According to Gallup, 37% of U.S. workers telecommute. That number has been steadily growing since the digital revolution started to take hold in the early 1990s. Even if you aren’t telecommuting now, it’s possible that you will be in the near future.
With today’s digital tools and with software capable operating in the cloud, for many workers, the need to go into the office is limited. However, working from home can create its own challenges: you are not right next to your coworkers to have a conversation about a project; you have distractions around the house, such as the cat that apparently decided to be really needy today; and most office documents are not stored in your home. I personally have experienced these issue, having worked at home for years, and I have a few suggestions to make working from home easier:
1. A cooperative employer is essential.
First and foremost, you need the cooperation of your employer (unless, of course, you are self-employed and can call your own shots). Many employers are seeing the benefits of a flexible workforce and have become very supportive of the idea. However, depending on your job role, your boss may get irritated when you are out of the office. Moreover, your IT support staff will probably not be interested in supporting your home computer. If you are issued a company laptop, use that. Having your employer and support staff onboard is essential for home office success.
2. Have a dedicated space in your home for work.
This can eliminate a lot of distractions. I have an office in the basement of our house. The door to the basement is shut so the cat and dog can do their own thing (that doesn’t involve knocking over things on my desk). I have no windows and the kitchen is pretty far away. I have the convenience of being at home while avoiding some of the things that can cause a lack of motivation and focus at home.
3. Invest in communications tools.
When I say “invest,” I mean spend some time setting up free tools. My office frequently has about 30-50% of the staff working from home on any given day. We use Skype pretty heavily, which allows for text chat, voice/video chat, and even screen sharing. Another great screen sharing application that I have used is Join.me. It has a free version that has always worked well for my projects with clients. Additional chat services include Google chat and even Facebook.
4. Be willing to use video chat when necessary.
There is a benefit to actually seeing the faces of clients and coworkers; it’s easier to make a stronger personal connection. However, there a couple of issues when doing a video chat from home. First of all, you need to be mindful of what is in the background. You don’t want to show a messy kitchen, an inappropriate poster, or kids fighting. Second, one of the advantages of working from home is not having to dress up. Employers shouldn’t force people who are working at home all day to spend 30 minutes preparing with ties and make-up for a 5-minute video call.
5. Have reliable hardware to support remote conferencing.
Get a good microphone, speakers, and webcam. Clients, fellow employees, and especially your boss will get annoyed very quickly if they your mic keeps dying out, so a nice headset goes a long way. While they may be a little awkward to wear, the mic will be right up to your face and will pick up less background noise. The recipients will have a better time hearing you as well. You can find some fairly inexpensive sets online, like this Logitech headset on Amazon.
6. Make sure your files are accessible from home and the office.
There is nothing more frustrating than not having the right version of the file you are working on. Fortunately, you have several options. You can use a cloud-based storage application such as Dropbox, Box.net, or Google Docs. Many of them allow you to integrate directly with your local file system. For example, a Google Docs folder will appear just as any other folder might. Your files will then be completely in sync. I have also been successfully using Carbonite for years as a dual backup service and remote file access.
7. Avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” trap that you may fall into if you work remotely a lot.
When I work remotely (or when my boss works remotely), I make sure I check in frequently. I don’t just mean calling or sending an email with status updates (although that is a good idea). I make sure my work gets checked in online, I stay proactive in reporting potential problems or opportunities, and I still try to exceed expectations.
Working from a home office carries a lot of benefits. Many workers report that they are often more productive from home, and they save on gas, car wear and tear, and expensive ties (my home office has a strict dress code of “casual”). Just keep in mind that as a remote employee you still have responsibilities to your employer and clients. Follow some of these tips above to excel at working from home.
Share some tricks you have found that make working from home productive in the comments section below. I would love to hear some more tips!