You've finally convinced your boss that working from home is not just a viable option, but the best option to ensure you remain a productive member of the team. Or maybe you've ventured out on your own and now you enjoy a home office.
But don't think it's all rainbows and pajama parties. In fact, working from home offers plenty of traps that working in a standard office environment doesn't typically produce. As a long-time member of the working-from-home department, I've learned how to avoid most of them. Here are some suggestions to help keep you on track.
1: Avoid the distractions
When you're working from home, the distractions will hit you like an avalanche. And unlike when you're working in the office, these distractions are often enticing. Television, bed, loved ones, exercise, shopping... you name it. The distractions will come in all shapes and forms. You must train yourself to avoid them ─ at least to a point. Although it may be tempting to carry your laptop to the bedroom and work from bed, the next logical step is to take a nap. You'll get nothing done and wind up scrambling to meet deadlines at the end of the day.
2: Know when to quit
This is probably the single most challenging pitfall you will face. Working from home makes it easy to keep on going... in the evening, when you should be giving your attention to yourself or others. This isn't so much about having a rigid clock-out time, but knowing when you've completed all you need to complete that day. Once you've finished those tasks, quit. Step away from the office and be done. If you continue to work beyond your daily task list, you set yourself up to blur the boundaries between work time and personal time.
3: Separate the office from the rest of the home
This is primarily a psychological trick — but it's incredibly important. If you don't separate your workspace and your home space, you will always feel like you are at work. That feeling will do a serious number on your psyche. Don't let it happen. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of a spare room to serve as an office. In that case, do what you can to separate your work area from the rest of the home. This may mean using curtains or a standing screen to block your office from the rest of the house — or working in a basement. If you can't do that, at least make sure to step away from your work desk at the end of the day and don't look back.
4: Don't forget to socialize
This one is tough for some. The idea of working alone is appealing to many people. The problem is, when you do work by yourself (day in and day out), it can become easy to retreat within and stop having any connection with the outside world and other people. After a while, this becomes the norm and those social skills will start to suffer. Make sure, on a daily basis, that you socialize — and not on Facebook! You need face to face and mouth to ear communication to keep these skills sharp. Don't let working from home retool your mental and emotional makeup to that of a hermit.
5: Set a flexible schedule
You may have heard this advice: Work a normal schedule when you work from home. But I can tell you, this will drive you bonkers. Why? One of the benefits of working from home is flexibility. You're doing your job and all of a sudden your spouse needs you to help with a task. You say, "Sorry, I'm at work." Then you spend the rest of the day in the doghouse. Or you look outside to see the sun finally poking through the clouds. Why not take a walk? Oh, but that schedule was carved in stone by the powers that be of the powers that be. No, actually, it wasn't. So long as you can achieve your goals on a daily basis, don't worry about keeping a rigid schedule. Otherwise, you lose one of the best perks of working from home.
6: Don't be taken advantage of
Even though you're being flexible, you have to make sure you don't let family and friends take advantage of you. That is not to say you have to set unyielding boundaries, but this will be on you. When your spouse, children, and friends have distracted you from work enough for the day, it's time for you to say "no." It's easy to give in to those requests. But at the end of the day, if those requests prevent you from getting the job done, you have allowed yourself to be taken advantage of. It will be crucial (especially if your spouse is also stay at home) to set some boundaries early on.
7: Dress for work (if needed)
There are some who need to dress the part. Others, like myself, can work in pajamas all day and still be productive members of society. But for those of us who spend our days in "soft pants," here's the catch: The more time you spend in your jammies, the harder it will be to put on actual clothes to step out into society. The next thing you know, you're going to Target in your "Iron Man" pants like you were a ten-year-old (guilty). If you need the familiar structure that comes along with the khakis and button downs, don them daily. In fact, if you need a routine, get up at a regular time, shower, dress, and step into your office and do the daily grind in the comfort of your loafers and best casual Friday wear.
8: Be diligent about data security
This one is tough to satisfy. When you're working in an office, that company is responsible for the security of your data. But when you're working from home that may not be the case. If you are freelance or contract, you're on your own. So you must take precautions to protect and back up your data. This is especially important if you are handling sensitive client information. Do not just depend upon a router and modem from your network provider. Encrypt the data, keep it on a non-networked machine ─ whatever you have to do to keep it safe from prying eyes. If you happen to use a cloud service, make sure you use something like Boxcryptor to encrypt that cloud data.
9: Get the right equipment
You may not have an IT department budget behind you to keep you in laptops, tablets, desktops, printers, etc. If you are a freelancer or contract for hire, this is completely on you. You will need to make sure you have the equipment you need. If you run into an instance where you don't have the tech to get a job done, buy it. (Remember, in some cases, it will be a tax write off.) Don't hesitate to purchase what you need to do your work. Keep your machines running smoothly, your printers in ink, and keep anything on hand that will enable you to get the job done without "making do."
10: Prepare for the future
This covers a number of factors. First and foremost, make sure you keep good documentation for tax purposes. You'll most likely have a lot of expenses to claim. Speak with your accountant so you know exactly what you need. Also — and all freelancers and contract workers will understand this — make sure you have enough in savings should things go belly up. Working from home (especially when you don't have a company as a safety net) can be a bit less secure than standard employment. Planning for the future means making sure you have a future.
What works for you?
Working from home can be like living a vacation 24/7/365 if you navigate those waters with care and planning. Don't let any of these traps snare you and you'll enjoy your life away from the drudgery of the office.
What's the biggest problem you've encountered working at home? Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.