A guide to working from home
Before I joined Wirehive I spent just over 5 years doing freelance work; the majority of which was working from home. Working from home can be a bit of a double-edged sword. It can be very productive and rewarding but it can also be very easy to get tripped up by distractions. Over the years I have compiled a list of helpful tips to making working from home, work for me… and if they work for me they might help you too!
Obviously for some professions, working at home just isn’t going to be an option but for a lot of people who work in modern industry it is certainly becoming viable. I have the fortune of working in one such industry and as such this article is targeted more towards fellow developers and designers. You have to bear in mind that what works for one person may not work for another and so all of the following advice should be taken as a pick and choose list of helpful tips and applies both to freelancers and employees alike.
The main obstacle to being productive at home is self-discipline. Unfortunately this isn’t something that can be taught but it is possible to learn it over time. Working in an office can provide a lot of distractions and some people (especially programmers) can find the hustle and bustle of the office to be quite a hindrance. Conversely, working from home can offer the peace and quite that can allow some A-grade work to be done. You may find that working from home becomes lonely or that you feel isolated, this can be combatted through the use of IM (Skype, Lync, etc.), email and lunchtime meet-ups with friends or colleagues (if you happen to live close to the office).
DO try and start your working day at the same set time every day. A regular routine will help your brain switch into work mode and importantly at the end of the day, switch back into home mode. If you are working for a company then you will probably have core hours in which you are expected to be available anyway. As a freelancer you have more control over the hours you work but it is still important to maintain a regular routine.
DON’T fall into the trap of doing all of your household chores during the working day just “because you can”. It is fine, and healthy, to take short breaks from work, especially if you are staring at a screen all day. You can use these breaks for minor chores such as putting on a load of washing or doing a quick bit of dusting, but limit your breaks to at most 15 minutes and avoid doing tasks that require longer, such as mowing the lawn or washing your car. You will still have the evenings and weekends for these tasks and with no commute you could be gaining up to 3 hours extra time per day!
DO try and have a dedicated area for working at home. If you have the luxury of a spare room to turn into an office this can be a great help. If not then try and work somewhere that you don’t use as a relaxation area (e.g. not your bedroom or lounge). It is important but very challenging when working from home to try and maintain a psychological separation between work and home life.
DO have somewhere quiet that you can make and receive Skype/phone calls or videoconferences. Preferably somewhere with a door that shuts. This is especially important if you live with other people who may be at home during the day or if you have a family.
DON’T spend all your evenings working over time just because you are at home and it is easy to do. If you do this you will find that all of your spare time will disappear and it can be very hard to switch back into a proper routine. This can lead to higher levels of stress and feelings of guilt when you do actually take time off.
DO go for a walk at lunch or pop out to meet friends for lunch. Getting out of the house helps to refocus your mind when you return to working. Meeting friends at lunch can also help with any feelings of isolation when working from home. For the times when you are having lunch at home, try and have it away from your desk (this is advisable in the office too!). A proper lunch break will help make your afternoon far more productive.
DO get your home office set up well. A lot of offices run a tidy desk policy and you should do it at home too. It is very tempting to let your desk pile up with papers and rubbish when working from home, thinking “no one else has to see it” but this will end up reducing your productivity.
DO invest in a good headset if you’re going to be working from home and using something like Skype to call people in the office (or even clients). Nothing is more annoying on a call than getting constant echoes or feedback from a poor quality microphone and speaker setup. A good headset will also reduce the amount of ambient noise picked up from the area (maybe your neighbour has a dog that won’t stop barking…). This will help maintain a professional appearance to co-workers and clients.
DO listen to music or have the TV on quietly in the background when working from home. Wait, did I just say you can have the TV on whilst you’re working?! Yes, and you can, as long as it’s just providing background noise. Silence can be as much, if not more, of a distraction than a busy, noisy office. As long as you’re not watching the TV then having it on as background noise can be a good thing. If you find yourself trying to watch the TV whilst you work then find a different channel. I’m afraid that working from home doesn’t mean that you get to watch your favourite TV shows whilst working!
DO ensure that you have a reliable and fast Internet connection at home. This will help with things like Skype calls, especially if you are doing video chats. Skype calls that constantly drop out or suffer from bad quality audio due to slow connections do not project a good impression to the people on the other end of the line. Most DSL connections these days should be more than adequate providing you don’t go with a useless ISP or live absolutely miles from your telephone exchange. If you can’t get a good fixed line connection then perhaps consider a mobile broadband alternative if you are in a 3G or 4G covered area.
DO remain in contact with your co-workers throughout the day (assuming you have them). Working from home as an employee it is important to maintain communication with people back in the office. This does a few things; it helps to keep you in the loop on office events and it helps to maintain the fact that you are available and working to those back in the office. As an employer there is a lot of trust placed in employees who are allowed to work from home. At the end of the day though, the work delivered should be proof enough of the fact that you are actually working!
DON’T get into the habit of taking extended lunch breaks. You will only end up lengthening your working day. If you need to run errands at lunchtime then it is advisable to let someone (preferably your boss or line manager) know that you might be out of the “office” for a bit longer at lunch today.
This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list but you can find many more hints and tips on working from home with a quick Google.