When I tell my Baby Boomer (or older) relatives I work from home, I often get a look of pity. The concept is so foreign to them they think “working from home” is a euphemism for being unemployed.
The conversations usually go like this:
Uncle James: So how’s work these days?
Me: Good, I’m still freelancing from home. It’s keeping me busy!
Uncle James: Well, I’m sure something will come along.
Me: (Smile and shake my head)
The truth is, more and more Americans are working from their humble abodes. By some estimates, over 3 million Americans telework, and this number is on the rise. Don’t tell Uncle James, but the average teleworker is 49 years old and makes nearly $60,000 a year.
Since both my husband and I have done stints in working from home, I’m often asked for advice about how to make the arrangement work. Here are my top seven tips:
Set a Schedule
Whether you are freelancing or working at home for a corporation, a schedule is your best friend. Instead of waking up at 10 (just because you can) or going grocery shopping at 2, dedicate specific hours to work. That way you can work when you are working and be at home during your off hours without thinking you should be filling the other role.
Also, I’ve found even though I could work 8 total hours during whatever time of day I choose, making myself available during at least some traditional hours is much more productive. I can answer emails from my in-office colleagues and take phone calls in real time, instead of responding at 8 p.m. and waiting until 9 a.m. the next day to get a response.
Set the Scene
Sure, you could answer all of your emails in your PJs under your down comforter, but I’ve found I’m much more focused when I’m sitting at my dedicated workspace in our spare room. Without the distractions of my bedroom (I’ll just read one more chapter of this novel) or the kitchen (what am I making for dinner?), I can focus solely on my work and finish my tasks in less time. It also gives you easier access to the accessories of work; don’t keep your notepads or spreadsheets in every room of the house. That’s a sure way to never escape work. Instead, keep them at your desk where they belong.
Audit Your Communications Skills
Working from home is for people who can communicate well. If you aren’t responsive, don’t like talking on the phone or find it hard to express yourself over email, it is going to be very difficult to stay connected and valued. Since you won’t be able to rely on facial expressions or body language to express your point or fully understand your colleagues, you’re going to have to be honest with yourself: can you stay engaged through other means of communication?
Take a Breather
Just as you might get up from your desk at work to get a drink of water or shoot the breeze with some coworkers, similarly take time to get up from your desk to clear your mind. End the day according to your set schedule (for me it’s 5:30 p.m.) and truly walk away from the work. Don’t keep going back to your desk to do one more task, even though it’s convenient.
When I first started working from home, I thought I had to prove I wasn’t just messing around or doing household chores all day, and I nearly suffered burnout. If you still have anxiety, talk to your boss about how things are going and ask for constructive feedback.
While I won’t say working from home will fail without technology, it certainly makes things a lot easier. Thanks to FaceTime and Skype, I see my editors and colleagues regularly. My high speed internet is critically important to staying on top of work tasks and allows me to access a virtual personal network (VPN) so I can get on our company’s network and access shared files. For some colleagues, text messaging or conference calls are the way to communicate.
I’d also recommend investing in a good set of headphones, especially if the kids are home when you are. I put on a little classical music when I need to concentrate and that helps me drown out the noises of the house.
Know Your Distractions
If you just can’t work when the kids are in the house, maybe it’s time to ask the babysitter to take them out for the morning. If the dog barks incessantly because she knows you are home, incorporate an early morning walk to tire her out. If you live within walking distance of a few awesome coffee shops that call your name around 10 a.m., schedule your break around a visit.
My Achilles Heel is household chores. I think to myself: “I could put the load of laundry in and then get started.” Then, after I’ve done that, I think: “I could load the dishwasher and then get started.” Because I’ve recognized these chores as my distractions, I try to do these things in the evening and not leave them for daytime. The distractions of working from home are seemingly endless, and you will need to identify your diversions and deal with them to stay on task.
Just because you scored a job that doesn’t require daily office work does not mean you can abandon the office completely. For my job, I’ve found monthly visits to the office are enough to keep me connected. I also check with the office manager to find out if there are any staff meetings, important client visits or employee celebrations scheduled that month so I can be there. It’s important to remain a part of the culture and community at the office, and face-to-face interactions achieve that.
Don’t get me wrong, working from home can be a dream gig, but you’ve got to approach it professionally and strategically to make it work well. Leave your comments on making teleworking work below.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ali Lawrence is a work-from-home content specialist and blogger at Homey Improvements. In her free time, she enjoys cooking healthy meals in her apple-red kitchen and binge reading fantasy books. Find her on Google+ or Twitter @DIYfolks.