I am fortunate to have an enviable telecommuting arrangement with my employer. I work remotely, at my home in Texas and travel back to company headquarters in Virginia to work on-site for a week every month or so. Its been working quite nicely for the past 6+ months as far as I can tell. During this time, I've experienced some things that work well and some things that don't work particularly well when it comes to working out of one's house. I decided to put together a few tips for others trying to make a go of it working at home. There are many ways to be productive and happy working remotely. Factors such as personality, physical space limitations and the social landscape of your home all contribute to your ability (or lack thereof) to successfully work from home. I can only account for my personality and the constraints of my particular situation, but I've come up with a few tips that I think can help. Your mileage may vary.
One of the first and most important things to do is to make sure you have a place to work. It doesn't have to be a huge space or a whole-room office, as long as you have a place to sit comfortably, keep some books, write some notes and stage the necessary computer and peripherals. For me, I've got a small desk in the corner of our bedroom, which is exactly enough space to do everything I need. If you try to work at the coffee table one day, the patio table out back the next day and then the breakfast table the next, it may be difficult to establish consistency and an environment where you can actually get some work done.
Establish a Routine
Your routine may vary depending on your work arrangement (are you your own boss or do you have co-workers in the office to work with?) but regardless, it is important to establish some type of routine. Set a schedule for work and follow it. The biggest challenge here is self-discipline. Balancing work and life can be difficult and doing it independent of the traditional parameters of a commute, a cubicle and co-workers makes it even harder.
Come up with a schedule that works for you - and your clients, co-workers or others depending on you. Perhaps you're the type that likes to sleep in. That's fine, schedule a 10:00am to 7:00pm work day. Or if you're an early bird, set up a 7:00am to 4:00pm day. The point is, schedule your day. Make sure it has a consistent beginning and ending each day. Getting into this type of routine helps draw boundaries between work and life and makes balancing them much easier.
If you don't, you'll end up playing Wii when you should be working and working when your wife (and/or kids) wants to spend time with you. Don't be fooled thinking a schedule will only hinder the freedom you finally have by being able to work from home. I'm not proposing a militaristic approach to your day with no flexibility. But I do believe setting some parameters for your day will help you enjoy that freedom and get some work done while you're at it.
Put Some Clothes On
Working from home means you get to hang out in your jammies and bunny slippers all day, right? Well, perhaps, but I'm recommending the opposite on most days. Even if you know you're not going to be leaving the house that day, put some clothes on. Now that its summer time, that may mean shorts and a t-shirt, but the process of getting up, showering, brushing teeth and getting your clothes on will help you establish the routine mentioned above.
Personally, I feel more productive on the days I wear normal clothes. Sometimes I even wear shoes. It helps me feel like I'm actually working - like I've got somewhere to be and some important business to take care of - which I do. Dress for success, right?
Sometimes you need a break. A break from sitting in front of the computer screen all day. If you were in an office setting, you may spend time away from your desk in meetings or going to the printer or collaborating with co-workers. But at home, it seems like the only reason I would have to get out of my chair would be to get something to drink or go to the restroom. So I have to get out periodically, just to walk off stress or reinvigorate my brain. If not, I feel I start to get drained mentally.
I look forward to days when I'm able to meet a friend for lunch, but that's not everyday. Most days I'll take 10 minutes a couple times during the day to walk outside if its nice out and stretch my legs, enjoy the sunshine or check the mail. Maybe take a walk, go running or do some other exercise during your "lunch break". Or, if you're not up for exercise, perhaps go run some errands at lunch; a trip to the bank, the post office, pick up dry cleaning, whatever. The point is to get away from your desk, even if its only for a few minutes a couple of times a day. When I do that, I always return feeling refreshed and ready to go at it for a few more hours.
One of the nicest benefits to working at home is the idea of having more time available that would otherwise be eaten up by commuting to and from work each day. I've never had less than a 30-minute commute to and from work at previous jobs; most of my career, close to an hour in the car each way was pretty normal. So I definitely feel like I've got more time to work with in my day now.
Question is, what do you do with that time? My advice is to take advantage of it and use that time doing something worthwhile. For me, not having an hour commute in the morning means I get more time with the family each morning. Sometimes I'll take that time to go run or exercise. And yes, sometimes I do let myself sleep in a bit, too. How often in today's crazy busy world are you actually given time back? Not often.
There are probably dozens more good tips for working from home, but these are the ones I've found success with over the past several months. How have you been successful at the work from home game? I'm open to advice, so feel free to add your ideas in the comments.