Avoid Common Work-From-Home Pitfalls
According to a Reuters poll from June 2012, approximately one in five workers worldwide telecommutes, and nearly 10 percent work from home every day. Reuters notes, “It is a trend that has grown and one which looks like it will continue with 34 percent of connected workers saying they would be very likely to telecommute on a full-time basis if they could.” However, the article also notes that, “Twenty one percent of connected people globally said it wasn’t a possibility for them because their job requires them to be in the workplace all the time.”
The latter point is especially interesting, considering that earlier this year Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer caused a major uproar when she banned telecommuting altogether. According to the internal memo from the head of HR, Jackie Reses, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”
While the backlash was swift, some agreed that Mayer had a point about the importance of having workers around each other in order to share and brainstorm innovative ideas. But plenty of others pointed out telecommuting’s many benefits.
So which is it? There’s no easy answer, and there’s certainly no one-size-fits-all answer, either. But if you telecommute—or if you’re thinking about making the transition—there are some things you can do to maximize your productivity and make this work arrangement a smashing success instead of a failed experiment.
We’ve rounded up some telecommuters to share their thoughts, tips, and tricks for creating a successful work-from-home experience.
You know the pros. Be aware of the cons, too.
There are many positives about working from home: you don’t have a commute, you can work in your pajamas, you make your own schedule, and you can avoid office politics and drama (just to name a few). But what about the cons?
Sadie Cornelius is the owner of SKC Marketing, and she’s the director of marketing for Cover Story Media. She’s been telecommuting for over a year. She cites similar benefits to the ones we just mentioned. As for the cons, she says they include the lack of human interaction, the need for constant self-motivation, and the fact you often end up being your own IT department, accountant, and support system all rolled into one.
The lack of human interaction is a biggie for telecommuters—from both a social and professional standpoint. Bianca Wright is a partner at Socially Savvy Kids, which provides online video courses for parents that teaches them how to keep their kids safe on all the social networks. She, too, has been telecommuting for about a year, and while she loves the freedom, she acknowledges that working solo can be isolating. “Sometimes I miss the energy of having lots of colleagues around me to help stay on task and energized.” Wright notes that the challenges don’t end there. She says, “Weirdly, remembering to stop working can be hard sometimes. It can be difficult to draw a line at the end of the work day when you know there is SO MUCH TO DO.”
Of course, another challenge is remembering to actually work instead of succumbing to the myriad temptations, such as the couch, Facebook, and Law & Order marathons.
Create systems and tricks for navigating the challenges.
Wright agrees that it’s important not to overlook the obvious, as in the actual “working” part. “Put in the work hours,” Wright says. “I’m not talking about the hours running round on the internet reading about random stuff on Wiki. Get 8 hours of work done. I don’t care if those work hours are from 10pm to 6am. [Do] whatever works best for you, but be mindful of how your time is spent. Keep a log of your work if you have to.”
Both Wright and Cornelius mention the importance of getting dressed. While working in your jammies is one of the perks that people often mention when it comes to telecommuting, getting dressed—even if it’s just showering and putting on something casual—can send a message to your brain that you’re “on the clock.”
Speaking of the clock, Cornelius recommends setting a time to “clock in” every day. She says, “Set a goal of when you should start your day. It makes getting into a routine more of a habit.”
Other successful telecommuters echo this sentiment. Marissa Brassfield owns Ridiculously Efficient, which helps high-performance teams and solopreneurs dramatically increase their productivity so that they can free up time to work hard and play harder. She’s been working from home full time since 2007. She says, “I set core hours for myself to crank out work and set that expectation with friends and family. When they see that I take my schedule seriously, they respect it. When managing myself, I set challenging goals for the day and incentivize myself with attractive rewards.”
Erica Lee Strauss, a freelance work-from-home copywriter for over three years, says setting up a place to work in addition to a regular schedule is also important. Strauss says, “My main advice? Get a solid, dedicated work environment set up (read: don’t work from your bed!). Set boundaries with clients and family/friends and stick to them. Also set boundaries when it comes to your work—decide on a time you’ll disconnect for the day and stick with it.”
Getting outside the “office” is also important in order to avoid feeling isolated and to get some much needed exercise (remember, sitting too long at your desk can be harmful to your health). Cornelius says, “Whether it be going to the grocery store, taking a class at the gym, or scheduling at least one phone call with a friend or co-worker a day, it is important to get yourself out of your bubble and outside to experience the real world.”
Understand how to manage fellow telecommuters (hint: it’s all about setting expectations).
Managing your own time is one thing if you’re a solopreneur, but what if you’re tasked with having to manage other telecommuters? Two words: don’t micromanage.
Brassfield says, “Set clear expectations for reporting. The inclination is to micromanage, but that won’t fly with team members who are accustomed to working independently. With your remote team, determine what kind of updates you want to see from them for you to feel in the loop with their activities, and the frequency of those updates. Then, give them freedom and space to work once they’ve earned your trust, so long as they maintain that trust.”
Emily Sidley is the senior director of publicity for Three Girls Media, Inc., and she has been telecommuting for five years. She also manages a remote workforce for the company. She’s developed a series of techniques for doing so successfully. Techniques include spending 10-20 minutes checking in with each employee on the phone every week so they can discuss challenges and she can provide encouragement. She also makes herself as accessible as possible so that her remote workers can get the help they need as soon as possible.
Sidley also reveals a couple of innovative strategies. “We have a private Facebook page, providing a place to share funny pictures or memes, helpful articles or weekend plans. During our weekly staff meetings, we like to call out an employee that’s been doing a good job. ”
Kim Beckers is a strategic business adviser, coach, and certified online business manager. She’s worked from home for over a decade, and she currently manages a remote workforce. She says, “Communication and having a great project management or task management system in place is KEY. I have a mobile work force that works for me around the world. We all use one online project management system and hold weekly team planning calls. Have a SYSTEM in place to handle expectations and accountability. Make sure everyone knows what the system is and that they are using it. Error on the side of OVER communication.”
Take advantage of technology.
Technology, of course, is what makes telecommuting even possible. There are many cool tools and apps that can make the whole work-from-home experience go even more smoothly. Here are some to consider.
Who doesn’t love a good to-do list, right? If yellow legal pads are too last century for you, then you might like some of these nifty apps. Cornelius uses TeuxDeux and Emily Sidley uses Wunderlist. As Sidley notes, “It helps me manage my to-do list and set deadlines. Then, when I feel my focus drifting, I can pull it up and refocus by starting on a new task.”
If you’re looking for some fun apps, Cornelius recommends Coffitivity, which provides you with coffee house shop sounds to boost your creativity. Marissa Brassfield uses UP by Jawbone, a wristband and app that the website says “can track how you eat, sleep, and move to help you feel your best.” Brassfield sets hers to vibrate every 60 minutes that she’s idle. “This reminds me to get up, walk around, and take breaks. I’ve since started thinking of the number of idle alerts I get in a workday as a trackable metric.”
As a writer, Erica Lee Strauss spends her life on the computer, so she’s a fan of the Mac app SelfControl. “You can block specific websites (e.g. Facebook) for an allotted amount of time and there’s no way to turn it off. I’ve also been known to completely turn my WiFi off when I need to focus. I also keep my phone on silent all day AND in a different room.”
Bianca Wright agrees with Strauss’s advice noting that the “on/off” switch is more important than any app. “Switch off the TV. Switch off your phone if you need to be completely focused. Shut down the time sucking websites that are stealing your time. You’re in control. Remember that—it’s why you wanted to work from home!”
Do you work from home? What tips and advice can you offer our readers? Share in the comments. And be sure to check back later this week when we talk about creating a home office design that rocks.