How To Work From Home: The Definitive Guide + 99 Tips
Do you suffer from work from home woes? You know what I mean. You dread trying to work because you know the troubles and traps around your home and life will keep you from getting things done.
A while back, The New Yorker offered a devastating and hilarious satirical send up for people who work at home:
911 OPERATOR: 911—what’s your emergency?
ROBERT: Hi, I . . . uh . . . I work from home. …
OPERATOR: You did the right thing by calling today, Robert. I’m going to get some people over there soon to help you, O.K.? And I’ll stay with you on the phone until they get there. Do you understand?
ROBERT: I think so.
OPERATOR: Now, Robert, did you eat anything today?
ROBERT: Yes. Many times.
OPERATOR: Are you eating now, Robert?
ROBERT: I keep putting things in my mouth a lot.
Is this you?
Whether you are working from home by choice, or by necessity, it can be a challenge to find your way. In this post, we’ll cover traps for working from home, how to make the most of your workspace, dealing with distractions and interruptions, and even 99 tips for working from home. Let’s dive in!
I admit to being a work from homer by choice. I like the freedom it provides, but it’s that same freedom that causes most of my problems. I’m easily distracted and openly interrupted.
Quite literally, I just stopped working to tell my husband to explain to my husband how I am an ENFP on the Myers Briggs test and Nathan is an ESFJ (and Nathan confessed his E is right on the border) so we are opposites. No sooner had I told him my bit of information than I forgot what I was doing.
To add to the distraction, I had to stop what I got back to doing to look up Nathan’s personality type so I could share it with you.
See how easy it can be to get distracted, not because of what is going on around me but because of me. For me, self-discipline is the biggest challenge for getting things done.
But how I set up things around me has a LOT to do with my discipline because it directs my focus.
Working From Home Traps
- Sketchy tech
- Weak workspace
These situational elements of working from home can be key to keeping you on task.
Isolation Creates Work from Home Woes
We are designed for relationships. Around other people and with their support and encouragement, we are stronger and get more done than we could do alone.
This isn’t an extrovert-introvert thing. It is a human nature thing.
Humans crave relationships.
Working from home creates a bubble of isolation whether that is what is intended or not. You don’t want to do places because you lose that work time to the travel. Besides, you aren’t ready to go places.
You can combat isolation by being intentional about investing in relationships.
Move outside the home.
Find a public location where other people are active and set up a temporary working spot there.
- Nathan enjoys visiting his local coffee shop.
- Restaurants can work as well (as long as it’s not a peak serving time and you aren’t keeping a table from making a waitress her living – of course, tip well either way).
- Host an off-site gathering of the minds. Many libraries have rooms for just such an occasion.
- Co-working spaces will sometimes have spots you can rent by the day.
Schedule the best time.
We all have peak work times or when we do certain tasks well. Learn your schedule and plan your outside the home work around those peak times. You want to be able to travel light and break up the work with conversation.
Plan to be interrupted.
The whole point of getting out of the home it to break up the isolation. If you only go somewhere else just to be isolated again, you defeat the purpose. Make yourself available to interact.
Be predictable and approachable.
Have a regular schedule and let others know you are open to engagement.
- Go to the same location at the same time and day so you begin to see the same people (and they see you). You never know who you’ll meet.
- Smile. Nothing says approachable like a smiling face.
- Leave the headphones at home. If you can’t hear then you can’t engage.
- Make eye contact with others. Look at people. Nod (or say) hello.
- Ask questions when others do initiate engagement. Questions show interest.
Working from home can create isolation. You have to determine to reach out to engage to beat back those isolation feelings.
Need more tips on how to work from anywhere? Join in on next month’s WPprposper webinar 10 Tips to Enjoy Flexibility and Freedom Living Working Anywhere.
Sketchy Tech Jams Up the Work Process
If it doesn’t work, you can’t work. If it doesn’t work right, you invest all of your time and money trying to make it work right which means you still don’t get any necessary work completed.
You need the right tech for you and you need the tech to work.
Stable HOME Tech
Your home office has to be reliable. It has to be easy for YOU to use. And most importantly, it has to keep you healthy to work.
- Get a fast, reliable main computer. This workhorse needs to house your content and designs, run fast so you can work fast, and tackle all of your tasks without complaint. Talk to others in your industry (who actually do what you do) and get their feedback on different models and types. Ask lots of questions before you buy.
- Invest in a quality monitor. It needs to be easy to see. It has to be good on your eyes (because you’ll be looking at it most of the day).
- Consider multiple monitors. You’ll be surprised at the many ways you can use them.
- Multiple devices can be the answer to different tasks.
- Reliable internet. If you struggle with a reliable connection, look at backup options. Our cell service can be used as a connection in a pinch since our internet connection runs condo-wide (and can glitch at a whim).
- Battery backups are a MUST. A little brown out or flash of the electricity will turn off your devices and potentially wipe away your work. Plus, these flashes can do damage to your devices.
Ask your friends and colleges to share images or videos (or personal tours – engagement!) of their work from home spaces. See what tech setups they have and ask why they have those setups. The more you know the more equipped you will be to better equip your work from home office with the right tech.
More HOME Tips
A big part of how your desk is working (or not) is your computer. What kind of setup do you have for your computer, and what are some ways you can maximize the effectiveness of that setup?
Desktop vs. Laptop
For a freelancer, your entire business is on your computer. So much of your livelihood is tied up in the files and programs that reside on that hard drive.
Once upon a time, that made using a laptop as a primary device a bit of a risk. If you dropped that laptop while on the go or a clumsy neighbor at the coffee shop spilled their drink—goodbye business. You could spend weeks trying to recover. It made backup hard drives crucial.
But today you can do so much of your computing in the cloud that the device is nearly interchangeable.
Some people use multiple computers and others make a laptop do double duty with the help of an external monitor and a full-size keyboard. Others are even working with a tablet and making do without a laptop.
Now freelancers have more choices and can be less tied to a single machine. It’s all about what works for you.
“I’ve found the external monitor—the extra margin it provides—to actually be invaluable,” says Justin Sainton. “As a developer and business owner, context switching is unavoidable—having the visual space to do so is a massive help.”One study showed that multiple monitors offered a 35% boost in productivity.
“My laptop and two large monitors allow me to spread out everything I need so I can access multiple windows and applications quickly and efficiently,” says Apps.
Though not everyone likes bigger screens. Basecamp’s Jason Fried gave up his 30-inch monitor: “One screen all the time,” he says. “I also like the smaller screen because it forces me to make better use of the space. I found myself getting messy on a 30-inch.”
“I didn’t think I’d ever really need or use an actual physical printer—but having a wireless printer close by to be able to mark up proposals, print out contracts, etc., has actually been really helpful!” says Sainton. “I find myself using hand-written to-do lists, reading through and marking up physical copies of things, etc., more and more. When we’ve digitized nearly everything in our lives, it’s amazing how productive it can feel to actually hold something in your hands.”
A printer/scanner combo can also be incredibly helpful. We like to think we live in a digital world, but there are a lot of times when you need to make a copy.
Mouse & Keyboard
You might think a mouse is a mouse, but there can be a lot of differences, from a minimalist design to a tricked-out mouse with multiple programmable buttons. You have to find what works for you.
“The Apple Magic Mouse I had at my last agency was a life-saver because of its ability to read gestures similar to my MacBook Pro’s touchpad,” says Soucie.
Mice and keyboards can be wireless these days, which may be a great way to cut down on cords. But that also means rechargeable batteries, which might not be worth the hassle. Some folks have turned to solar keyboards, which allow you to have the wireless convenience without juggling batteries.
More than just a perk, listening to music can actually make you more productive. 88% of people are more accurate and 81% work faster when listening to music.
“I love having Sonos speakers in my office,” says Sainton. “Music plays a huge part of finding flow when I’m focused on something specific.”
Tech on the Go
You don’t want to have to spend a long time getting ready to go out and work. You definitely don’t want to end up out without the work you needed to get done. Work from home tech as well as a “go office” help you to get out of the working from home isolation rut.
- Have a designated away laptop or work device.
- Backup your work to a cloud service so you can always access whatever you need no matter where you are or what device you may be using. Working in the cloud is a new reality that can make you immune to computer loss, theft, or crash. It’s not just a good backup solution, it also makes you less dependent on a single device.
- Be sure to get a quality (and comfortable) bluetooth earpiece to connect to your phone. It keeps your hands free when you are trying to work and talk so you don’t end up putting the conversation on speaker.
More GO Tips
“Unfortunately, I’ve found myself so dependent on my external monitor that I find it hard to travel without it!” says Sainton. “I can get by on just my laptop, but it takes significant time to acclimate to.”
That’s no problem for Tracy Apps, who brings along USB-powered external monitors when she knows she’s going to be doing design work on a longer trip. “While they’re not the highest quality, they at least help my productivity a bit by having that little extra screen real estate,” says Apps.
“I’m a minimalist when I work on the go,” says Soucie. “Other than my charger, I don’t bring anything with me because I can’t guarantee I’ll have room for even a mouse.”
One of the advantages to mobile working is that minimalist mindset can help you focus. You don’t have the distractions of home, the screen is smaller, and there’s often a time limit. It can all work together to make you more focused.
Speaking of minimal, some people are switching to tablets instead of carting around a laptop. Tracy Apps relies on a 12-inch iPad Pro when she knows she won’t be doing design or development work on a trip.
The Cost of Reliable Tech
Everything comes with a price. Sketchy tech costs you time to try and fix what might be broken or jammed. It also costs money because of lost work. Reliable tech costs money as well, but a little planning makes the investment easier.
- Set aside extra funds for tech investment.
- Add a percentage to proposals for tech costs (a 10% increase in fees will add up fast).
- Talk to your accountant about tax breaks for tech investment.
Saving funds up to invest in reliable tech will help you save your business success.
Weak Workspaces Make Work a Pain
You want to remain focused and healthy so you can get more done. The wrong workspace or equipment makes that impossible. And the right workspace for one person may not work for the other, so you will have to find your way.
- Make your office pretty, or at least make it enjoyable. Paint if you can or add artwork. I like change, so artwork works best and allows for easy switches when the mood strikes me.
- Keep your office organized. Clutter will trip you up – literally at times. Make sure you have a home for everything and you put everything in your home.
- Choose the right desk. Whether you are standing up or sitting down, you need a desk that gives you plenty of space to work at a comfortable level but that doesn’t make the space claustrophobic.
- Find a good chair. I like one that allows me to sit crossed-legged. Nathan prefers something with ergonomic support.
- Find a view if possible. Set your desk up so you can see outside with the opportunity presents itself.
Make it YOUR space
Sit or Stand?
The biggest question in desks these days is whether you’re going to sit or stand. The most flexible option is to do both with a desk that automatically switches between sitting and standing. But it’s still important to recognize when it’s most helpful to sit or stand.
“When I’m deep in problem-solving mode, I stand, pace a bit, draw on the whiteboard, go back to the desk, etc.” says Tracy Apps. “When my desk is in standing mode, I walk around a lot more—research has shown that this type of moving and pacing increases brain function and problem solving.”
Don’t overlook where you plant yourself.
“I cannot stress enough how much investing in a good, quality, ergonomic chair is worth every penny, tenfold!” says Apps. “With a history of back problems, this chair is one of the only places I can sit for hours and not be in pain.”
Speaking of pain, take ergonomics seriously.
That might mean a standing desk or an expensive chair. It could also mean a keyboard tray or an ergonomic device, such as a mouse or keyboard.
While devices can help, they only do so much. You have to work the right way. So pay attention to your posture and how you’re working. A fancy ergonomic chair doesn’t do much good if you hunch over your keyboard.
Let There Be Light
Get a lamp or two and brighten up your space. Especially if you work at night or have more darkness during the winter, a few lamps can make all the difference.
“Sunlight is important to our brain’s chemistry, so sitting at a desk in an office all day can really take a toll on our mental health,” says Apps. “I truly believe that having a full spectrum light box (one designed for mental health in particular) is a must in our line of work.”
Your workspace should also be fun.
“Make your workspace feel like home,” says Adam Soucie. “I keep a few toys and LEGO minifigures on my desk as a reminder to stay creative and have fun.”
You don’t want to drown your workspace in distractions, but playing can also stimulate creativity. Sometimes it helps just to have something to fiddle with (hence the rise of the fidget toy).
On the Go Workspace
If multiple monitors aren’t an option or you’re stuck on a tiny laptop screen, another option is to create more screen space virtually. You can do this by creating multiple desktops with Spaces on a Mac. If you like having your apps and windows situated just so, but get tired of rearranging things for different tasks, Spaces is for you.
- Set up different desktops for specific tasks: One for managing clients, invoices, and contracts, another for head-down coding, another for email and research.
- Create an off-the-clock desktop to help separate work and play: You can put work out of sight so you’re not tempted when you’re off the clock (and maintain whatever work windows you had open).
- Get some empty space: Switch to a new desktop if you just need some breathing room but don’t want to close or minimize your windows. If you’re one of those people who open dozens and dozens of browser tabs, this can be a way to shunt those tabs off somewhere else so you can explore them later and not have them be an ongoing distraction now.
Don’t be afraid to try something new if your current work configuration isn’t working. Get creative to isolate yourself from the distractions, the interruptions, and to allow you to create a strong work environment.
It doesn’t have to cost a fortune (and remember, you can plan for the investment for the more costly tech), but it does have to fit you and your work.
When you think about your work and plan for your work you discover that working from home isn’t as tough as you once imagined.
Respect the Location
When you work off-site, it’s important to respect where you’re working. Pay attention to the rules and norms and don’t be that person.
- Don’t claim the best tables and hog space: Try to be unobtrusive and use only the space you need. There’s nothing worse than a single person with a laptop usurping a table meant for four.
- Turn the volume off or use headphones: Nobody wants to hear your music, random notifications, or that auto-play video.
- Buy something: If you’re at a coffee shop, buy a beverage or snacks and tip well. Think of it like you’re paying rent.
- Share the power outlet: Be conscious of other people around you and don’t stay plugged in all day if you don’t need to be.
Don’t be the person who claims the big corner table for themselves and nurses a single drip coffee for half the day.
But Wait – There’s More
We know how working from home can be challenging. Not only do you have the normal, day-to-day issues of work to deal with, but you compound those with the needs/wants/demands of the people around you.
What do you do to find a way to make your work-from-home situation work for you so you don’t end up running away from home instead?
Interruptions are those things of life that stop your workflow focus.
Work calls are expected. When you work from home, people who are at home will call to talk or to pass their time (and steal yours). You can defeat this tricky trap by turning off your ringer or getting a dedicated business number and only answering it. Just be sure you don’t give your business number to those who like to interrupt your day.
The last year has slowed down the attack of unexpected visitors, but those do occasionally still show up on your doorstep. It’s more challenging to avoid these tricky traps, so you have to find your way to manage them.
- Explain that you are working and can’t visit long. Use the time for a quick break or take an early lunch.
- Leave the unexpected guest with the children or spouse and excuse yourself.
- Step out on the porch to talk instead of inviting them in. Unexpected guests are often a lot like vampires, if you let them in they will suck away all of your time and energy. If you don’t invite them in then they will go away.
Things have to be done around the house, but they don’t have to be done while you are in the middle of your workday (even if that is when you think of them). Set up a chore chart and let it guide you through what needs to be done. When unexpected household needs come up – emergencies that can’t be planned for – then have a system in place on how to take care of them or who is responsible. You would have to handle these even if you worked from an office but the benefit of working from home is you can work in between the handling.
If you have family and you work from home, it takes an adjustment period for everyone to accept the work schedule. You are right there. It’s easy to expect you to stop what you’re doing because you can do it any time since you work from home.
Set up guidelines (not just for your family but for you as well)
Put up a sign
Be consistent in following your plan or you will be consistent in breaking it.
Your pets are cute, but would you bring them to work with you and let them run the show? Okay, sometimes you would, but if you had a boss then your boss wouldn’t appreciate it. Well, turns out you do have a boss and it’s not your pet. You have to set rules for working at home with your pet just like you do for family – and sometimes even stricter rules because they are just so darn cute!
The key to dealing with the interruptions seems to be heading them off at the pass. Set some rules. Follow those rules. Be consistent in being the boss.
Distractions are those things (big and little) that catch your attention that have nothing to do with life, death, or work.
You are thinking about your project and casually glance over at your social media feed. Maybe something on there will spark the creative juices you need to get this step of the project done. You know it won’t but you still tell yourself that it might be the magic bean you need. Four days later (or so it often seems) you come out of your social media comma and realize you still have to get the project done.
- Turn off all social media so you aren’t tempted
- Set a specific and limited time for social media work
- Mute social media notices
If you don’t have games on your devices, then good for you. If you do, then you know they can be as enticing as social media – especially if you need to plant seeds, feed animals, or any other number of time-sensitive gaming needs. There are settings you can put into place that will allow you to be away from your games for multiple hours (after all, you do sleep, don’t you?). Use those settings to keep your mind off your game an in your work.
Open browsers that need to be browsed
How many browsers do you have open right now? How many tabs are open within those browsers? The more you have opened, the more apt you are to be distracted by a screen moving or an ad flashing. Trim down to the browser you need.
Raise your hand if you don’t get enough emails in your day. Unless you are like my dad (who doesn’t even have an email address) then you are probably inundated with unwanted, unwelcomed, and undesirable emails – and then there are also the ones that you need to read and answer. If you don’t set a specific time for sorting and fulfilling your email requirements, then you will let those unread albatrosses become a distraction.
Set aside a specific time of day to deal with emails – choose a non-peak performance time to sludge through.
If you can answer the email in a minute or two, do it now.
If you aren’t interested, unsubscribe.
If you didn’t ask for it, unsubscribe the first time and mark it as spam the second.
If you need more time, set a specific time in your workday (that day) to tackle the email.
Calendars, Notifications, and Reminders
Too much is not a good thing. You need to know what you need to know, but you don’t need to know it every moment of your day. Look at your calendar when you start. Only use notifications and reminders for must-attend meetings and events. Put them to sleep when you aren’t using them.
Planning is important, but plans can easily become a distraction. If you are spending more time with the plan than you are implementing it with purposeful actions, then you may need a plan intervention. Keep in mind you can get caught in the plan trap when it comes to work, play, or daydreaming. If you aren’t taking action then let it go.
Distractions are tricks your mind plays to keep you out of balance in your work at home situation.
If you want to win the work-from-home game then you have to be so determined to win that you allow nothing and nobody stop you.
Your spouse can’t make you win.
Your parents can’t make you win.
Your mentor can’t make you win.
The only person that can make you win is yourself. Ironically, you are also the only person standing between you and your success.
Create a schedule
Set a schedule in a way that works for you and you will be more likely to stick to it.
- Use time blocks
- Harness the little bits of time
- Invest in a bullet journal
- Find an app that helps you keep it all together
- Make your own Focus Folder
Develop a routine
A routine helps you know what to expect and also lets those around you know what to expect.
- Get up at the same time every morning.
- Go to sleep at a decent time.
- Set aside a specific time for breaks and meals
The more you do what you know to do the more it will become a habitual part of your day. Set a challenge to do something for six weeks in a row – every day. By the end of the six weeks, you are likely to discover you don’t have to think about it anymore.
Invest in your health
Your health is an essential part of your success, and you have to be self-disciplined in keeping your body healthy. Learn to listen to your body and be aware of what it needs. Put time into your physical health with exercise and better eating. Put time into your mental health with relaxation and learning. You are the only you there is, so be sure to be invested in keeping you healthy.
You make the choices. Having success with working from home begins (and ends) with the person who stares back at you from the mirror every day.
99 Work From Home Productivity Tips
With 34% of the American workforce freelancing and a growing trend of telecommuting, more and more people are working from home. If you’re going to work from home, you need to make it work. We’ve got productivity tips to make the most of your work from home experience
The Work From Home Debate
Not everyone is a fan of working from home. Some people scoff and make jokes about watching TV in your pajamas. Even Yahoo made headlines when CEO Marissa Mayer shut down their work-from-home program. But rather than an industry-standard, she said “It’s not what’s right for Yahoo right now.”
The reality is more and more companies and organizations are embracing the work from home movement. Sometimes it takes a push: Federal employees working from home during four official snow days saved the government $32 million. There’s even a Forbes list of the top 100 companies offering full or partial telecommuting job opportunities.
Some companies embrace the work-from-home concept so much they barely have a physical office. Companies such as Automattic, Basecamp (formerly known as 37signals), GitHub and more prefer a virtual office.
“Yes, working outside the office has its own set of challenges. And interruptions can come from different places, multiple angles,” says Basecamp’s Jason Fried. “But here’s the thing: those interruptions are things you can control. They’re passive. They don’t handcuff you.”
That flexibility allows people to work from home and make it work.
The Best of Both at iThemes
Here at iThemes, we’ve got the best of both worlds. We love having a physical office and being part of the local scene (Go Oklahoma City!). But we also love the value and flexibility of having some of our team work from home. It means we’re not limited to local talent. We can build the best team, no matter where they’re located.
Having part of our team spread across the world (yes, we have an international team) means we need to do some extra work to make sure everyone feels like part of the team. But it’s worth it.
We’ve asked our team internally and did our research, coming up with the best work from home tips. Ninety-nine of anything is a lot to take in, but we hope it gives you some extra insight and helps you boost your productivity while you’re working from home.
- Be organized: You don’t really have a choice in this. Working at home requires organization. Now one person’s chaos is another person’s anal system, so don’t judge. But find something that works. You need to be able to find those notes, invoices, emails, client files, etc.
- Filer?: Apparently there are two types of organizing: Filing and piling. If you’re a filer, make sure you have enough file drawer space to keep things organized and not be overwhelmed. If you don’t have the space for another giant filing cabinet, consider an “archived” filing cabinet in the basement for files you rarely use but still need to keep.
- Piler?: If you’re a piler, you need to find ways to keep those piles under control. Bins and baskets can help, giving well-labeled, consistent places to pile things. Wall-mounted file holders can also help, allowing you to create piles in more places.
- Don’t stress: Don’t worry if you’re a filer or a piler. There are benefits to both: “Working at a prim desk may promote healthy eating, generosity, and conventionality, while working at a messy desk promotes creative thinking and stimulates fresh ideas.”
- Find a system: “The average worker wastes six weeks a year retrieving misplaced information on office and computer files,” says productivity expert Anne McGurty. So whatever system works for you, use it. Don’t just dump papers and hope to find them later.
- Close at hand: Keep important stuff within grasp. If you’ve got a book you’re always referencing or you need paperclips all day long, keep these things close at hand. If you’re always turning around or reaching for something, it’s too far away. Move it closer.
- Your desk: Your desk at home is often more personal than your desk at the office. You have more ownership so you care more. So what does your desk look like? How does it compare to Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart, Albert Einstein or still others? Einstein famously said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” So while figuring out your desk and workspace is important, don’t blindly follow the trends. Find what works for keeping your desk organized (or not organized).
Tips for Tools
Getting dressed for your day helps set the tone for where your mind is functioning. Wearing pajamas or “comfy” clothes puts your mind in a relaxed state. Getting dressed as if you were going to an office is an easy way to trick your mind into being in “office mode.” While you’re working from home it’s important that you wear pants. I know it sounds funny, but there have been people new to working from home who are not taking this advice! Personally, I get dressed each and every day as if I am going into the office and I have worked from home for years. You just never know when you might stand up from your desk and your co-workers see your full body instead of just the waist up.
Keeping your schedule the same allows you to easily step back into office mode when the stay-at-home orders go away. Dressing up for your day allows you to feel like you are doing more than staying at home. It helps you feel like you are ready to be out in the world and will help your brain be in work mode.
- Dress for success: “There is a real psychological benefit to dressing for your job even when you’re at home.” So says Inc Magazine. As does All in One SEO Pack developer Michael Torbert: “Dressing professionally gives other people the impression that you’re a professional, and it makes you feel like one.” Of course others would argue the psychological benefits of being comfortable. Like many of these tips, your mileage may vary. Some people find that the right clothes help them shift into a professional mindset. They work better in khakis. Other people could care less and being comfortable in their pajamas makes them more efficient. Figure out what works for you.
- Remember the Skype call: If you do opt to dress down at home, just remember to step it up when you’re doing video conference calls. You may wear pajamas every day, but your clients don’t need to know that.
- Shoes: If you do need help shifting into that professional mode, remember the details. Sometimes shoes can make all the difference. Not wearing shoes is lounging around on the couch with your feet up. Wearing shoes is going out, ready for serious business.
- Exercise your clothes: For Team Casual a very real problem is your professional clothes may never get used. If you only pull them out once a year, you might find they’ve literally collected dust. Remember that when you have an in-person meeting—and preferably not an hour before the meeting when there’s nothing you can do about the dust crease in your dress pants. Bust out those dress clothes once in a while and give them some exercise. Overdress for a networking meeting or a date with your significant other. Even if you don’t like dressing up, you may find you like it better when it’s not a workplace requirement.
- Learn the tech: Since you’re no longer in the room with the people you work with, it’s time to master the various methods of communication that make working at home possible: phone, email, text, instant messaging, video conferencing, etc. “We have the technology,” says WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg. So use it. Get an account, mess with the settings, make sure you know how it works. Also be aware of the drawbacks. Realize it’s hard to understand tone in email. Know that video conferencing often goes wonky, so call in early to make sure everything works. Learn to use the mute button.
- Be very available: Basecamp’s Jason Fried emphasizes the importance of overcoming communication barriers: “Since you can’t meet face-to-face, you better return phone calls, emails, instant messages, etc. This is basic business stuff, but it’s tenfold more important when you’re working remotely. … When you’re remote, they’re going to be more suspicious when phone calls go unreturned or emails keep getting ‘lost.’ Stay on top of communications and you’ll reap the benefits.”
- Acknowledged: Working remotely means you don’t always get that thumbs up of acknowledgement from your co-workers. It can help to get in the habit of always giving and receiving acknowledgment that an email or message is understood and received. Ask your co-workers to do it too so you know they’ve seen your message.
- Build it: Sometimes the best way to stay connected is to build your own system. That’s what Automattic did, creating their own P2 WordPress theme and using a password-protected blog structure to encourage conversation among their few hundred employees, most of whom work remotely.
- Avoid email: If you’re trying to build a team environment across distances, email doesn’t work very well. “E-mail traps information that should otherwise be shared,” according to Automattic’s Toni Schneider. Consider other communication options that include the entire team (and no, putting the whole company in the CC: field all the time is not a good solution).
- Meetings: When you have meetings, share the meeting notes with the entire team. Publish them where everyone has access. This not only keeps everyone on the same page, it creates an archive of what decisions you made. (This is good practice even for organizations that don’t work remotely.)
- Set your hours: Yes, you work at home and can work whenever you want. But that’s not always helpful or practical. For the sake of the people you work with, you might need to set specific hours. If you need to be available or if you want people to actually pick up the phone when you call, you might need to have 9-to-5 hours.
- In the zone: When you set your hours, work when you work best. If you’re a morning person, schedule your prime hours in the morning. Take advantage of your sweet spot.
- Routine: Rather than being in a rut, a routine is a good way to be more productive. While you might chafe at starting work at the same time every morning, that routine is good for productivity. It also means you’re more likely to be done at the same time every evening. Working at home shouldn’t have to mean burning the midnight oil on a regular basis.
- Flexibility: But for all this talk of set hours and routines, flexibility is perhaps one of the greatest reasons to work at home. Being able to run errands, mow the lawn before it rains or attend school field trips with your kids is pretty great. Just recognize that it works both ways. Sacrificing a morning to run errands means working in the evening to make up for it. Running off to the beach on Monday means you’ll be putting in time on Saturday. Flexibility is great, just be sure you find the balance.
- Be focused: Sometimes working at home can be a bit scattered. You don’t have a boss breathing down your neck or a project manager telling you what’s next. You need to be your own project manager. So each day create a task list of what you need to get done that day. Set out specific tasks for each day. This will help you stay on track and give you a target to know you’re getting done what you need to.
- Mini-routine: A daily routine is helpful, but so is creating smaller routines throughout your day. Adding structure to your day can make you more productive. The pomodoro technique is one way to structure your day. It involves using a timer and focusing on specific tasks for 25 minutes and then taking 5 minute breaks. It can be a good way to power through difficult (or dreaded) tasks and then reward yourself with a limited break (the timer keeps a quick Facebook check-in from turning into 20 minutes).
- Track hours: Even if you don’t work hourly, track your hours. It’s essential to know how much time you need to finish a job so you can know if you’re charging enough. It’s also helpful to see how productive you’re being.
- Break time: Yes, you should take breaks. For sanity, health and productivity, it’s important to tear yourself away from work. Go to the kitchen for a glass of water and a quick snack. Take a walk around the block. Change that load of laundry. On-site office workers get breaks, and so should you. Just make sure break time doesn’t mean the latest episode of The Walking Dead.
- Reward yourself: In addition to taking breaks, you should also reward yourself. Set goals for finishing a project or putting in so many hours, then reward yourself. Maybe it’s that episode of The Walking Dead or maybe it’s quitting early. Obviously you can’t do this every day, but if you’re nearing the end of a project and need that extra push, a little reward can help. You can also set smaller rewards like a piece of candy or a few minutes of YouTube. Figure out what motivates you. Most people working at home are pretty self-motivated, but sometimes you need that extra push.
- Don’t quit when it’s hard: For everyone who works at home there will be days when everything is hard and you just want to quit. Don’t. Stick with it. It’s a dangerous precedent to slack off work every time something gets hard. Take a five-minute break. Work on a different project. Do some mindless busy work like cleaning your office. Just keep working. Working at home requires determination.
- Time zones: Working at home often introduces the dreaded time zone. You may be working with co-workers on the other side of the country or even the planet. The biggest thing you can do to overcome time zones is to communicate clearly about them. Always include the time zone when talking schedules. It can often help to convert the time zone for the person you’re talking to. Remember to be flexible. You might need to shift your schedule so you can be in the office when the people you’re working with are.
- Off schedule: Sometimes those time zones can be an advantage. While it’s helpful to work at the same time as your co-workers, sometimes it’s better to do your serious work when no one else is working. You can do your heads-down work without interruption.
- No eight-hour days: It can be a rough transition from working eight hours a day in an office to working from home. Especially when you realize that billing eight hours a day often requires working 10- or 12-hour days. There’s all this extra work that’s not billable—checking email, phone calls, breaks, networking, research, invoicing, etc. You might need to revise your expectations. Rather than feel guilty, remember what it was like in the office—breaks, conversations with coworkers, distractions, etc. Plan for that in your schedule.
- Cushion: Work more so you can work less. The flexibility of working at home is great, but in order to truly take advantage of it you need to work extra so you have a cushion for the unexpected. If you rigidly work 8 hours every day, then on Friday afternoon you still have to finish your 8 hours before you can call it a weekend. But if every day you worked even half an hour extra, by Friday you’d be able to quit two hours early. It’s easy to take time off, but it’s harder to put it in. So work extra when you can. Then take off when you need to.
Working With Family Tips
- Work zone: Set clear expectations and boundaries with your family when you work from home. Everyone in the house needs to understand what it means when you’re at work. Let everyone know when it’s OK to interrupt and when it’s not.
- Stoplight: Here’s an idea from John Meyer, CEO of Arise Virtual Solutions, a work-at-home call center company: Hang colored construction paper on your office door. “Tape the red light up when you cannot be disturbed and the green light when it’s OK to come in. Yellow light means to check first,” he says. “Kids, no matter what age, understand the message and enjoy playing along.”
- Heads up: Make those boundaries easier by letting your family know when you’ve got a call and can’t be disturbed. Before your call, check in to see if anyone needs anything from you before you can’t be disturbed. It’s a good way to head off any issues and remind those forgetful kids that you’ll be busy.
- Go away: Instead of kids you may be dealing with friends or family dropping in to say hello. It’s not breaking up fights, but it can be just as disruptive to your day. Here’s where you’re going to need to set firm boundaries and decide how flexible you can be and still be productive. If it’s once in a great while, don’t be so hard-nosed and take a break to chat it up with your friend. But if it’s your mom stopping in every other day to shoot the breeze, put your foot down.
- Work with it: Setting boundaries and shutting the door on your kids isn’t always possible. Some work-at-home parents need to keep a sharp eye on young kids and still get work done. Sometimes that means sitting at the kitchen table with the laptop so you can watch the kids play. Sometimes that means putting a baby gate across the door and a pile of toys in a corner (oddly, that works for the puppy too). Maybe you have a coloring table in your office (and upgrade to Legos when they get older). Realize that you’re not going to be as efficient and it’s not an ideal set up, but sometimes you have to get work done and take care of your kids at the same time.
- Give up: Geof Hilman, a father of three, says: “Just embrace it—kid interruptions are my water cooler time.”
- Phone rules: If you have a dedicated business line then you probably don’t need many phone rules for the rest of the family, though you should be sure no one answers the phone in your office. But if you’re sharing your business line with your house line, you should have clear rules about answering the phone. Either teach your kids how to politely answer the phone or ask them not to answer it.
- Hands off: Your computer is a tool for work. It’s not a toy for the rest of the family. Don’t let anyone else use it, unless you’re willing to risk sticky spills on the keyboard and bizarre viruses. Decide what boundaries you’re comfortable with, but protect your computer.
Human Interaction Tips
- Face to face: One of the most common complaints from people who work from home is the lack of real world interaction. Seeing nothing but your cats all day can drive you crazy. So be sure to get out and meet real people in the flesh. Try to get out of the house at least once a week.
- Any human: And that personal interaction doesn’t have to be business related. Basecamp’s David Heinemeier Hansson says, “One of the key insights we’ve gained through many years of remote work is that human interaction does not have to come from either coworkers or others in your industry. Sometimes, even more satisfying interaction comes from spending time with your spouse, your children, your family, your friends, your neighbors: people who can all be thousands of miles away from your office, but right next to you.”
- Run errands: Even if you don’t have a business reason to leave the house, go run some errands. Pick up some milk. Sometimes that 15-minute trip is enough of a change of pace.
- Change of scenery: Something that can help with the lack of human interaction is a change of scenery. Go work at a coffee shop, sure, but sometimes it’s as simple as moving to the kitchen or the deck.
- Know thyself: Once again it’s important to know yourself. How much human interaction do you need? For some introverts working in an office all day is exhausting. They come home ready to curl up and ignore the world. But working from home all day with no interaction might mean that same introvert is ready to get out and see people at the end of the day. Know what you need and how it might change if you work from home.
- Get together: Local meetups are a great way to get that personal interaction and do some networking. There are lots of events you can checkout, so ask around, do some searching and get together.
- Let’s eat: Lunch meetings are an ideal way to get out of the office and interact with people. Everybody needs to eat, so you might as well get some face time and build your network while you’re at it.
- Support local: Find a coffee shop near your house that can be your satellite office. Support your local businesses so they don’t disappear. Consider the cost of a cup of coffee (or your preferred beverage) to be your rent for sitting at a table for an hour (and if you’re going to be there all day, buy more than a cup of coffee).
- Small talk: The business world is very anti-meetings these days. People want to get back to work and get stuff done, and meetings tend to suck the life out of productivity. That can be difficult when you’re working from home and your only interaction with the office is those meetings. Push for those meetings to happen anyway and allow some time for small talk. Keep your meetings productive, but it’s also productive for you to get some interaction with your team. Just because it’s a conference call doesn’t mean you have to be all business all the time.
- Fake it: Sometimes you just can’t get human interaction when you work from home. You’ve got to buckle down and work. You can try faking it with TV, music or other background noise. You need to find something that’s not distracting. Some people can’t work with talk radio on. Other people can’t not watch TV. But the right background noise, whether it’s classical music or soap operas, can help you focus and be more productive.
Juggling Work and Home Tips
- In the office: A good way to separate your work life and your home life when you work from home is to keep work in the office. Take breaks outside your office, limit your work to the office. Don’t spill out to the kitchen table. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you, but this can be a good way to keep yourself focused on work.
- After hours: Another good way to separate work and home life is to not work after hours. Put in your daily hours and be done. Close up shop. Shut down the computer. Stop checking messages on your phone. You can always be flexible when you need to be, but not every work email is an emergency.
- Working too much: A lot of managers bristle at the idea of working at home because they think there’s going to be too much sleeping in and watching TV and not enough working. But often the opposite is true: people working from home work too much. They love their job, their job is at home, and so it’s hard to enforce boundaries. This is a big thing for freelancers to work against.
- Overworked: “One way to help set a healthy boundary is to encourage employees to think in terms of a ‘a good day’s work,’” says Basecamp’s Jason Fried. “Look at your progress at the end of the day and ask yourself: “Have I done a good day’s work?”
- Better work: A big advantage to working from home is that the office politics and nonsense drops away. Good work (and good people) rise to the top. “When it’s all about the work, it’s clear who in the company is pulling their weight and who isn’t,” says Jason Fried. (Yes, him again. It’s as if he wrote a book on working remotely… oh wait, he did: Remote: Office Not Required).
- Get ahead: One of the potential downsides of working at home is that’s it’s harder to move up the corporate ladder. Career advancement can take a hit when you work from home. Fight it by interacting well with your staff so nobody forgets about you, insist on in-person annual reviews with your supervisor, and take every opportunity to trumpet your successes. It doesn’t have to be a hit on your career when you work from home, you just have to make sure you’re heard.
- Alignment: Some people talk about finding balance between work and home, and how hard that is when you do both in the same place. But Chris Lema prefers alignment. Forget the tug-of-war between work life and home life. You’ve only got one life. So find alignment.
Come up with your own plan. Making work from home work is different from person to person. So much of this is subjective. There are lots of good tips and best practices here, but it comes down to the individual. You have to know yourself and what you need. The only right answer is what works for you.
Work from Home Webinar 1 Replay
Nathan Ingram and I have been talking about the traps of working from home on the #WPprosper webinars hosted by iThemes Training.
In the first webinar, we talked about interruptions, distractions, and self-discipline.
In the second webinar, we shared out VERY DIFFERENT ideas about isolation, sketchy tech, and weak workspaces. Watching the webinars, you can see and hear our differences.
Work from Home Webinar 2
Nathan focused on the last three traps for working from home in the second webinar.
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