Working from home can sound ideal. Just roll out of bed, brew a fresh pot of coffee, and plop yourself down in front of the computer. No fighting rush hour traffic. No stressing with wardrobe and makeup. No dealing with nosy managers or pesky coworkers. You can even work in your pajamas, if so inclined.
Sound too good to be true? Well, it can be. Telecommuting definitely has its perks: no more time-consuming commutes; less money spent on transportation costs and restaurant lunches; more flexibility and free time to spend with friends and family. For the disciplined, it can also mean an increase in productivity away from an often hectic and distracting office environment.
For those a bit lacking in the self-discipline department, however, working from home can provide some unique challenges. Here are 10 helpful tips to make telecommuting work for you:
- Assess yourself. There are certain personalities that just make for better telecommuters, so it’s best to do an honest self-assessment ahead of time. Are you self-disciplined? Motivated? Do you like being alone for long periods of time? Unless you can answer “yes” to these kinds of questions, your work-at-home career may be doomed to failure.
- Set up shop. Selecting the right technology — and knowing who to call should you have a problem — is crucial to the success of your work-from-home career. At minimum you’ll need a reliable computer, high-speed Internet access, a business phone line (do you really want the kids answering your business calls?), a fax machine, and a printer. Remote-access software that allows you to access office-based applications, files, and your company’s Intranet is also very helpful.
- Get the goods. Many companies will provide telecommuting employees with necessary equipment, but every company has a different policy. Some provide laptops. Some provide office furniture. Some may even pay for your telephone bills. Make sure that you and your employer agree beforehand on an equipment and expenses policy.
- Secure support. May telecommuting situations fail because senior executives and managers are not aware of them or have not been asked permission. Make sure that you and your immediate supervisor get the approval of all company officials at every level. Work with management to set up clear expectations.
- Measure success. It’s a smart idea for you and your supervisor to come up with methods for measuring increases in your productivity, as well as other possible benefits to the company from your telecommuting situation.
- Set boundaries with others. It can quite distracting to be on a conference call when suddenly a visiting neighbor or friend starts ringing the doorbell. It’s crucial to clarify with friends and family that, even though you are at home, you are working and not available for drop-ins or errand running.
- Set boundaries with yourself. Believe it or not, one of the traps telecommuters can run into is overworking. If you’re a workaholic, or someone who can’t keep your hands off the keyboard when you know work is lurking in your laptop, you must set limits with yourself. Designate strict work hours, and when the end of your workday comes, shut your computer down.
- Get out and about. To offset the isolation that often comes with working from home, it’s important to have daily routines that help you maintain ties with the outside world. Get your morning coffee at the local café. Schedule lunch with a friend. Take a break and go for a brisk walk around the neighborhood.
- Stay visible. Remember that old adage “out of sight, out of mind?” There’s still a lot to be said for gathering around the office water cooler. Even if you’re a production powerhouse, it’s up to you to make sure your boss and colleagues don’t forget you exist. Stay on their radar and make sure everyone knows that you’re still a valuable part of the team.
- Don’t abuse the situation. While it’s important to make yourself visible, it can also be politically savvy to remember that while many managers say they like the concept of telecommuting, they’re not always crazy about their own employees doing it. Coworkers may also come to resent what they perceive as your privileged situation. Be careful not to abuse your position.