Over the past year, we have both found ourselves in a situation that’s becoming increasingly familiar to the American worker. Rather than wake up late and dash out the door to beat rush hour traffic, we simply roll out of bed, throw on a pot of coffee and turn on our computers. That’s because we’re telecommuters and work partially or totally from a home office.
Sound perfect to you? Hold on a second. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Sure, there are plenty of perks to working from home, but it can also be full of challenges.
Having navigated the telecommuting waters ourselves, we put our heads together and came up with the following tips to help you deal with life in your home office.
1. Try Co-working
Co-working arrangements allow freelancers and telecommuters to rent space in an office by the day, week, month or year. The agreements vary widely: some offices have permanent desk spaces and private rooms for meetings, while in others you might share a desk with someone else. But they all offer the perks of an office: wireless Internet, printers, coffee, and most importantly, a place to be out and about in the world with other people. Many telecommuters have found that co-working not only helps their productivity, but has increased their opportunities for networking, partnerships, and possible job opportunities. This wiki is a good resource for finding a location and co-working arrangement near you. (Thanks to @caligater for the info!)
2. Establish Regular Call Times
One of the hardest parts of telecommuting for many, especially those who are extroverts, is the loneliness factor. Because you don’t go into the office, you can find yourself going hours, days or even weeks without seeing another human being. If you’re not careful, telecommuting can lead to a feeling of total isolation and cabin fever (especially during the winter when there’s a foot of snow on the ground).
So next time you need to talk to someone in the office or a client, don’t email them. Pick up the phone and call, or better yet, schedule a quick chat on Skype. The human interaction will do you good, and you’ll also get two side benefits: 1.) a chance to strengthen the relationship with the coworker or client you don’t see every day, and 2.) the opportunity to get useful updates that might not come up over email.
3. Pick Times to Visit the Office (If Possible)
It’s true, thanks to the cloud, you really don’t have to work in an office anymore. But that doesn’t mean that telecommuting can totally substitute for good old face-to-face interaction. If your office is close to where you live, talk to your boss about having a few set days when you come into work. If you work remotely from another state, find out if your company will be willing to fly you in several times a year. Depending on the size of your office, there may be a designated space you can use, or an office or desk you can share with other telecommuters (this is sometimes referred to as hot-desking). This will allow you to set up meetings with fellow team members, attend any training or information sessions your company is holding, and get out of the house.
4. Designate a Comfortable Workspace At Home
Sure, you could grab your laptop and work from your bed all day, but in the long run it can increase your risk for back, neck, hand or wrist strain injuries. The best setup is to have an ergonomic chair, elevated laptop stand (if you have one), a ergonomic mouse, a separate keyboard, and a desk that ideally doesn’t double as your kitchen table. Along with physical health benefits, a designated workspace can help you focus on work, and feel more like you are in the office.
5. Have a Backup Plan
It’s the deadline of a giant project for your biggest client. But somehow, everything around you is crumbling. The dog is barking incessantly. You cannot get a good signal on your phone. Your computer shuts down and won’t turn back on. A neighbor is hammering and drilling next door. Your printer runs out of ink. Your Internet slows down and finally cuts out. Having a backup plan is necessary if nightmare scenarios arise. Your plan could include going into the office, heading to a quiet public place with Internet, or going to a copy center to print documents. Make sure to constantly save your work and backup your emails– if something can go wrong, chances are it eventually will! You can use a site like JiWire to find WiFi near you.
6. Set Your Work Schedule
One of the biggest challenges that people working from home face is that since they don’t have a commute, it can be difficult to designate set work times. When you are working alone from home, it is easy to lose track of time. You turn on your computer at 8am instead of 9 a.m., and then suddenly it is 7 p.m. and you’ve just worked 11 hours. Setting firm hours that align with your company policy will help mold your daily routine, as well as save your sanity. Also, just like being in the office, it is important to take a lunch break away from your desk if possible. It will refresh your mind and body.