More people are telecommuting than ever before. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 37 percent of U.S. workers have telecommuted, four times greater than the 9 percent found in 1995. The arrangements vary, and for some it is full time and for others limited to a few days a week. Recently, a client of mine with a portable workload was asked, along with her entire department, to telecommute as a strategy for the company to lease a smaller space. While this would have many jumping for joy, it was unwelcome news for her as she enjoyed daily interactions with coworkers. It required a shift in expectations, attitude and proactivity to create new rituals and routines to replace those of a traditional workplace.
When people think about telecommuting, they tend to respond in two distinctly different ways. The first group goes into a reverie, expressing in glowing terms how great it would be. They envision themselves shedding a dreadful commute, wearing sweatpants to work, and having proximity to laundry in order to pop in a load from time to time. They’re eating healthy foods and working out, while accomplishing more they could in an office setting. They rarely picture the pitfalls, like isolation.
The second group responds in a fearful way, voicing concerns that they would eat too much, procrastinate too much, and not get enough done. They rarely picture the benefits or see themselves in control of their schedules.
In each of these responses lie truth. It can be daunting to be productive when your work and home life are under one roof. It requires discipline and motivation to produce results when no one is around. It can also represent freedom from some of the unwanted aspects of office or cube life. There are pros and cons to telecommuting and, as in every lifestyle choice, requires self-awareness, insight into your personality and clarification of values and preferences. While anyone can do it, it is not for everybody.
Regardless of your initial response to the idea of a home-based work life, there will be aspects to maneuver around. Over eight years of working in a home office and helping clients navigate it, I have developed strategies that support productivity and address the challenges, regardless of field. If and when you decide to try telecommuting or starting a home-based business, these tips can help:
- Dedicate a work area. Otherwise your work product will invade the rest of your home.
- Create rituals to signal the beginning and end of the day so your work doesn’t bleed excessively into your home life. How you structure your day may be completely up to you, but it’s important to have sign posts. My practice is to start my day with a cup of coffee and the news, including checking out social media. Then, I don’t do that for the rest of the day. For the most part, I don’t incorporate personal chores into my work day except for errands that take me outside—a trip to the dry cleaner, post office, or library, but nothing that will distract my focus and energy from work. I end the day by shutting down my computer and taking my dog for a walk. Of course, this is just one model of how it could be and part of the fun is to involve your ingenuity in exploring the myriad methods of making a life that works, and a life that works at home.
- Take control of your calendar. One of the secret pitfalls of working remotely is overwork. It may seem counter intuitive, but without a commute, you may find yourself starting to work the moment you wake and sticking to it until the end of the day without stopping. Having coworkers creates natural pauses in your day, when you might get coffee, head out to pick up lunch, or run into each other in the hall. When you lack these built-in breaks, you must create reasons to step away from your laptop. Fill your calendar with activities to stay connected to people. You can schedule phone chats with friends to break up the day and make a point to go out for lunch or coffee with others a few times a week.
- Join clubs and networking groups. The benefits of like-minded folks gathering regularly around a shared belief or goal are exponential. My Toastmasters group (Delaware County Toastmasters Club 3204) is a haven and anchor in my life. There are loads of options, including sites like meetup.com with a variety of groups that meet regularly. Whatever you decide to do, put it on your calendar. Make commitments that would require action to cancel.
- Do not be out of sight and out of mind if you are not your own boss. Find ways to stay visible and engaged with your supervisors and coworkers.
- Mind your deadlines. This is true for everyone, of course, but when you are in an office the reasons for a project being late may be apparent and when you are not, they aren’t, which leads to the next point.
- Communicate on the status of your projects, especially if an obstacle is encountered.
- Make sure there is never any doubt about whether or not you are working. You don’t want anyone to wonder “where IS she?” This can be accomplished by being responsive to emails and phone calls, keeping your calendar online and accessible to those who need to know where you are, and having standing meetings to discuss ongoing work.
- Be aware of background noise. If you have a conference call, eliminate distractions and focus on the conversation, resisting temptations to check email etc. Eliminate any sounds of a household, including your pets, by conducting business in a quiet spot.
- Move your body. Sometimes I miss the long walk to the restroom that I used to have and I must look for opportunities to move about the cabin. Working remotely tends to be more sedentary because everything is right there.
- If you know other telecommuters and want some company, consider spending a day or two with them, at your home office or theirs.
As it goes with most things in life, working at home will be what you make of it. If you approach it with self-confidence, optimism and an orientation of enjoying the benefits and overcoming any obstacles, you can enjoy a full, satisfying and rewarding career. Please post comments about your experiences and any tips or hacks you have learned along the way.
Reprinted with permission from the October 27, 2016 of “The Legal Intelligencer” © 2016 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com.