.
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