Working from home can be a welcome change – whether your workplace offers a flexible workplace schedule, allowing you to work from home some days while the kids are off for the summer, or this is your official office workplace.
While it has many benefits to you and your employer, be careful not to fall prey to distractions – One scenario….He sets his computer up on his dining room table, and is ready to get to work. Three hours later, however, he’s shocked to realize that he’s completed very little. What’s he been doing? Well, he had to make coffee. Then he did a load of laundry, took a phone call from a friend, and sorted through the mail when it arrived. One thing led to another, and now he’s really behind!
Working from home can be incredibly productive. But it’s also full of distractions. If you work from home, it’s up to you to make sure you’re doing a full day of focused, productive work. Below are some benefits and challenges to working from home and tips to help you be at your most productive during the day.
Benefits and Challenges
There are many benefits to working at home. For instance:
- You can be more productive when you’re not distracted by casual phone calls, impromptu meetings at your desk, or interruptions from other team members.
- You can be more relaxed and have better morale because your schedule is flexible and fits your needs. This can lead to less stress.
- You can save money, including the costs of commuting, lunches out and work clothes.
- You’ll have more time, as you won’t need to commute to work.
Of course, for all the benefits of working at home, there are also a number of challenges:
- Working at home can be incredibly distracting if you’re not self-disciplined, especially if family members are also around during the day.
- Without interaction with team members, you can feel isolated.
- You may find it more difficult to be productive when you’re unsupervised. (This also includes “supervision” by the people you manage!)
- Working from home can make it hard to separate work hours from off hours, causing you to work more.
- People at the office can forget that you exist, meaning that you’re not selected for interesting or high profile projects.
Working at home is definitely not for everyone. Some people love the freedom and have the required self-discipline, while others need supervision to be effective, or yearn for the energy and camaraderie of a busy office environment.
Tips for working from home, whether temporarily or as part of your regular schedule:
Workspace – Having a productive and comfortable workspace is particularly important when working from home:
- Have a dedicated workspace –preferably not your kitchen table! Ideally, this space should be a separate room with a door that you can close to shut off distractions. The more you make it feel like a real “office,” the more productive you’ll be and able to close the door after you, means you’re “off work.”
- Get an ergonomic office chair – If your chair is uncomfortable, you’ll probably find plenty of reasons to get up and go somewhere else.
- Make sure your “office” is a place where you enjoy spending time – Put some effort into making your working area appealing to you.
Organization – It’s important to keep your home office organized:
- Make sure your desk is big enough – This will vary, depending on the type of work you do. Keep essential tools in an area that you can reach from your desk; this reduces frustration, and avoids the need to get up repeatedly when you need something.
- Tidy your desk daily – Spend a few minutes at the end of each day clearing off your desk and filing papers.
- Organize your information – If you work on several different projects at once, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disorganized because you’re handling so much information. Pull out what you need as you work on it; everything else, file until you are ready for it.
Time Management – Good time management skills are essential for productive working at home:
- Create structure for your day – Get up, take breaks, and quit working at the same time you would if you were at the office. This helps create a rhythm for your day and a sense of normalcy.
- Prioritize daily tasks with a to-do list – Knowing that certain items must get done by the end of the day will help you avoid distractions.
- Make a to-do list of “in between” items – These are tasks that won’t take more than 10 minutes to complete. For instance, if you have a conference call 15 minutes from now, you can choose one of these shorter tasks that you can complete quickly.
- Keep a timesheet – It’s easy to lose track of how much time you’ve spent on a certain project or client. Avoid this by keeping detailed timesheets. By tracking your time, your organization will be able to see how you’ve spent it. You can also identify when you are most productive.
Communication-As you’re not “visible” in the office, communication is especially important when working from home:
- Communicate effectively with your managers and co-workers – They need to know that you are, indeed, working productively and available, even when you’re not at the office! If possible, redirect your office phone extension to your home phone.
- Use tools like Skype or instant messaging – These allow people to check in with you during the day if they have questions or need an update. You can always set your status to “busy” or “unavailable” if you want to focus on a particular piece of work.
- Go into the office on a regular basis – Where possible, do make the effort to go into the office one or more days each week. Not only will this help you remind others that you exist, it helps with the social relationships
- Train your children to let you work – Working from home with young children in the house can be especially challenging, and it’s almost impossible to do work of any quality while you’re looking after them. Make sure that you have appropriate childcare in place, and teach your children that when you’re in your office, you’re “away.” Put a sign on the door to help them remember. Although don’t be too rigid here: one of the real joys of working from home is, for example, being around to welcome your children home from school. Make sure that you take a little time to enjoy simple pleasures like these!).
- Beware the Internet! – If you find yourself drawn, for example, to Internet news sites, use some of the time you save commuting to read these in-depth before the start of the working day. They’ll have little attraction if you’ve already read the most interesting content. And if you’re still struggling, you can use tools like Freedom and Anti-Social to block Internet or social media access for a pre-determined length of time.
- Set alarms – If you tend to waste too much time on the Internet or with other distractions, then set an alarm clock or kitchen timer for one hour at a time. Do one hour of focused work – and when the alarm goes off, reward yourself with 5 or 10 minutes of doing whatever distracts you. Then set the timer for another hour of work.
- Dress in work clothes – You’ll probably feel more productive if you dress just as if you were going into the office.
Home working is becoming more and more common. Make sure you have a dedicated, comfortable workspace that you like. Schedule your day just like you would at the office. If you often lose focus, identify what’s distracting you and try to eliminate it from your day. And, if possible, get involved socially with your team. Working from home can be isolating, so you need to make an extra effort to build your work relationships.