There are plenty of advantages to working from home, but there are certain pitfalls as well. Calvin Sun has worked from home for many years, and he offers some pointers for making things go smoothly.
It's all the rage and has been for some time. But now, with recent issues regarding energy consumption, the environment, and "work/life balance," working from home has grown even more important. Whether you're an employee of a company or an independent professional working for yourself, you might have a chance to work from home. Be aware, though, that this arrangement can cause problems if you're not prepared. Here are some tips.
Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.
#1: Dress the part
No, you don't have to don the three piece suit or the wing tip shoes -- or the female equivalent. But neither should you simply roll out of bed and move to your desk, clad in your pajamas. Yes, it's unlikely your co-workers or clients will see you dressed this way. Nonetheless, the way you dress can affect your attitude and your productivity. In addition, the act of changing can help you distinguish, psychologically, between work and home -- an important distinction, discussed more below.
#2: Keep a separate office
For the same reason your dress should be different for work, so should your office. You probably could work from the kitchen counter or in the family room. However, the chances of distractions and of lowered productivity increase significantly compared to working in your own separately defined home office. The separate area might also be necessary to satisfy IRS home office requirements (but check with your tax advisor to make sure).
#3: Discipline yourself regarding break times
Yes, you can knock off work every 10 minutes to watch television or pop in a DVD. If you do, though, you might go through the day without accomplishing anything. The need for time management and discipline becomes even greater when you're on your own. Establish those periods of time when you work and those times when you take a break and stick to them.
#4: Discipline yourself regarding snacking
In the same way, watch what you eat. It's easy to wander to the kitchen for a snack. Too much snacking will ruin your productivity and your waistline. Exercise discretion and discipline here as well.
#5: Check insurance
Make sure your homeowner's insurance covers your work-at-home activity. This issue is particularly important if you anticipate having visitors, such as co-workers or clients. You might even check to see whether your company will subsidize part of that insurance.
#6: Educate and set guidelines for the family
Do you have a spouse, children, or even parents living with you? Make sure they know about this arrangement. It might be difficult, but they need to realize that even though you're at home, you're still, at times, "at work." Having a constant knocking on the door to handle this or that domestic emergency will prevent you from concentrating and completing your tasks. Establish guidelines for when you are available and stick to them.
#7: Establish start and stop times
Many people think that working from home helps achieve work/life balance. Yes, it can, as long as you keep clear the distinction. If you don't, your work/life balance actually could become even worse because you won't know when to stop "working" and start "homing." As with dress and with your office, set clear times when you start working and when you stop. When the latter time comes, really DO stop. Avoid going back to your home office "just to send one more e-mail." That one e-mail will become a second, and a third. Once the time comes, just stop until the next day.
#8: Use a separate phone line for business
Regardless of whether you're an employee or on your own, get a separate line for your business. Having your five-year-old answer the phone for relatives or friends might be cute, but it could mark you as unprofessional to others who might call. If you use an answering machine or service, call your own line and check the quality of your greeting. You don't want to sound like you're speaking from the wreckage of the Titanic.
#9: Clarify computer ownership and policies
Whose computer equipment will you be using? Will the company supply you with a computer or will you be using your own? If the latter, how will any acceptable use policies affect your computer? Does your company use of your own computer preclude you from using it for personal matters? What antivirus or patch update policy will you need to follow? Clarify these questions before you begin your computer work, because they touch on important privacy and security issues.
#10: Check zoning if necessary
Check with your local government about your work arrangement. If you're receiving visitors or receiving regular deliveries, the government might be concerned about traffic and parking. However, if all you're doing is plain work, you likely will have less, if any, problem. In any event, it's always good to make sure.
#11: Keep in touch with the boss
You've heard the saying, "out of sight, out of mind"? Don't let that happen to you. Make sure your boss knows about your accomplishments. If your schedule calls for you to be physically at your "real" location once or twice a week, consider meeting with your boss about what you've been doing. Otherwise, make sure your boss knows about your projects and successes, either via phone or e-mail. You don't want your lowered visibility to hurt your chances of promotion and salary increases.
Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.