More and more I see companies embracing “work-at-home” policies, not only as a way to be more “green” by keeping cars off the road, but as a way to reduce the real estate “footprint” in the office. Some companies estimate the cost of maintaining office space for an employee at around $9,000/year. These same companies are offering as much as $1,000 for work-at-home employees to purchase the necessary office equipment to set up and maintain a home office.
So as the economic drivers for working at home seem to be well established and as companies define the appropriate policies and procedures for determining which jobs lend themselves to “working-at-home” (not to mention the question of how managers will measure the productivity of employees working at home), the question is, how does the “work-at-home” employee stay productive?
Speaking from experience, I would like to offer the following suggestions, and then invite the reader to contribute their own ideas.
- Start each day with a plan. Actually, I suggest making a list of the things you need to accomplish for the day, and even for the week. Using tried and true time management techniques, prioritize your work (what’s important, what’s urgent, what can be postponed, etc.), and then organize your day into blocks of time when you will tackle each objective.
- Find a comfortable place to work. Under the ideal situation, you have a den, a spare bedroom, or an area somewhere in the house that you can call “your office”. This is a place you go to work, and the rest of the family understands that when you are there you are not to be disturbed except for the most important reasons. Your “office” should be properly equipped with phone, computer, fax machine, printer, etc. – everything you need to get your work done and stay in touch with your co-workers throughout the day.
- Keep from being distracted. One of the benefits of working at home is being able to listen to music while you work, check in with the news on the radio or TV, or run to the refrigerator for a quick snack. If abused or overused, these can also be the very distractions that will prevent you from getting done what needs to get done. Sometimes I’ll work with the TV on in the background, but I leave it turned only to news stations – certainly not to the talk shows, the soaps, re-runs from past years, or movies. Snacks aren’t a problem for me, but I do make a point of stopping work around noon to make lunch and take a break from the computer for at least a half hour or so.
- Check in at work. If you’re not already scheduled for at least one or two teleconference meetings a day, try to check in with your boss or co-workers at least once a day. Many do this through instant messaging, Skype, or Yammer. Let them know what you’re working on, if appropriate, and if possible make one or more commitments to having something to show for your day – an e-mail, a report, a summary of your accomplishments, etc. It’s not because you think you “need” to prove you’re really getting work done, but keeping commitments goes right to the heart of staying productive.
- Exercise. Working at home should make it easy for you to get out for a quick bike ride, a jog, or even a walk around the block. Your brain needs the exercise just as much as your body, so make the time necessary to get your circulation going, and if possible try to work up a sweat while you’re at it. The nice thing about working at home is that you may have more discretion about when you exercise. Some may want to exercise in the morning, some in the middle of the day, and some in the evening.
- Work a full day, but maintain a balance. Interestingly, I find myself tied to the habit of an 8 to 5 work day, even though I’m working at home. It’s just the way I was raised. But the reality is I often find myself responding to e-mails or working on a report after 9pm when the rest of the family is in bed. The important thing is to get a full day of work in, but don’t go overboard. Make sure you balance your time to be with your family, engage in a hobby, get together with friends, or pick up a good book.
Those are some suggestions to consider for those who are fortunate enough to be able to work at home. What works for you?