On the Home Front: How to Successfully Telecommute

Contributed by 4CTechnologies Principal Consultant Ryan Crum


Working at home can be a great arrangement.  I’ve been telecommuting for the better part of the last 8 years, and I can honestly say that I get more work done in a work at home day than I do in a “go to the office day” (this is in large part due to the fact that it eliminates nearly 4 hours of commuting each day).  However, working from home isn’t for everyone and it can take a little time to get into a productive groove.  Here a few tips for getting the most out of your work from home days…

Set Boundaries

One of the greatest challenges to being productive at home is the presence of family members, especially our children.  While it would not even occur to my daughter to call me at the office to tell me about the cool new level she just unlocked in Angry Birds, she doesn’t think twice about coming into my home office and showing me in person. That’s just the nature of working from home. It’s not always easy for your family members to embrace the fact that even though you’re there, you’re not really there… you’re at work.

The best way to deal with this is to learn to compartmentalize. You have to get everyone in your family into a mindset that when you’re in your home office you are working.  In order to do this, you need to have a space where you work, preferably a space where you can be somewhat removed from everyone else. This effectively serves as a signal to those you live with.  When Daddy’s in the office, he’s working.

The trick is balance.  After all, one of the great benefits of working from home is having more time with your family.  I’m not suggesting that you lock yourself in a room with your laptop and a pair of noise cancelling headphones at 8am and come out again at 5pm.  Work for 60-90 minute stretches and then take a 15-20 minute break to spend some time with your family. After all, this is exactly what you would do if you were in the office.  You wouldn’t sit in your cubicle all day.  You’d take some time to hang out at the old proverbial water cooler.

Be Reachable

No man is an island, and communication is essential.  Our co-workers, clients, and teammates need to be able to get in touch with us just as quickly and easily when we’re at home as they could when we are in the office.

The best way to accomplish this is if your company has a corporate instant messaging platform. Both my company and my primary client use IBM Sametime. It’s a very versatile tool that integrates into my mail client and calendar, making it very easy to quickly jump from an email or calendar entry into a chat with relevant parties.

Additionally, if your company uses a VOIP phone system, you should be able to take a phone from the office and plug it into your home network.  By doing this, I’ve enabled my co-workers to reach me at an extension just as if I was sitting there in the office.

Have a Routine

When I first started working from home co-workers who called would constantly joke that I was sitting around working in my pajamas and bunny slippers.  I must admit, that is a great temptation.  However, I’ve found that getting into a daily routine does wonders.  Getting your morning shower, shaving, and getting dressed for the day goes a long way towards resetting your brain into a more productive, work-oriented pattern of thinking.

In addition to getting dressed and ready for the day, you need to set a work schedule.  Commit to starting at a particular time, and just as importantly, commit to stopping at a certain time.  When you work from home the line between when you’re working and when you’re not can get very blurred.  By setting hours of operation you exert some control over your day and define that line more clearly.


Minimize Distractions

This is a big one.  Perhaps the best thing about working from home is that you are completely in charge of your day.  No one is looking over your shoulder.  However, that’s also the worst part about working from home.  No one is looking over your shoulder.  There’s no built in accountability.  It’s all up to you to make sure that you are being productive and getting in all of the hours to which you have committed.

Unfortunately, at home there are a plethora of things that can pull us away from what we are supposed to be doing.  These include, but are in no way limited to: home improvement projects, TV watching, playing with your children, web browsing, Facebooking, and relaxing outside on a nice day.  There’s no use in pretending that you can eliminate distractions.  It’s not practical or even productive to try to sit and work for 8 or 9 hours straight.  It’s okay to take a few minutes to step outside or read the news or even watch a YouTube video.  The key is moderation.

Your computer– that tool that is essential to doing your job– can also be the greatest hindrance to your productivity.  You aren’t going to avoid the Internet. You have to learn to coexist with it.  You just have to be aware that your web browser can be a black hole of wasted time.  Sites like YouTube and Wikipedia are designed to keep you there for as long as possible.  Related content and cross references are just a click away and before you know it, two hours have passed and you have 17 tabs open with no end in sight.

The best and simplest way to deal with this is with some good old self-discipline… and a timer.  Seriously, you have to set a time limit.  Set your timer for 15 minutes and when your time is up, bookmark whatever page you were on and shut the browser down.

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Ultimately, working from home is all about self-discipline.  Keeping focused on your work when you aren’t really at work can be difficult, but if you apply a little structure and find the right balance your work from home days could be some of the most productive days you’ll have.

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