Tips for Working from Home

I am fortunate to have an enviable telecommuting arrangement with my employer. I work remotely, at my home in Texas and travel back to company headquarters in Virginia to work on-site for a week every month or so. Its been working quite nicely for the past 6+ months as far as I can tell.

During this time, I’ve experienced some things that work well and some things that don’t work particularly well when it comes to working out of one’s house. I decided to put together a few tips for others trying to make a go of it working at home.

There are many ways to be productive and happy working remotely. Factors such as personality, physical space limitations and the social landscape of your home all contribute to your ability (or lack thereof) to successfully work from home. I can only account for my personality and the constraints of my particular situation, but I’ve come up with a few tips that I think can help. Your mileage may vary.

Elbow Room

One of the first and most important things to do is to make sure you have a place to work. It doesn’t have to be a huge space or a whole-room office, as long as you have a place to sit comfortably, keep some books, write some notes and stage the necessary computer and peripherals. For me, I’ve got a small desk in the corner of our bedroom, which is exactly enough space to do everything I need. If you try to work at the coffee table one day, the patio table out back the next day and then the breakfast table the next, it may be difficult to establish consistency and an environment where you can actually get some work done.

Establish a Routine

Your routine may vary depending on your work arrangement (are you your own boss or do you have co-workers in the office to work with?) but regardless, it is important to establish some type of routine. Set a schedule for work and follow it. The biggest challenge here is self-discipline. Balancing work and life can be difficult and doing it independent of the traditional parameters of a commute, a cubicle and co-workers makes it even harder.

Come up with a schedule that works for you – and your clients, co-workers or others depending on you. Perhaps you’re the type that likes to sleep in. That’s fine, schedule a 10:00am to 7:00pm work day. Or if you’re an early bird, set up a 7:00am to 4:00pm day. The point is, schedule your day. Make sure it has a consistent beginning and ending each day. Getting into this type of routine helps draw boundaries between work and life and makes balancing them much easier.

If you don’t, you’ll end up playing Wii when you should be working and working when your wife (and/or kids) wants to spend time with you. Don’t be fooled thinking a schedule will only hinder the freedom you finally have by being able to work from home. I’m not proposing a militaristic approach to your day with no flexibility. But I do believe setting some parameters for your day will help you enjoy that freedom and get some work done while you’re at it.

Put Some Clothes On

Working from home means you get to hang out in your jammies and bunny slippers all day, right? Well, perhaps, but I’m recommending the opposite on most days. Even if you know you’re not going to be leaving the house that day, put some clothes on. Now that its summer time, that may mean shorts and a t-shirt, but the process of getting up, showering, brushing teeth and getting your clothes on will help you establish the routine mentioned above.

Personally, I feel more productive on the days I wear normal clothes. Sometimes I even wear shoes. It helps me feel like I’m actually working – like I’ve got somewhere to be and some important business to take care of – which I do. Dress for success, right?

Get Out

Sometimes you need a break. A break from sitting in front of the computer screen all day. If you were in an office setting, you may spend time away from your desk in meetings or going to the printer or collaborating with co-workers. But at home, it seems like the only reason I would have to get out of my chair would be to get something to drink or go to the restroom. So I have to get out periodically, just to walk off stress or reinvigorate my brain. If not, I feel I start to get drained mentally.

I look forward to days when I’m able to meet a friend for lunch, but that’s not everyday. Most days I’ll take 10 minutes a couple times during the day to walk outside if its nice out and stretch my legs, enjoy the sunshine or check the mail. Maybe take a walk, go running or do some other exercise during your “lunch break”. Or, if you’re not up for exercise, perhaps go run some errands at lunch; a trip to the bank, the post office, pick up dry cleaning, whatever. The point is to get away from your desk, even if its only for a few minutes a couple of times a day. When I do that, I always return feeling refreshed and ready to go at it for a few more hours.

Take Advantage

One of the nicest benefits to working at home is the idea of having more time available that would otherwise be eaten up by commuting to and from work each day. I’ve never had less than a 30-minute commute to and from work at previous jobs; most of my career, close to an hour in the car each way was pretty normal. So I definitely feel like I’ve got more time to work with in my day now.

Question is, what do you do with that time? My advice is to take advantage of it and use that time doing something worthwhile. For me, not having an hour commute in the morning means I get more time with the family each morning. Sometimes I’ll take that time to go run or exercise. And yes, sometimes I do let myself sleep in a bit, too. How often in today’s crazy busy world are you actually given time back? Not often.

There are probably dozens more good tips for working from home, but these are the ones I’ve found success with over the past several months. How have you been successful at the work from home game? I’m open to advice, so feel free to add your ideas in the comments.

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  1. Well I definitely haven’t nailed down a disciplined routine/schedule, but it’s something I’m working on as I strive to be productive. For the time being, I’m enjoying the fluidity and freedom of my schedule. The key for me is to not get lazy and stay busy. If I don’t have a nice stack of work to do, then I’m probably going to go play my Wii. I always try to keep “filling the pipe” with just a little bit more than what I think is a full load, so I don’t have any excuse to sleep in and go walk around the Apple Store.

    I’m just now trying to hone in on that anti-commute time and I’m even trying to become an early-riser so I can get more done in those morning hours that seem to slip by so quickly for freelancers.

  2. I agree with all your advice as I’ve experienced twice being a homeworker. My challenge now is quite a bit different, as I should face to manage a whole remote team (based in Tunis, Tunisia) while staying home in Paris, France not far from trends and major B2B customers.
    I hope I’ll be able to rely on skype with a webcam to preserve a daily “physical” contact and stay available for people. All this also very much depend on how people handle time. Anglosaxons prefer organized slices of time, separating work and family, while Latins can stand to have family interruptions, even at the office, but will bring professional relations home much more easily and come back to work home. This is why I am anxious with this new challenge. It will be extremely complicated to teach every team member to have schedules for regular on line meetings. Some friends even suggested me using the webcam as a tool of control for individual presence at the office…

  3. admin says:

    Wow, Laurent – you’ve definitely got quite a challenge ahead of you. I will say that the webcam idea could be pretty helpful. For a couple of months, all of us at work that had MacBook Pro’s (about 6 or 7 of us at the time) used our built-in iSight cameras and had the images ported to a single webpage.

    Being able to see your co-workers is a great advantage, as long as no one feels their privacy is being violated. Good luck with your new challenge!

  4. Roger says:

    Great advice Chuck. I worked at home for a few years and learned some of these same lessons during that time. Coming from a highly structured environment made it especially gratifying yet challenging at the same time.

    I ended up moving to another city when my wife was offered a great job, and was lucky enough to score a full-time job at a small web design company. Working on my own helped me appreciate the structure and culture they had established over several years, which ultimately made me a pretty happy and productive worker bee for the time I was there.

    The only suggestion I would have is: MAKE TIME FOR BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT. You guys may be doing this already, but a “pipeline” is something I took for granted until it suddenly disappeared! (My business partner and I parted ways. It was ugly.) Maybe an hour a day to scour Craigslist or the gig boards for new work. Going to association meetings or chamber of commerce stuff. Pecha Kucha Night. Whatever.

    Once I attended a construction industry convention to pass out business cards and actually scored a gig out of it!

  5. Tim says:

    I’d just like to say that your site looks fantastic. You have an extremely crisp, clean, yet original layout. Impressive!

  6. Structure and routine area really very important like you said, and since I started doing the morning thing where I shower and get dressed has really worked for me, I also have set lunch hours (which is only 20 minutes but is really all I need).

    “Routine: it keeps you going!”

  7. Brandon says:

    I was working for a design/dev company in Vancouver, BC and moved to rural Nova Scotia about 3 years ago. While I loved working from home the one thing I missed was being able to bounce ideas off of my co-workers. We were able to approximate the experience through virtual networks, Skype, etc but it wasn’t quite the same as walking into someone’s office and looking over sketches in person.

    There is a tool that I find pretty useful, and still use it to whiteboard stuff with clients now that I am freelancing: http://www.conceptshare.com

  8. Tahir says:

    Routine is important, if not THE most important aspect to working from home and even more so when you are your own boss.

    I failed in the past because I didn’t setup out a routine but now I am a little wiser. Doesn’t have to be concrete but it should be consistent which is important. What I have found though is if you break your routine even for a few days e.g. stay up too late, sleep in too long this can a very negative affect on the quality of your day to day life and your work output.

    But as the saying goes, life is too short!

  9. Chuck, first of all please allow me to congratulate you for your site! Visiting it is a pleasant user experience.

    About the topic… I work at home, too and my primary conclusion is that working at home is a blessing. Why? Because I decide what, when and how. Definitely, clear purposes and accurate schedule are a must as the way I spend my time is up to me.

    As a general observation: if after a working day I can point to completed works/work stages, then my day was successful.

    Best wishes,
    Zoltan Sebestyen

  10. Josh Pyles says:

    Great post! I have learned the hard way most of those tips you posted above. It’s good to know that other people are in the same boat!

  11. Matt Redard says:

    Chuck, great thoughts!

    From a fellow work-at-homer . . .

  12. chuck says:

    I am typing this @ the apple store in Dallas … Testing out the keyboard … I have fat fingers!

  13. Markús says:

    I agree with you.

    Do you know http://www.freelanceswitch.com?

  14. sogas says:

    Usefull tips.!

    Besides, I have just descovered your blog. I didn’t know about it and I think it’s great.

  15. Rose says:

    Well reading the first few lines of your post reminded me of all the people that want to be able to work from home but they want to be able to do it while working for a company. Your example shows that you have been working with the company for a while. I think that a lot of people that want to work from home should realize that.

    Now I work at home but I work for myself. I do both research and consultations. It has spoiled me so for never wanting to work for somebody else again. With all the things that go along with working from home the only thing that comes into my mind is that I MAKE it work. When you work from home you spend (at least I do) less money – that’s a big help!