Often known as the cubicle-workers dream, working from home (aka teleworking) is becoming much more common these days. Without having a good understanding for what this really entails, you may end up wishing those push pin filled cubicle walls would mysteriously return.
Many of you know that I’ve worked from home since 2001. In fact, it’s one of the things that allowed me to start this site.The transition from cube to home was tougher than anticipated but after making some adjustments, I’ll never go back to a cube – not alive at least.
Before I go into the productivity benefits you and your company can enjoy by allowing teleworking, I will tell you some of the things I did to ease the transition and some of the things I quickly realized.
With that, section 1 is, “How to Successfully Work From Home”. Note: I am not saying this because I want to dictate your life. These are things I really learned over the last 6 years so take it or leave it, they are things to consider.
- You are an island: Get used to solitude – especially if you are working in the capacity of a programmer, tech support agent or telesales worker. Results are expected and you have to perform and learn to ignore the lonely feeling you will encounter. Motivation has to come from your need to advance, make more money, win awards, etc. You will not get the ‘good job’ handshakes that you are used to. This is a serious one – come to terms with it if you want to work from home and not have ill-will towards your boss and/or team.
- Be seen, be heard: If there is an important meeting, go to the office – especially if several layers of executives are going to be present. When you have to express a deep opinion on something, nothing is stronger than someone seeing your facial expressions and conviction. Do not expect the same response from co-workers if you only choose to join the big meeting via an audio or web conference. This may not apply if you are a freelancer.
- Designate THE spot: This sounds obvious but many people are SO eager to work from home that they give this no real thought. If your plan is to toss your laptop on the kitchen table, you are in for a rude awakening because you will think of work every time you sit down to eat your Wheaties. It will lead to a misery. Even if live alone, you must consider choosing a spot that is not a ‘home’ area. This means no bedrooms, family rooms, or kitchens. Choose a place that you can actually depart from when the workday is over so you can shutoff your work-brain and turn on your personal-brain.
- Equipment: No, I am not going to tell you that you need a phone. However it’s worth mentioning the fact that working from home doesn’t indicate that company property becomes free to use for personal activity. You are still using a company laptop and most likely connecting through a VPN whose traffic is somehow monitored. The rule is simple – if you wouldn’t search for jobs at your office today, don’t do it from the company laptop just because you are at home. You would absolutely be shocked at the things I’ve seen teleworkers do.
- Supplies: Yes, you will still need paper and highlighters. Make sure your employer is going to be reimbursing you.
- Eat & Shower: I really hate to admit this but I am bad at showering. When I wake up in the morning, I grab some tea and I head to the home office in my sweatpants and t-shirt. Next thing I know, it’s 2:00 in the afternoon. Not only do I miss the shower but I miss two meals as well. Do that for 3 days in a row and the spouse will start to think you’re a bum. So, schedule in a shower and a meal. In all honesty, it wakes you up and it’s well worth the 15 minute time investment. Silly as it sounds, this is seriously an issue for people (including me)!
- Dress the part: In line with the showering bit, you should be keen to the notion that someone may invite you to a last minute web meeting with video. If you are able to work effectively in your shorts, fine, but have a business shirt handy. Some people need to dress up in order to get into the business mood. If you are one of them, dress as if you were really heading into the office.
- Kids: If you do have kids, you must immediately establish a Do Not Disturb policy. It could be a sign on the door, instructions to the spouse, or anything that will tell everyone in the house that you are in the middle of something. My rule is simple. If I am not on the first floor of the house, I am not available. It helps that I built an office in the basement but you get the drift.
- Task Confusion: Sure, the lawn needs to be cut but 1:00 on a Wednesday is not the time to do it. Remember, you are WORKING so during business hours stick to business! I can’t believe how many people and neighbors I see doing this. One of these days Google Earth is going to offer a live satellite feed of any address on the planet (or something goofy like that) so just don’t do it.
- TVs: I have a TV in the office but it’s only used when I am working at night. Aside from that it is never on. When you are just beginning, choose a workspace that doesn’t have any TVs in view. Yes, Mythbusters or Oprah may be on but come on, you are working!
- Weekend Working: For a lot of people, working on the weekend is a must. When there is a deadline or some kind of technical cutover, the weekend is the only time to get it done. You must set guidelines with your spouse that weekend projects are not weekend getaways. Your office time has to be just that, office time, regardless of the day.
- Online Meetings: Find a good online meeting service. There will be times that you need to go over a Powerpoint or an Excel document and clearly you don’t want to go into the office simply to show someone a graph. I have tried at least 6 services and the only one I will trust is WebEx. There are plenty of free services out there and I cannot deal with them constantly crashing. My time is worth more than saving $250. If you are dealing and meeting with customers, don’t choose a garbage service.
- Keep work at work: This link goes to a post I wrote a while back. Yes, your surroundings have changed but you will still need to shut down business.
- Last but not least, the Sauce: After a hard day I’d love heading to a bar for a beer with by co-workers. Well, when you work at home happy hour cannot come early. Use common sense and stay away from alcohol until the real workday ends. If you started at 5AM that morning and want to end the day at 3:00, remember that no one else has that luxury so always expect a call at 4:45 that needs your attention. I had to fire a guy once because he was wasted at 3:00 after losing an account and then drunk dialing another customer. Bad, bad, bad…
So there are a few things that a new home office worker should consider. Now, let’s move to section 2, “Will Productivity Increase?” Here are a few things that I have noticed and learned to love. I’ve also included a white paper for you to take a peak at.
- No noise: No, I am not talking about the kids screaming, I am talking about the office gossip and water cooler talk. There is NONE of that when you work at home with dedication. I’d challenge you to track how much time each week you waste by having meaningless office conversation.
- No Commute: Duh! I have no commute. If I had to work in the office I would spend no less than 3 hours per day in the car. Guess who benefits here – my employer. I now spend that 3 hours working so really, my boss is getting an extra 15 hours each week of productivity. Do the math and assuming there are still 52 weeks in a year – my boss just gained an extra 780 hours of worker productivity (and so did I).
- Real Benefits: The US Government (believe it or not) has done a phenomenal job of promoting telework. In the graph shown below, you will see the benefits they have noticed. These results are based on the number of agencies, out of 29 in total, that have seen benefits in the categorized areas. Note: The entire whitepaper is available in a PDF.
- Autonomy and Personal Satisfaction: I mentioned earlier that we all have responsibilities. Working at home, to me, leads to an autonomic feeling – as if I am running by own business. I suppose you could classify this as an increase in morale but I now see work something different than a necessary evil. I can do whatever I have to do in order to totally kill my goals and I can do it without someone hawking over my shoulder.
- Sick Days: I am not sure who this is a benefit for but I haven’t used a sick day in 2 years. Sure, I have taken vacation days but I haven’t been sick enough to call in. It’s much different when I can sit in bed with my laptop versus having to commute and deal with people. I save sick days and the company gets a semi-productive worker when generally I would have called in and said screw it! Maybe we all benefit from this one.
- Advancement: Earlier I mentioned that you stand to gain a ton of hours simply by killing your commute. The question then becomes, “What should I do with that time?”. Well, if you can swing it, this is time for you to dedicate to special projects that will make you more visible in the company, learning more about your company so you can build a personal advancement strategy, etc. Don’t use this time to read the newspaper and sip your morning coffee.
So that’s my take on working at home. If you can do it without watching TV or mowing the lawn, do it – for sure. You will get a lot more done and it will allow you to focus on things that actually make sense to your development.
If anyone is interested in how to setup the home office to help keep you motivated, let me know in the comments and I will write about that next week. In the meantime, adios!