I have never known anyone to turn down the chance to work from home. Snow flurries outside? Yup, I’ll work from home today. Repairman coming to fix the hot water heater? Work from home day! I think we all get so excited to work from home because we could save 2+ hours without a commute, there’s little pressure to spend time getting ready (or even shower at all!) and we have peaceful, uninterrupted time to work. This is especially helpful when you have a massive spreadsheet or another detail-oriented task that requires concentration.
And with the bounty of technology in our globally-focused lives, it’s feasible to operate completely remotely. I’ve managed teams in Connecticut, Nepal, Afghanistan, Malawi and beyond from my cozy little home office, and while I do value face time, there is not much that can’t be accomplished via email and Skype. In fact, I recently found a nonprofit whose entire staff is remote, and my financial leadership model is built on a remote CFO.
We all have limited budgets and traditional “overhead”-like items – rent, phones, internet, maintenance – can eat away at our resources very quickly, thus taking it away from those we serve. If we don’t have a pro bono office space, remote workers or a “distributed team”, looks more and more attractive as a cost-efficient model.
But working from home can quickly turn into “working” from home if you’re not careful. The kitchen will be calling your name for a mid-morning snack which will remind you that The Price is Right is on at 11am which turns into working from the couch which turns into an afternoon nap, missed conference calls, an overflowing inbox and only goes downhill from there.
But it doesn’t have to be so! Here’s how to stay focused and on task AND gain more time back into your day:
Set your schedule. Have to be at the office at 8am? That’s when you should plan to be online. That does NOT mean you roll out of bed at 7:55am, pour a cup of coffee and sit down rubbing your eyes. No, you do not have to wake up at the same time as you would if you were commuting but give yourself enough time to wake up, wash up and clear the morning frog from your throat before hopping on your first call of the day. Set an end time and stick to it too – put an event in your calendar every day at 6pm. The alarm will go off and you’ll be reminded to shut down, go for a run, spend time with the family or whatever you do to unwind.
Create a home office space. Maybe you live in a big suburban house and have a whole room for a home office. Excellent! But what if you live in a tiny shoebox apartment and barely have enough room for you and the dog? That’s okay too. Set up a space where you can work, free of distractions – even if it’s the kitchen table. Clear the clutter, set up your computer, mouse, phone and notebook and boom! Instant home office. Please do not work from your bed or the couch. You won’t feel or sound professional and motivation flies right out the window when snuggled in your down comforter.
Incorporate fresh air and/or variety. As an introvert, I could hole myself up in my office all day, every day and never miss human contact. The extroverts out there need movement and energy to keep them motivated throughout the day though. Take a lunchtime walk or spend the morning working from a coffee shop. You’ll get just the right amount of interaction without the constant distraction of people stopping by your office to chat.
Use the tech tools at your disposal. For conference calls, use the video function of Skype or Google Hangouts, rather than just a call (remember, you should be washed and dressed so video shouldn’t be a problem!). Use the chat function for quick comments or questions, just as you would pop your head in someone’s office. On the other hand, don’t overcompensate and over-communicate just to prove you’re actually working. Your boss and colleagues will know you’re engaged in your work by your high-quality deliverables.
Are you ready? Let’s get to work! (Not “work”!) How do you stay efficient and focused at home?
Here are some other great work from home tips:
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