With 34% of the American workforce freelancing and a growing trend of telecommuting, more and more people are working from home. If you’re going to work from home, you need to make it work. We’ve got productivity tips to make the most of your work from home experience
The Work From Home Debate
Not everyone is a fan of working from home. Some people scoff and make jokes about watching TV in your pajamas. Even Yahoo made headlines when CEO Marissa Mayer shut down their work-from-home program. But rather than an industry standard, she said “It’s not what’s right for Yahoo right now.”
The reality is more and more companies and organizations are embracing the work from home movement. Sometimes it takes a push: Federal employees working from home during four official snow days saved the government $32 million. There’s even a Forbes list of the top 100 companies offering full or partial telecommuting job opportunities.
Some companies embrace the work-from-home concept so much they barely have a physical office. Companies such as Automattic, Basecamp (formerly known as 37signals), GitHub and more prefer a virtual office.
“Yes, working outside the office has its own set of challenges. And interruptions can come from different places, multiple angles,” says Basecamp’s Jason Fried. “But here’s the thing: those interruptions are things you can control. They’re passive. They don’t handcuff you.”
That flexibility allows people to work from home and make it work.
The Best of Both at iThemes
Here at iThemes, we’ve got the best of both worlds. We love having a physical office and being part of the local scene (Go Oklahoma City!). But we also love the value and flexibility of having some of our team work from home. It means we’re not limited to local talent. We can build the best team, no matter where they’re located.
Having part of our team spread across the world (yes, we have an international team) means we need to do some extra work to make sure everyone feels like part of the team. But it’s worth it.
We’ve asked our team internally and did our research, coming up with the best work from home tips. Ninety-nine of anything is a lot to take in, but we hope it gives you some extra insight and helps you boost your productivity while you’re working from home.
99 Work From Home Productivity Tips
- Dedicated space: You need a designated workspace that isn’t used for anything else. You don’t want to bounce around from the kitchen to the den. It doesn’t have to be an entire room, but it should be space that’s set aside for work. This can help you shift into the work mentality.
- Flexible space: That’s not to say you can’t work somewhere else. Sometimes sitting down at the kitchen table instead of your desk can get you out of a rut. Sometimes spreading out on the floor is just what you need. Having a desk is good, but don’t feel stuck there.
- Location, location, location: Pick a home office location that’s going to work for you. High traffic areas can be distracting. If your office is off a family room, will the TV be too much of a temptation? Especially when someone is watching it?
- Natural light: Windows can make a big difference in your working atmosphere. Find a space with plenty of natural light.
- Too hot? Too cold?: Pay attention to the temperature when you pick an office location. You don’t want to be working in your skivvies in the summer because the AC can’t cool the attic enough.
- Shut the door: A lot of people need to close the door on distractions. If that’s you, it helps to have a door. If you’ve got a corner of the dining room or an extra space that doesn’t have a door, that can be a problem. Home offices are often after thoughts, and that means odd spaces and often no door. From people barging in to excess noise, no door means more distractions.
- Get some color: “Forget ‘office beige,’” says HGTV. “You need a color that gets your work motor humming.” Paint your office walls a color that works. For some people that’s something bold and bright, others want something more subtle and soothing. Figure out what works for you and spice up your space.
- Comfy is good: Comfy space is “the overlooked perk of the home office,” according to Linda Varone, author of The Smarter Home Office. “If you’ve got room for it, it is one of the best things you can do for yourself.” A comfy couch is a good place to relax with a stack of reading or do some doodling on a clipboard. It’s a way to keep working without always being chained to your desk.
- Change it up: “When things don’t get changed around they become somewhat like wall paper,” says Linda Varone. Those motivational posters become invisible and aren’t so motivating. Your desk toys get pushed under stacks of paper and forgotten. Change your decorations, move things around, keep your office feeling fresh.
- Be creative: Make your home office inspiring and energizing. Figure out what makes you creative and put that stuff in your space. Maybe it’s cool posters or funky artwork. Maybe it’s desk toys or a whiteboard. Make it your
- Put your walls to work: Get the most out of your walls by making them double as whiteboards. IdeaPaint can turn any wall into a whiteboard.
- Minimize distractions: Some people need to go minimal and have nothing on their desk. That might be too far, but try to minimize the distractions. You don’t want a pile of laundry making you feel guilty. You also don’t want a stack of bills pulling you away from a deadline.
- Experiment: Don’t rush out and spend loads of money on new furniture all at once. Try things out and see what works. Rearrange your office a few times. Is it better to face the window? Do you get a glare on your screen? Is that desk working or do you need something bigger/smaller/shorter?
- Tax breaks: There is a home office deduction and all the stuff you buy for your office is a business expense. Keep receipts and write it off. Talk to a tax professional to learn more about the home office deduction.
- Ergonomics: Don’t forget to consider ergonomics. If you’re working at a computer all day, you need to have the right equipment so you’re not hurting yourself. Make sure your monitor is at the right height and distance. Get a keyboard tray. Consider a hardcore ergonomic keyboard (developer Divya Manian recommends the Kinesis Advantage; the Kinesis Freestyle with optional tenting add-on is pretty good too). An ergonomic mouse is also a good investment (the Evoluent vertical mouse looks funky but has a natural feel). Carpal tunnel or “wrist overuse syndrome” (yes, that’s an actual diagnosis) are serious business.
- Let there be light: Don’t strain your eyes. Get some lamps and brighten up the place. You may be awash in daylight in the summer, but you don’t want your workspace feeling dismal at night or all winter long.
- Sit on it: Get a good office chair. It’s one of the best investments you can make. Don’t get a cheap chair or try to get away with a spare kitchen chair. Buy a quality, comfy office chair. Your back (and your butt) will thank you. And definitely experiment to find the best chair. Blogger Jason Kottke had back trouble that he traced to the wheels on his desk chair. “I switched from a wheeled chair to a plain old chair and voila, no more back issues,” Kottke says.
- Get up: But once you get that good chair, don’t sit in it all day. Sitting is bad for you. Find ways to get off your butt and get moving. Take breaks to stretch, go for quick walks or consider a standing desk.
- Liven it up: All kinds of studies have shown the health benefits of houseplants (here’s one where they made a bunch of old people less crabby). Get some plants in your workspace. Just remember to actually care for them. A dead plant in the corner is kind of demotivating.
- Beware of handy food: One of the potential downsides of working at home is a fully-stocked fridge just steps away. A sedentary job paired with all-day snacking is not good for your waistline. Do yourself a favor and stock some healthy snacks—yogurt, cheese sticks, nuts, fruit, etc.
- Leftovers: Another cost-saving advantage to working at home is you can be sure to finish off those leftovers.
- Get exercise: Quick access to the fridge and a sedentary job mean that proper exercise is even more important. Make your flexible schedule work for you—exercise first thing in the morning and combine your morning shower and post-run shower. Why waste time showering twice a day?
- Exercise at home: Heading to the gym can be yet another way to get some human interaction outside the office. But if you’re not struggling with that, exercising at home will save you time. Consider a stationary bike (or bike stand) or take up running in your neighborhood. The 20 minutes driving to and from the gym is time you don’t need to give up.
- Save your eyes: Staring at a screen all day is bad for your eyes, so give them a break. Developer Jennifer Wong recommends a couple “weird apps”: 20 Cubed is a Chrome extension that reminds you to look away from your computer every 20 minutes, and lux dims or brightens your screen based on the time of day.
- Be organized: You don’t really have a choice in this. Working at home requires organization. Now one person’s chaos is another person’s anal system, so don’t judge. But find something that works. You need to be able to find those notes, invoices, emails, client files, etc.
- Filer?: Apparently there are two types of organizing: Filing and piling. If you’re a filer, make sure you have enough file drawer space to keep things organized and not be overwhelmed. If you don’t have the space for another giant filing cabinet, consider an “archived” filing cabinet in the basement for files you rarely use but still need to keep.
- Piler?: If you’re a piler, you need to find ways to keep those piles under control. Bins and baskets can help, giving well-labeled, consistent places to pile things. Wall-mounted file holders can also help, allowing you to create piles in more places.
- Don’t stress: Don’t worry if you’re a filer or a piler. There are benefits to both: “Working at a prim desk may promote healthy eating, generosity, and conventionality, while working at a messy desk promotes creative thinking and stimulates fresh ideas.”
- Find a system: “The average worker wastes six weeks a year retrieving misplaced information on office and computer files,” says productivity expert Anne McGurty. So whatever system works for you, use it. Don’t just dump papers and hope to find them later.
- Close at hand: Keep important stuff within grasp. If you’ve got a book you’re always referencing or you need paperclips all day long, keep these things close at hand. If you’re always turning around or reaching for something, it’s too far away. Move it closer.
- Your desk: Your desk at home is often more personal than your desk at the office. You have more ownership so you care more. So what does your desk look like? How does it compare to Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart, Albert Einstein or still others? Einstein famously said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” So while figuring out your desk and workspace is important, don’t blindly follow the trends. Find what works for keeping your desk organized (or not organized).
Tips for Tools
- Good computer: A good computer is standard equipment for a freelancer these days. It’s essential. So don’t short-change yourself. It’s tempting to be a cheapskate and save a few bucks on a cheap machine or trying to make your old system last longer. But don’t forget all the time you’re wasting with a slow computer. Or the sanity you’re losing every time your computer crashes. Every little hiccup adds up and it has a price. Sometimes it’s cheaper to just buy the better computer. “These are the tools you use to do your job,” says Basecamp’s Jason Fried. “You should have the best you can afford.
- Smaller screen: These days computer screens keep getting bigger and bigger. But smaller might be better. Jason Fried used to have a 30-inch monitor he’d hook up to his laptop, but now he sticks to the laptop screen. “One screen all the time,” he says. “I also like the smaller screen because it forces me to make better use of the space. I found myself getting messy on a 30 inch.”
- More screens: Or you could go with Stefan Didak’s setup: Five monitors, and turn around for at least four more. He claims all that screen real estate makes him more efficient. An old Microsoft study backs him up, showing between a 9% and 50% improvement in productivity.
- Backup: You don’t have an IT department to bail you out, so you need to backup your own stuff. We’re going to recommend you backup your WordPress site, but backing up your computer is important too. Get an external hard drive and start an automatic backup system so you don’t have to think about it.
- Backup plan: What do you do if your computer dies? Backing up your files is important, but you also need a plan to get back to work. Do you have a secondary computer you can use? Are you saving up for the day you need to replace your computer—especially if that day comes early? Freelance WordPress developer Bill Erickson now keeps spare computers lying around: “I learned this the hard way when my old Macbook Air became unusably slow (overheating, so the system reduced the processing power by like 80% to try to decrease heat). After a week of barely getting my work done, I bought a mini to use while my computer was in the shop.”
- Get help: Sometimes stuff breaks on your computer. You don’t have time to waste figuring it out, so being able to call tech support whenever you need them might be worth the money. Pony up for Apple Care or whatever extra support plan PCs can access. If it saves your sanity and keeps your computer running, you’re saving money. That’s totally worth it.
- Work remotely: Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you have to be at home. You should be able to work remotely. What do you do if the power goes out? What happens when your neighbor is getting a new roof and there’s nothing but hammering all day long? Will you still be able to get work done? Not if you’re stuck at your desk. Have a laptop handy so you can work on the go. Have files set up so you can access them online if you need to, or at least be able to easily move them to Dropbox or another cloud-based system.
- Passwords: These days passwords are important, but there are far too many passwords to ever remember. Use a password service like 1Password or LastPass to store your passwords. You use a lot of online services when you work from home and there’s no need to waste brain power on all those passwords.
- Embrace the cloud: There are lots of cloud-based services that can make working at home pretty sweet. Experiment with new services, figure out what works and don’t be afraid to pay for what you need. Dropbox, Evernote, Skype, Tweetdeck, Google Drive, Trello—whatever works for you.
- Cloud software: Even your regular old software is going to the cloud. Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite both have cloud-based, subscription offerings. If you’re not using these programs on a regular basis, this might be a cheaper way to get access to what you need.
- App distraction: There are always cool new apps to try out that will make you more organized, improve proficiency and make you better looking. But they don’t always work out. Try stuff and see what works, but don’t jump on every new efficiency app. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
- Ahoy hoy: Keeping in touch while you work from home is important, so you need a reliable phone line. A landline may not be necessary, but you may not want to rely on your cell phone. A VOIP option might be a cheaper way to go.
- Spare phone: Just like you might need a spare computer, you might also need a spare phone. If the power goes out or your Internet goes down, your VOIP phone line is useless. You’ll wish you had a cell phone. And if you can’t find your cell or the charger has gone missing, you’ll wish you still had that old landline. Consider keeping some sort of secondary phone line just in case.
- Headsets: Be sure you have the proper headset for conference calls and hands-free note taking.
- High speed Internet: When you work from home you obviously need good Internet service. But think long term. So many cable and telecom companies offer great introductory rates these days, but they don’t advertise what the actual price is 6, 12 or 18 months later. Think long term.
- Printer/Scanner/Fax/Copier: One of the downsides to working at home is you no longer have access to the industrial copier at work. But the desktop combos work great. Don’t settle for just a printer. The scanner/copier function will be incredibly useful when you need to copy invoices, receipts and more. And while you rarely need a fax machine these days, it’s nice to have when you need it.
- Security: Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean corporate security doesn’t apply. Be professional with sensitive documents: “It’s important to adhere to the same confidentiality rules that would apply if you worked at your company’s offices,” says productivity expert Anne McGurty. “Keep a shredder handy to properly dispose of all sensitive documents, and properly maintain all computer and cloud files.”
- Music: Browsing Spotify all afternoon may be a waste of time, but listening to music can make you more productive. 88% are more accurate and 81% work faster when listening to music. Plus different music can help more with different tasks. So crank it up.
- Bag it: If you’re regularly going out of the house to get work done, put together a work bag that has everything you need. Pack the pockets with whatever you might need at your temporary office—paperclips, cough drops, headphones, extra business cards, water bottle, spare pens, highlighters, stamps, sticky notes, paper, tissues, power cords, etc. You want to make it easy to get out of the house when you need to.
- Dress for success: “There is a real psychological benefit to dressing for your job even when you’re at home.” So says Inc Magazine. As does All in One SEO Pack developer Michael Torbert: “Dressing professionally gives other people the impression that you’re a professional, and it makes you feel like one.” Of course others would argue the psychological benefits of being comfortable. Like many of these tips, your mileage may vary. Some people find that the right clothes help them shift into a professional mindset. They work better in khakis. Other people could care less and being comfortable in their pajamas makes them more efficient. Figure out what works for you.
- Remember the Skype call: If you do opt to dress down at home, just remember to step it up when you’re doing video conference calls. You may wear pajamas every day, but your clients don’t need to know that.
- Shoes: If you do need help shifting into that professional mode, remember the details. Sometimes shoes can make all the difference. Not wearing shoes is lounging around on the couch with your feet up. Wearing shoes is going out, ready for serious business.
- Exercise your clothes: For Team Casual a very real problem is your professional clothes may never get used. If you only pull them out once a year, you might find they’ve literally collected dust. Remember that when you have an in-person meeting—and preferably not an hour before the meeting when there’s nothing you can do about the dust crease in your dress pants. Bust out those dress clothes once in a while and give them some exercise. Overdress for a networking meeting or a date with your significant other. Even if you don’t like dressing up, you may find you like it better when it’s not a workplace requirement.
- Learn the tech: Since you’re no longer in the room with the people you work with, it’s time to master the various methods of communication that make working at home possible: phone, email, text, instant messaging, video conferencing, etc. “We have the technology,” says WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg. So use it. Get an account, mess with the settings, make sure you know how it works. Also be aware of the drawbacks. Realize it’s hard to understand tone in email. Know that video conferencing often goes wonky, so call in early to make sure everything works. Learn to use the mute button.
- Be very available: Basecamp’s Jason Fried emphasizes the importance of overcoming communication barriers: “Since you can’t meet face-to-face, you better return phone calls, emails, instant messages, etc. This is basic business stuff, but it’s tenfold more important when you’re working remotely. … When you’re remote, they’re going to be more suspicious when phone calls go unreturned or emails keep getting ‘lost.’ Stay on top of communications and you’ll reap the benefits.”
- Acknowledged: Working remotely means you don’t always get that thumbs up of acknowledgement from your co-workers. It can help to get in the habit of always giving and receiving acknowledgment that an email or message is understood and received. Ask your co-workers to do it too so you know they’ve seen your message.
- Build it: Sometimes the best way to stay connected is to build your own system. That’s what Automattic did, creating their own P2 WordPress theme and using a password-protected blog structure to encourage conversation among their few hundred employees, most of whom work remotely.
- Avoid email: If you’re trying to build a team environment across distances, email doesn’t work very well. “E-mail traps information that should otherwise be shared,” according to Automattic’s Toni Schneider. Consider other communication options that include the entire team (and no, putting the whole company in the CC: field all the time is not a good solution).
- Meetings: When you have meetings, share the meeting notes with the entire team. Publish them where everyone has access. This not only keeps everyone on the same page, it creates an archive of what decisions you made. (This is good practice even for organizations that don’t work remotely.)
- Set your hours: Yes, you work at home and can work whenever you want. But that’s not always helpful or practical. For the sake of the people you work with, you might need to set specific hours. If you need to be available or if you want people to actually pick up the phone when you call, you might need to have 9-to-5 hours.
- In the zone: When you set your hours, work when you work best. If you’re a morning person, schedule your prime hours in the morning. Take advantage of your sweet spot.
- Routine: Rather than being in a rut, a routine is a good way to be more productive. While you might chafe at starting work at the same time every morning, that routine is good for productivity. It also means you’re more likely to be done at the same time every evening. Working at home shouldn’t have to mean burning the midnight oil on a regular basis.
- Flexibility: But for all this talk of set hours and routines, flexibility is perhaps one of the greatest reasons to work at home. Being able to run errands, mow the lawn before it rains or attend school field trips with your kids is pretty great. Just recognize that it works both ways. Sacrificing a morning to run errands means working in the evening to make up for it. Running off to the beach on Monday means you’ll be putting in time on Saturday. Flexibility is great, just be sure you find the balance.
- Be focused: Sometimes working at home can be a bit scattered. You don’t have a boss breathing down your neck or a project manager telling you what’s next. You need to be your own project manager. So each day create a task list of what you need to get done that day. Set out specific tasks for each day. This will help you stay on track and give you a target to know you’re getting done what you need to.
- Mini-routine: A daily routine is helpful, but so is creating smaller routines throughout your day. Adding structure to your day can make you more productive. The pomodoro technique is one way to structure your day. It involves using a timer and focusing on specific tasks for 25 minutes and then taking 5 minute breaks. It can be a good way to power through difficult (or dreaded) tasks and then reward yourself with a limited break (the timer keeps a quick Facebook check-in from turning into 20 minutes).
- Track hours: Even if you don’t work hourly, track your hours. It’s essential to know how much time you need to finish a job so you can know if you’re charging enough. It’s also helpful to see how productive you’re being.
- Break time: Yes, you should take breaks. For sanity, health and productivity, it’s important to tear yourself away from work. Go to the kitchen for a glass of water and a quick snack. Take a walk around the block. Change that load of laundry. On-site office workers get breaks, and so should you. Just make sure break time doesn’t mean the latest episode of The Walking Dead.
- Reward yourself: In addition to taking breaks, you should also reward yourself. Set goals for finishing a project or putting in so many hours, then reward yourself. Maybe it’s that episode of The Walking Dead or maybe it’s quitting early. Obviously you can’t do this every day, but if you’re nearing the end of a project and need that extra push, a little reward can help. You can also set smaller rewards like a piece of candy or a few minutes of YouTube. Figure out what motivates you. Most people working at home are pretty self-motivated, but sometimes you need that extra push.
- Don’t quit when it’s hard: For everyone who works at home there will be days when everything is hard and you just want to quit. Don’t. Stick with it. It’s a dangerous precedent to slack off work every time something gets hard. Take a five-minute break. Work on a different project. Do some mindless busy work like cleaning your office. Just keep working. Working at home requires determination.
- Time zones: Working at home often introduces the dreaded time zone. You may be working with co-workers on the other side of the country or even the planet. The biggest thing you can do to overcome time zones is to communicate clearly about them. Always include the time zone when talking schedules. It can often help to convert the time zone for the person you’re talking to. Remember to be flexible. You might need to shift your schedule so you can be in the office when the people you’re working with are.
- Off schedule: Sometimes those time zones can be an advantage. While it’s helpful to work at the same time as your co-workers, sometimes it’s better to do your serious work when no one else is working. You can do your heads-down work without interruption.
- No eight-hour days: It can be a rough transition from working eight hours a day in an office to working from home. Especially when you realize that billing eight hours a day often requires working 10- or 12-hour days. There’s all this extra work that’s not billable—checking email, phone calls, breaks, networking, research, invoicing, etc. You might need to revise your expectations. Rather than feel guilty, remember what it was like in the office—breaks, conversations with coworkers, distractions, etc. Plan for that in your schedule.
- Cushion: Work more so you can work less. The flexibility of working at home is great, but in order to truly take advantage of it you need to work extra so you have a cushion for the unexpected. If you rigidly work 8 hours every day, then on Friday afternoon you still have to finish your 8 hours before you can call it a weekend. But if every day you worked even half an hour extra, by Friday you’d be able to quit two hours early. It’s easy to take time off, but it’s harder to put it in. So work extra when you can. Then take off when you need to.
Working With Family Tips
- Work zone: Set clear expectations and boundaries with your family when you work from home. Everyone in the house needs to understand what it means when you’re at work. Let everyone know when it’s OK to interrupt and when it’s not.
- Stoplight: Here’s an idea from John Meyer, CEO of Arise Virtual Solutions, a work-at-home call center company: Hang colored construction paper on your office door. “Tape the red light up when you cannot be disturbed and the green light when it’s OK to come in. Yellow light means to check first,” he says. “Kids, no matter what age, understand the message and enjoy playing along.”
- Heads up: Make those boundaries easier by letting your family know when you’ve got a call and can’t be disturbed. Before your call, check in to see if anyone needs anything from you before you can’t be disturbed. It’s a good way to head off any issues and remind those forgetful kids that you’ll be busy.
- Go away: Instead of kids you may be dealing with friends or family dropping in to say hello. It’s not breaking up fights, but it can be just as disruptive to your day. Here’s where you’re going to need to set firm boundaries and decide how flexible you can be and still be productive. If it’s once in a great while, don’t be so hard-nosed and take a break to chat it up with your friend. But if it’s your mom stopping in every other day to shoot the breeze, put your foot down.
- Work with it: Setting boundaries and shutting the door on your kids isn’t always possible. Some work-at-home parents need to keep a sharp eye on young kids and still get work done. Sometimes that means sitting at the kitchen table with the laptop so you can watch the kids play. Sometimes that means putting a baby gate across the door and a pile of toys in a corner (oddly, that works for the puppy too). Maybe you have a coloring table in your office (and upgrade to Legos when they get older). Realize that you’re not going to be as efficient and it’s not an ideal set up, but sometimes you have to get work done and take care of your kids at the same time.
- Give up: Geof Hilman, a father of three, says: “Just embrace it—kid interruptions are my water cooler time.”
- Phone rules: If you have a dedicated business line then you probably don’t need many phone rules for the rest of the family, though you should be sure no one answers the phone in your office. But if you’re sharing your business line with your house line, you should have clear rules about answering the phone. Either teach your kids how to politely answer the phone or ask them not to answer it.
- Hands off: Your computer is a tool for work. It’s not a toy for the rest of the family. Don’t let anyone else use it, unless you’re willing to risk sticky spills on the keyboard and bizarre viruses. Decide what boundaries you’re comfortable with, but protect your computer.
Human Interaction Tips
- Face to face: One of the most common complaints from people who work from home is the lack of real world interaction. Seeing nothing but your cats all day can drive you crazy. So be sure to get out and meet real people in the flesh. Try to get out of the house at least once a week.
- Any human: And that personal interaction doesn’t have to be business related. Basecamp’s David Heinemeier Hansson says, “One of the key insights we’ve gained through many years of remote work is that human interaction does not have to come from either coworkers or others in your industry. Sometimes, even more satisfying interaction comes from spending time with your spouse, your children, your family, your friends, your neighbors: people who can all be thousands of miles away from your office, but right next to you.”
- Run errands: Even if you don’t have a business reason to leave the house, go run some errands. Pick up some milk. Sometimes that 15-minute trip is enough of a change of pace.
- Change of scenery: Something that can help with the lack of human interaction is a change of scenery. Go work at a coffee shop, sure, but sometimes it’s as simple as moving to the kitchen or the deck.
- Know thyself: Once again it’s important to know yourself. How much human interaction do you need? For some introverts working in an office all day is exhausting. They come home ready to curl up and ignore the world. But working from home all day with no interaction might mean that same introvert is ready to get out and see people at the end of the day. Know what you need and how it might change if you work from home.
- Get together: Local meetups are a great way to get that personal interaction and do some networking. There are lots of events you can checkout, so ask around, do some searching and get together.
- Let’s eat: Lunch meetings are an ideal way to get out of the office and interact with people. Everybody needs to eat, so you might as well get some face time and build your network while you’re at it.
- Support local: Find a coffee shop near your house that can be your satellite office. Support your local businesses so they don’t disappear. Consider the cost of a cup of coffee (or your preferred beverage) to be your rent for sitting at a table for an hour (and if you’re going to be there all day, buy more than a cup of coffee).
- Small talk: The business world is very anti-meetings these days. People want to get back to work and get stuff done, and meetings tend to suck the life out of productivity. That can be difficult when you’re working from home and your only interaction with the office is those meetings. Push for those meetings to happen anyway and allow some time for small talk. Keep your meetings productive, but it’s also productive for you to get some interaction with your team. Just because it’s a conference call doesn’t mean you have to be all business all the time.
- Fake it: Sometimes you just can’t get human interaction when you work from home. You’ve got to buckle down and work. You can try faking it with TV, music or other background noise. You need to find something that’s not distracting. Some people can’t work with talk radio on. Other people can’t not watch TV. But the right background noise, whether it’s classical music or soap operas, can help you focus and be more productive.
Juggling Work and Home Tips
- In the office: A good way to separate your work life and your home life when you work from home is to keep work in the office. Take breaks outside your office, limit your work to the office. Don’t spill out to the kitchen table. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you, but this can be a good way to keep yourself focused on work.
- After hours: Another good way to separate work and home life is to not work after hours. Put in your daily hours and be done. Close up shop. Shut down the computer. Stop checking messages on your phone. You can always be flexible when you need to be, but not every work email is an emergency.
- Working too much: A lot of managers bristle at the idea of working at home because they think there’s going to be too much sleeping in and watching TV and not enough working. But often the opposite is true: people working from home work too much. They love their job, their job is at home, and so it’s hard to enforce boundaries. This is a big thing for freelancers to work against.
- Overworked: “One way to help set a healthy boundary is to encourage employees to think in terms of a ‘a good day’s work,’” says Basecamp’s Jason Fried. “Look at your progress at the end of the day and ask yourself: “Have I done a good day’s work?”
- Better work: A big advantage to working from home is that the office politics and nonsense drops away. Good work (and good people) rise to the top. “When it’s all about the work, it’s clear who in the company is pulling their weight and who isn’t,” says Jason Fried. (Yes, him again. It’s as if he wrote a book on working remotely… oh wait, he did: Remote: Office Not Required).
- Get ahead: One of the potential downsides of working at home is that’s it’s harder to move up the corporate ladder. Career advancement can take a hit when you work from home. Fight it by interacting well with your staff so nobody forgets about you, insist on in-person annual reviews with your supervisor, and take every opportunity to trumpet your successes. It doesn’t have to be a hit on your career when you work from home, you just have to make sure you’re heard.
- Alignment: Some people talk about finding balance between work and home, and how hard that is when you do both in the same place. But Chris Lema prefers alignment. Forget the tug-of-war between work life and home life. You’ve only got one life. So find alignment.
Come up with your own plan. Making work from home work is different from person to person. So much of this is subjective. There are lots of good tips and best practices here, but it comes down to the individual. You have to know yourself and what you need. The only right answer is what works for you.