How To Succeed At Working From Home
I can vouch for that. I’m working from home today and it’s no easy feat. I woke up, got dressed, powered on my laptop, and got to work—but I’ve found that it’s sometimes difficult to stay focused with so many distractions and temptations around me. I only work from home under special circumstances—maybe five or six times a year—but some do it more frequently, and others work out of their homes permanently. It’s not for everyone, though, and some do it more successfully than others.
“I think it depends almost entirely on the individual,” says Jenny Foss, a recruiter, career coach and founder of the career blog JobJenny.com. “As someone who made the transition–first to working part-time in an office and part-time at home, and then to being at home full time, and now, back to a split schedule–I understand first-hand that working from home is much different than an office environment. Those who are going adjust well to it, and be happy with working from home, will be those who are self-disciplined with their time, don’t rely on face-to-face banter with co-workers throughout the day, and those who are independent when it comes to administrative issues that will invariably crop up throughout any given week.”
Hanna agrees. “It really depends on your personality,” she says. “I’ve found that to be an effective work at home individual, you need to have excellent critical thinking, organizational and communication skills, along with being able to block out distractions.”
As a home-based employee you don’t have the luxury of co-workers sitting right next to you–so you’ll often have to figure out issues for yourself. If you’re the type of person who prefers a lot of guidance or is easily distracted, working at home may not be an ideal situation for you, Hanna adds. “And even if you are motivated and can stay on task in a home office, if you’re a social butterfly that requires a lot of social stimulation, working at home may cause you to go stir crazy or it make even make you socially depressed.” By knowing your personality and skill sets, you can determine if working at home is the right choice for you.
“Working from home provides you great opportunities to connect with some of your core values, like family and community, while still providing quality service to your company,” says Shawn Mason Spence, an entrepreneur mentor, author, and life coach. “It requires discipline, focus and commitment, but the flexibility to define that yourself. You can create a work culture at home that represents you, not just the culture of your organization.”
Three of the biggest benefits of working from home are its flexibility, financial savings and health advantages, Hanna says. Many parents enjoy working from home because it allows them to schedule their day around their family, which allows for better work-life balance and more quality time with their loved ones. Plus, there are the added bonuses of saving money on things like transportation, dry cleaning costs, lunches eaten out and child care costs.
Other reasons employees might want to work from home: there’s no commute, no boss looming over your shoulder, no co-workers to interrupt you, and no dress code, says Lisa Kanarek, a home office expert, author and founder ofWorkingNaked.com. But it can be difficult to go from a corporate office to a home office because there are no co-workers around, no support staff and no IT department to help you, she says.
“It is often a challenge in the beginning because of the sudden lack of buzz that typifies a traditional office environment,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. But once you’re on the phone, engaged in your business, attending meetings, using videoconferencing and making a proactive effort to create your own business community, that isolation is typically overcome, she says.
Hanna believes some of the biggest challenges that home-based workers face are learning how to avoid distractions, dealing with social isolation, and others not taking your work at home status seriously. “Luckily, with a few minor adjustments to your mindset and some honest communication with those around you, these can easily be solved,” she says.
Kanarek says if you’re not taken seriously, it’s important to let friends and family know that although you’re working from home, you’re still working. And if you’re feeling lonely or unmotivated, work from a coffee shop or a restaurant a few hours a week. “While you may not interact with anyone, being around others can motivate you to work,” Kanarek says.
You might also have trouble drawing boundaries between your personal and business life, Taylor adds. You won’t always have control, but by being specific about when you’re available and setting limits as much as possible, you can have the best of both worlds.
Here are tips from the experts on how to successfully work from home:
Get organized. Maintaining balance is one of the most difficult aspects of working at home, because the work is always right there staring you in the face, Hanna says. “To keep you on track (and not working too much or too little), organization will be key. Get organized by creating filing systems, schedules and to-do lists.”
Have a set work space. Kanarek suggests you designate a specific place for a home office–and store all work-related files, reference materials and supplies there. Try not to make it near a bed or a TV, Spence adds. Taylor says that you should ensure that your office space emulates that of a true work environment.
Plan your day. This will help you minimize your distractions and maximize your true productive times, Spence says. “For example, many people eat a small breakfast on their way to the office, but when at home, you may be tempted to have a bigger breakfast which may slow you down for your early morning meeting. Or you may normally get off at 5 pm, but the kids come home at 4 pm, so you may need a shorter lunch so you can get all of your work done.”
Be computer savvy. Since the majority of your work will be done on your computer, you will need to be computer savvy. You should know everything from learning how to use different software, to updating programs and keeping your computer running smoothly, Hanna says. “A broken down computer or Internet connection equals no work getting done, so you will be need to be able to navigate your way around tech issues and concerns.”
Avoid home distractions. “Never underestimate the gravitational pull of the fridge and your comfy bed,” says Kelly McCausey, a blogger, podcaster and online business coach.
Pets, TV and family members are just a few other distractions you’ll encounter when you start working at home, Hanna says. Planning ahead will be key. “Having readily available snacks for consumption, planning children’s activities or child care in advance, and having a separate office space can all help minimize distractions, but ultimately it is up to you to stay focused.”
Limit the number of times you check e-mail. You might find yourself constantly checking e-mail because you’re worried about being out of the loop—but while it’s important to stay connected, spending too much time on e-mail might distract you from more important tasks, Kanarek says.
Brush up on your communication skills. Because you’ll be doing your work remotely, you’ll need to have excellent communication skills. Often times you won’t have the visual and verbal cues that normally help guide a conversation, Hanna says. “Although cell phones, instant message, and software like Skype make it easy for people to stay in touch, the majority of your communication will be done via e-mail.” You will need to make sure that you are able to covey what you mean clearly and concisely.
Set office hours. Make sure to create a time slot for each of the day’s activities. This helps with communicating to others when your work-time and play-time is, Hanna says. “If you have small children you may need to schedule your work around their naps or another caregiver’s schedule, so that you can have a good chunk of time to work uninterrupted.”
Take breaks. When making your schedule, you might want to consider working in smaller spurts, and allowing yourself time to get up from the computer to stretch. “This will really help you both physically and mentally,” Spence says. “Without a water cooler and co-workers around, you may forget to take time away from your desk. When you take breaks, you’ll be more productive,” Kanarek adds.
Get out of the house. If you’re telecommuting for much of the week, be sure to get out of the house often enough, Taylor says. “Set up outside meetings versus phone conversations where it makes sense, and if necessary take your work to your local coffee house where there is Wi-Fi. That way you can create a sense of business community.”
Don’t handle personal tasks during work hours. “Please don’t think that the laundry or the fact that your mother wanted to spend time with you since you’re at home is not going to tempt you,” Spence says. Make sure that you are focused on the best and proper use of your time during your work hours, she adds.
Hanna says that all too often work at home individuals fall prey to others taking advantage of their work at home status. You might have a neighbor who wants you to let the cable guy in, or a family member who all of a sudden needs a sitter for their child. “Agreeing to do all these favors will not only distract you from your work, but it sets the tone for future encounters.” You need to be able to say no and stick to your schedule. This means communicating to others what your office hours are, and that you’re not available during these times – period.
Communicate your work schedule to friends and family. Spence suggests you communicate with your loved ones that you’re working and ask them not to call you unless it is urgent. Make your office hours known and clear to the family, and make sure they respect your working hours, Foss says. “Don’t be afraid to defend your work time, McCausey says. “Being my own boss I can decide on the fly to flex my time and run off to have lunch with a friend – but that isn’t possible for everyone. Some will think that since you work at home, you can do whatever you like.”
Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Working at home tends to lend itself to a sedentary lifestyle, not to mention the close proximity of the kitchen and refrigerator, making weight gain a problem for many telecommuters, Hanna says. Make sure to schedule time for regular exercise, keep healthy snacks around the house and remember to drink a lot of water.
Be a perpetual student–but prepare like a teacher. Learn from other successful home-based workers and practice what is working for them while still researching what works for you, Spence says.
Keep the supplies you use often within reach. When you have to leave your desk to find supplies or files, you waste time and get distracted easily, Kanarek says. Store supplies near the place where you’ll use them.
Set up a Skype-friendly environment. For many people who work from home, Skype calls are regular, and necessary, Foss says. Keep this in mind as you set up shop, and make sure your workspace looks professional and pleasant.
Conduct business during traditional hours. Make your phone calls during normal business hours and keep administrative work for after-hours, Taylor says.
Don’t discuss your personal life. It might be easy or tempting to discuss your personal activities with business colleagues while you’re at home, but keep all work-related conversations professional, Taylor says.
Avoid multitasking and stay focused. It’s easy to start one project and then bounce to another without finishing the first, Kanarek says. “I used to be the perfect example. At the end of the day I was exhausted, but I hadn’t accomplished as much as I’d hoped I would. Finally I made myself focus, stay on task and accomplish a certain amount of tasks every day. Some days I’m more productive than others, but overall I’m more productive than I used to be.”
Don’t skimp on equipment. It’s important to make sure you have all the equipment you need to run your business, including a fast computer, a scanner, printer, copier and fax, and a reliable backup system, for starters, Kanarek says. The key to saving time and money on equipment is to know what you need, what you can do without, and where to find technical support. If your company provides the equipment, make sure they give you everything you need to properly conduct business.
Stay connected. Make sure that you’re readily available via e-mail, phone, text, instant message, Skype and/or conference call, Hanna says. Taylor adds: “When in doubt, over-communicate until told otherwise. Don’t forget that your lack of presence can be a negative if your boss is in the dark, especially in this high employment environment. While the best managers are looking for results, to some extent, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Be vocal about your activities and achievements while away from the office.”
Schedule face time. If you work from home a majority (or all) of the time, suggest weekly or monthly meetings with your boss and/or your team, Hanna says. “Invite them to lunch regularly, organize after work activities, and orchestrate in-office meetings so you can have face-time with them every couple of weeks,” Foss adds.
“Those of us who have worked from home for years wouldn’t dream of going back to a corporate office,” Kanarek says. “It’s easy to get spoiled while working from home, especially when the commute is only ten seconds.”
This is an update of a piece that ran previously.