Can you actually be productive from home?
I work from home. This hasn’t always been the case. For most of my career, all of my jobs over the years have required that I work out of an office (or a car) so this was a significant change for me.
I’m over a year and a half into this experiment though, and I wouldn’t want to return to an office.
It’s probably not for everyone, but I’ve tried very hard to make this a success. Here are some of my tips for Work From Home Excellence. None of these were my original ideas, but I have found them all to be vital to my productivity, professionalism, and sanity.
If you’re going to be working from home, you must set up a dedicated work space. In my case, we converted a small room into an office which is used exclusively for my work. I have my desk, computers, phone, printers, supplies, and a comfortable chair. The kids know that this is a No Play Zone and they generally respect that rule.
Your first purchase must be a comfortable chair. This rule applies to all office environments, but get yourself good chair for the home office. Don’t buy the cheapest chair that Staples carries; sit in a bunch of different chairs and spend the extra money. It’s worth it to your health and your happiness.
This chair from IKEA is currently my daily ride.
Make sure that it is adjustable for height, so that your other ergonomics are correct (so that you are looking down at your computer screen, not up; wrists up off the keyboard while you type, not resting on the desk.) You might want to invest in an adjustable height desk or table, as well.
Also, invest in a good set of headphones. I have this set and they are pretty great. Comfortable enough for long Skype sessions or for listening to music throughout the day (they’re also great for blocking out the kids when they’re home for summer or Christmas…)
Now that you have your dedicated home workspace set up, identify some nearby out-of-the-home locations where you can take your laptop and work remotely a few times per month. I’ve found that the occasional change of scenery really helps my productivity. Go find a Starbucks, or a public library (or even a university library) — they all tend to have decent wi-fi access and comfortable seating.
When you’re at home by yourself, it’s really easy to get caught up in projects. You sit down at 8:00 a.m. to start your day and, before you know it, it’s time for dinner and you’re mentally exhausted.
Make a point of taking a break a few times a day. A real break. A brief period of time when you do not do any work or think about work. Try not to eat at your desk; but if you do, put something awesome on your screen for thirty minutes and don’t respond to email. You’ve earned it. Probably.
I’m not much for exercise, but I’ve also found that it’s really helpful to get up and do some walking, once or twice a day. Even if I only have a few minutes between conference calls, I’ll at least get out of my chair and walk around the block. It helps.
Stay in Touch
I’m not someone who gets lonely, and that’s the case for working from home. Still, if you work for a company with more than one employee, you will need to figure out the communications portion of the transition.
Don’t let your bosses forget you exist (this should go without saying.) Make sure your coworkers know that you are still a vital company resource, and that you can be depended upon. Be responsive to their emails and available for their phone calls.
I have an office phone which my coworkers can use to dial me, but I prefer Skype or Google Hangouts. I think that being able to see each other every day has helped me maintain a connection with my colleagues which might have faded over email. We hold a daily group Skype with peers (no suits) to start the day, and it really, really helps.
And let us not forget the glory of Slack. For company-wide communications, private conversations, file sharing, and NSFW GIFs, there is no better solution than Slack. It’s hard to imagine doing my job without it.
Dress for Success
Others might feel differently about this one, but I think that even though I’m working from home, I still need to dress professionally. No, I’m not wearing a suit, but I’m never in a t-shirt and sweats. For me, it’s always at least a polo and khakis, and some business casual shoes.
There’s something to the idea that if I’m dressed the part, then I can better act the part of a professional. It’s a slippery slope from swapping my khakis for sweats and, before I know it, I’ll be on the couch with my laptop, maybe not doing any work at all (possibly [likely] day-drinking.)
This rule does not apply to shaving. Webcams are still of a low enough quality that I can usually go 3-4 days before co-workers start to notice that I am grizzly.
These are the things that work for me. When I started working from home, I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. I had serious concerns about my ability to stay on task during the work day and complete my projects. But I truly believe that now, by setting some rules for myself, I am a more productive employee than I have ever been at any time in the past.
What has worked for me might not work for you. But if you can find a way to work from home, and stay productive, I highly recommend it.