Telecommuting is on the rise. According to Fundera, the past 5 years have seen a 40% increase in the number of employers offering a work-from-home option. Why is this happening? Well for one thing, employers who offer employees the option of working from home see a 50% drop in employee turnover and save a collective $44 billion each year.
And employees, too, are experiencing a financial upside from working from home. Full-time telecommuters save over $4,000 each year. And the benefits don’t stop there. Done right, cutting out the commute can add hours to your day and make it easier to balance priorities. And if you’re like 86% of employees, you’ll find that working alone – away from the distractions of the office – makes you more productive.
But telecommuting also has its pitfalls. You could feel isolated and struggle to maintain boundaries between work and home – to name just a couple. I’ve been working from home since 2012, when I first launched my small business. Since then, I’ve learned a ton about how to avoid these pitfalls and how to make the most out of working from home. Here are my 13 best practices for doing just that.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Create a designated space
Get started on the right foot by creating a dedicated and welcoming workspace. Next, invest in the equipment you’ll need. For example:
- an ergonomic office chair and desk
- a speedy internet connection
- external monitors
- a printer
- a hands-free headset
- a good quality webcam for your video conference calls
And don’t stop at function. Creating a cozy and inspiring environment is important too. This is a space where you’ll be spending a lot of time. Give it some love.
Get a change of scenery
Even if you set up the most welcoming home office, make a point of leaving it at least once a day to get a change of scenery. The change of venue will do you good. Find a local tea or coffee shop where you feel comfortable. Or, if you have a friend who works from home too, take turns working together at each other’s houses from time to time.
Get some fresh air
When you cut out your commute, it’s easy to stay indoors all day. But fresh air increases your energy level, improves your concentration, and helps you think more clearly. So whether you walk your dog, go for a midday run, or camp out on your balcony with your laptop – make sure you’re enjoying a little outdoor time every day.
MANAGE YOUR TIME
Block out time slots
Having a routine is conducive to getting things done. The advantage of working from home is that you can set up your own routine – one that is personalized to suit your natural rhythms and preferences.
Speaking for myself, the morning is when I’m most creative. That’s why I block time out every morning to write, or to map out a client presentation or whiteboard video. In the late afternoon, my brain gets a little tired from the day’s heavy lifting. So I block off an hour then to do more clerical or repetitive tasks.
Take note of your own natural rhythms and set up time slots for different types of tasks. Make sure to leave time for learning and reading. More on that in a bit.
Enjoy some flexibility
Be disciplined… but not too disciplined. It took me a while to shed the corporate guilt that compelled me to work and be available from 9 to 5. But then I remembered: flexibility was one of my top reasons for wanting to work from home. If I couldn’t take advantage of it, what was the point?
If the terms of your agreement allow it, give yourself a little latitude in how you spread out your work hours. Run some mid-day errands. Duck out early to catch your child’s music show at school.
When you’re out of sight and people can’t reach you as easily, small doubts can begin to creep in. Build trust from the start by agreeing, with your employer and colleagues, to the best way to keep them updated on your progress and activities. You could propose quick but regular status calls, or a simple progress report that you can send out at regular intervals. And if you aren’t going to be reachable for a period of time, provide advance notice to the colleagues who might miss you.
Put the right systems in place
Systems can be game changers when it comes to remote teamwork. Slack, SmartSheet, and Google Drive are just a few tools that can help you collaborate on projects and share documents. And when you can’t meet face-to-face, video conferencing software like FaceTime, Zoom or Skype can help you bridge the distance and stay connected.
One of the biggest pitfalls of telecommuting is around the potential for feeling isolated. Schedule regular meet-ups with like-minded professionals by attending industry conferences, joining mastermind groups, and planning casual coffee dates.
Stay informed & inspired
Office-place discussions can help you stay informed and inspired. Don’t forego that stimulation, just because you’re working from home. The key is to read, read, read. Read industry news, relevant blogs, and biographies of people you admire. Or get more mileage out of your daily walks by donning earphones and listening to thought-provoking podcasts and audiobooks.
When I first imagined telecommuting, I fantasized about working in PJs and fuzzy slippers. In truth, I’ve since discovered that making a bit of an effort with my appearance improves both my state of mind and my productivity. The same may well be true for you. If you’re following my advice and getting out every day, you’ll want to be presentable anyway.
When you’re working from home, especially if you have kids, there’s always a risk that your home life will encroach on your work life. Nothing makes that point more strongly than this BBC dad moment.
Protect yourself from disruptions with a good old-fashioned “do not disturb” sign. Hang it on your office door to let your family know you’re working, or on your front door to ward off unwanted solicitors. And it’s a good idea to declare official office hours – let the kids know that they should treat that time as if you’re at the office.
You might be surprised to discover how much incidental exercise you can get as part of your daily commute, or by walking around the office. (It took me getting a Fitbit to understand just how little moving I was actually doing in a day, once I started working from home.)
You saved time when you eliminated your commute. How about using some of that time to get fit? Consider setting daily step goals for yourself. Start your day with a jog or clear your head at lunch with a long walk. Invest in a standing desk to keep your blood flowing. These are just a few ideas for how to stay active without even leaving the house.
Set goals & meet them
Distractions are an issue when you work from home. (Looking at you, overflowing laundry hamper!) That’s why it’s a good idea to set concrete work goals to keep you focused and moving forward. And while setting goals is important, make sure to hold yourself accountable to them too. For me, nothing feels quite as satisfying as crossing tasks off the to-do list I draft every morning.
OVER TO YOU
Working from home has its challenges but, when you learn how to do it right, it can be very rewarding. I’d love to hear about your experience with telecommuting, the challenges you’ve faced, and what you’ve done to manage them. Whether you’ve decided to start freelance writing from home, or still have a corporate gig, we can all work together to make work easier.