“On the fourth day of telecommuting, I realized that clothes are totally unnecessary.”—Scott Adams, American cartoonist.
Whether you call it distance working, telecommuting, or freelancing, technology has made working from home more effective and productive than ever before (<---Click to Tweet). In fact, some studies have shown that letting more employees work from home can result in better productivity when it’s handled right, so this trend will continue to grow as the Digital Millennium progresses. I’ve always maintained that if workers continue to excel from any location, employer distrust will fade, and managers will care less about where their employees work from as long as they produce results.
I’ve worked from home for 25 years now. Whether you’re a freelancer, a full-time virtual assistant, or simply work from home one day per a week, there are certain steps you can take to ensure maximum productivity. The five tips I’ve included here will help you stay on the straight and narrow productivity-wise, even when your commute is only a few dozen steps.
1. Maintain a dedicated work area. Set aside a dedicated home office and use it to work, so you can stay focused. You may think the kitchen table is sufficient, but it’s not. Ideally, choose a space where you can shut the door or at least get away from a high-traffic area where your family members congregate. Not only will a dedicated home office contribute to your productivity, you can usually write it off on your taxes. In the evening, when I want to surf around the net, I leave my office and bring my laptop out into the family room, so I’m “home.”
2. Stick to a regular schedule. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you can roll out of bed at 10:00 AM and take breaks any time you like. If you’re part of a team, then your schedule should ideally coincide with that of your office-bound co-workers, so you can communicate and coordinate with them more easily. If you live on the west coast but most of your clients live on the east coast, you may choose to keep east coast hours or vice versa. I work a regular 8:00 to 5:00 day and try to do “personal” things after work, just like anyone else. Take an official lunch break and run errands for a bit if you want to get out of the house. I do enjoy the flexibility, however, when I can work around a doctor’s appointment or something that must be done during the day (one of the benefits of working at home!).
3. Set boundaries with your family. When my teen boys arrive home at 3:00, I say a quick hello and get back to work for a couple hours. They understand and respect my need to focus after years of boundary setting drummed it into them. You may have to do the same. Don’t let your significant other tempt you into running errands or going out to play, saying, “You can make up the time later.” You won’t feel like working after a day of playing, and your energy will be low. If you’re going to take the day off, take an actual day of vacation.
4. Stay constantly connected. Wi-Fi and smartphones make it easy to stay in contact with your fellow workers, even if you rarely (or never) see them in person. Call, text, instant message, and videoconference with your team members daily. Keep in very regular contact with your senior leader so he or she knows you’re on the ball. Respond as quickly as you can to messages without allowing your communications to distract you. You may actually have to check in more often than if you worked in an office, since your co-workers can’t just pop in your office to ask you a question. So you have to be available for virtual pop-ins more than usual.
5. Dress and groom yourself normally. We’ve all heard tales of Victorian military officers and explorers dressing for dinner and having high tea even when camping in the wilderness hundreds of miles from civilization. The idea was that if they maintained civilized habits in the wilds, they’d be able to fit right back in when they got home. There’s something to that even now. If you make sure you groom yourself and dress decently every morning, despite being at home, you’ll continue to take your job seriously. If I work in my robe and jammies, I just don’t feel professional. I don’t put a suit on, but I do dress nicely and comfortably. Plus, in this era of Facetime and webcams, you’ll want to look your best when communicating. Do not just dress nicely from the waist up as you may have heard for videoconferences—that’s a disaster waiting to happen.
It Is What It Is
To work productively from home, treat your work exactly like what it is—work. Keeping an irregular schedule, letting distractions overtake you, not setting boundaries with family members—these challenges can destroy your productivity, giving the telecommuting naysayers ammunition to use against you. I’d love to hear your input and ideas on working productively from home!
© 2016 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (January 18, 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.