Working from home is tougher than just putting a desk in your garage and calling it an office. It takes discipline and requires you be honest with yourself. Can you meet deadlines with no one around to help you out or motivate your progress? Can you be happy working by yourself?
If you can say yes to these questions, you’re on the right path to making a home office work. Here are four tips to help you along.
1. Set up separate office space — even if it’s just a desk.
Before she started working from home last year, says Crystal Lauderdale, “I used to complain about sitting at my desk all day.” When Lauderdale began working from her Tampa, Florida, home as a regional editor for Patch.com (an online news service), she found to her surprise that she needed, and appreciated, having a work desk.
“It allows me to draw a line between my workspace and my home space,” she says.
One of the risks of working from home is never truly checking out of the job — frequently going back online day and night to check work email or perform one more little task — which can result in stress, burnout, and a loss of life-work balance, cautions Robert Moskowitz, president of the American Telecommuting Association.
Having a separate workspace lets you mentally check out as soon as you step away from that space.
2. Limit your hours.
Telecommuting gives you flexibility, letting you work whenever you want so long as the work is done. This can be a double-edged sword, because you may find yourself procrastinating during daytime hours, and then trying to finish your work in the middle of the night.
Or, you may work all day, but then become so engrossed in a project that you work into the night, putting in more hours than necessary. If you find yourself doing this with frequency, something’s wrong. Keep track of your time and be sure you aren’t overdoing it. Don’t stay at your desk just because it’s there; attend to your home life as well.
3. Have frequent contact with colleagues.
If you have employees, try to have frequent meet-ups with them, either in person, by web conference (such as through Skype), or by phone. People need social interaction to thrive; plus, meet-ups help you stay in the loop with everything that’s going on.
Lauderdale manages a team of work-at-home freelance reporters in the Tampa area. She convenes them for in-person meetings regularly, plus uses online group meetings and one-on-one phone calls to keep communication lines open.
4. Avoid distractions during your work time.
Some people can work with a TV going, but most can’t — so turn it off. Teach your family to respect your workspace; don’t let them interrupt you unless it’s important. The same goes for friends and neighbors who may think you aren’t really working since you’re at home. Learn to say no. (And to avoid any nosy Mrs. Kravitz types: Draw the blinds and use your answering machine to screen calls.)