Working From Home
Getting Your Work-Life Balance Right
Mark's organization has allowed him to work from home three days a week, and it's his first full day of remote working.
He sets up his laptop on the dining room table, and is ready to start work. But, three hours later, he's shocked to realize that he's completed very little. What's he been doing? Well, he made a coffee. Then he did some laundry, took a call, and sorted through the mail. One thing led to another, and now he's really behind!
Working from home can be incredibly productive, but it's not without its challenges. Without a proper office space and supervision, it can be easy to get distracted, just like Mark. This means that the onus is on you to do a full day of focused, productive work.
In this article, we'll discuss the benefits and challenges of working from home, and we'll give you some tips to help you to be a productive and successful home worker.
Benefits and Challenges
There are many benefits to working from home. These include:
- Avoiding distractions like casual phone calls, impromptu meetings, and interruptions from colleagues.
- Working to a more flexible schedule and adjusting your working area to meet your specific requirements. This can help to make you more relaxed, boost your morale, and reduce stress.
- Reducing the amount of money you spend on commuting, lunches out and professional work clothes.
- Using the time that you would have spent commuting in other areas of your life, like family or hobbies.
However, there are still a number of challenges that you'll need to consider, such as:
- Home-based work comes with its own distractions, especially if other people, such as family members, are around.
- Your home life can be marginalized if you work from home a lot, and your health can suffer as a result. An "always-on" mindset, constant connectivity, and overcompensating for working from home can lead you to work harder and for longer than you would in the office.
- You can miss interacting with your colleagues, which might make you feel isolated.
- You may struggle to be productive when you're unsupervised. Equally, if you're a manager, your team members may take a more relaxed attitude to getting work done while you're not around.
- People at the office can forget you exist, which may mean that you get overlooked for interesting or high-profile projects.
So, as appealing as it may sound at first, working at home is not for everyone.
While some people love its freedom and have the self-discipline to continue to be effective, others will likely need close supervision to work at home effectively, or they might yearn for the energy and camaraderie of a busy office environment.
If you decide that it is for you, the rest of the article has some tips and advice on how to create the perfect conditions for productive home working.
One way to find out whether home working will suit you is to take The Big Five Personality Traits Model test. It can help you to think about whether you will be able to work at home effectively, by assessing how conscientious and introverted or independent you are.
A productive and comfortable workspace is essential if you want to get things done. So try the following three steps when you set yourself up at home:
- Have a dedicated workspace that's enjoyable to be in. Creating a space that looks like a real "office" will help to make it feel like you are at work and will encourage you to be more productive. Make this space a nice place to be in by personalizing it with family photos or fun posters.
- Get an ergonomic office chair. If your chair is uncomfortable, you'll likely find plenty of excuses to get up and go somewhere else. A high-quality office chair is one of the best investments that you'll make. Your organization may even be able to contribute toward the cost.
- Have a door that you can close. It's almost impossible to work effectively at home if there are children or other people around. So, be sure to have a place that you can go where you are certain you won't be disturbed, and where you can close the door on potential distractions.
Another key element of productive home working is organization. Here are four tips for keeping your home office organized:
- Make sure that your desk is big enough. How big it needs to be will depend on the type of work that you do. If you're an architect, for instance, you'll likely need a desk that is big enough to lay out large blueprints and all the tools that you will need; but, if you work in data input, you may only need a small one.
- Make sure that you have everything you need in place. Keep the essential tools that you will need within easy reach. This will help to reduce frustration and avoid the need to get up and down from your desk repeatedly.
- Keep your desk tidy. Spend a few minutes at the end of each day tidying up your desk. This is especially important if you don't have a dedicated workspace.
- Organize your tasks. It's easy to become disorganized if you're working on several different projects at once, especially if you don't have a proper office setup at home. Try structuring your work into clearly defined Action Programs, and set yourself specific deadlines to ensure that you stay on track.
Managing your time properly will also be important if you want to continue to hit your deadlines while working from home. The following tips will help you to do so:
- Establish a routine. Humans tend to be creatures of habit, so having a routine is important. When you work from home remember to take breaks regularly, and to quit work at the same time you would if you were in the office. This will give your day a "rhythm" and will create a sense of normalcy.
- Create a "high priority" To-Do List. Organize and prioritize tasks that must get done by the end of the day in a To-Do List. This will help you to avoid procrastinating and will give your day structure.
- Create a To-Do List of "in between" tasks. This should include relatively minor tasks that will take 10 minutes or less to complete, and which you can fit into your daily work schedule when you have the time available. If you have a conference call planned in 15 minutes' time, for example, you could use the time you have "in between" to complete one of the tasks on your list.
- Keep a timesheet. Keep tabs on how much time you spend on each task by setting up a timesheet. This will allow your manager to see how you are spending your time, and it can also help you to identify when you're at your most productive, so that you can carry out complex tasks during these parts of the day.
To learn more about how to track your time, see our article, Accounting for Time. You might also like to explore our other tools on Time Management to help you to manage your time effectively when working from home.
It can be easy to shut yourself off from your colleagues when you work at home. So good communication is essential, for both you and your team. Here are three ways to help you to achieve this:
- "Check in" with your managers and co-workers regularly. They need to know that you're working productively and that you're available. If possible, redirect your office phone to your smartphone, or let colleagues, customers and suppliers know how best to reach you at home.
- Use instant messaging services. Tools like Slack™, Skype™ and Google Hangouts™ provide a more direct means for you to contact co-workers, and vice versa. These apps can be particularly helpful if people have urgent requests or need an update. And, if you need to avoid interruptions, you can always set your status to "busy."
- Go into the office regularly. Make an effort to spend at least one day in the office each week. Pick days when after-work events have been scheduled, so that you can spend some quality time bonding with your colleagues. This will remind them that you're still a part of the company, and will help you to avoid feeling cut off from your team.
The distractions of home, along with the isolation that working remotely often entails, can cause you to lose focus and damage your productivity. But, there are several ways that you can overcome this:
Find out what truly motivates you. Do you love working from home? If so, remind yourself that your company might take away this privilege if you don't perform well.
This is enough motivation to keep many people focused, but others may need to use different tactics. You could, for instance, give yourself rewards, such as a snack or a gourmet coffee, after finishing a task or working for a good chunk of time.
- Know your goals. Make sure that you are clear on the work and career goals that you are striving to achieve. This will help you to stay focused on the things that matter to both you and your organization.
- Identify distractions. Do you get distracted by household chores when you work at home? Is the TV on? Do friends and family interrupt you? Figure out what things cause you to lose focus, and develop strategies to avoid them. Often this can be as simple as shutting the door of your home office.
- Have a "cut off" time for online browsing. It can be easy to get carried away surfing the net or checking social media when you're at home. Use the time that you saved avoiding the commute to browse your favorite sites before you start work. If you are still struggling, try using tools like Freedom® or Cold Turkey Writer™ to limit your access to the Web.
It can be difficult to resist the urge to overcompensate for not being in the office, by working longer than you normally would or by missing lunch breaks. But it is essential that you continue to maintain a healthy work-life balance even when you work from home. Use the following tips to help you to achieve this:
- Create physical boundaries. If possible, set up a workspace that is separate from your home space – a converted outhouse, the spare room, or even a nearby library. Working in a room with a door will help you to shut out the everyday distractions of home life, and it will also make it easier to finish work at the end of each day.
Have "no-go" zones for technology. The devices that we use to stay connected such as laptops and smartphones can be useful for staying in touch with colleagues, but they can also leave us feeling as though we're "always on." This can lead to stress and burnout.
Try to set "no-go" zones – mealtimes, holidays, the two hours before bed every night – when work devices are banned. Doing this will help you to separate your work life from your home life.
Set break reminders. Regular short breaks can help to keep you energized and focused. Segmenting your work using a tool like the Pomodoro Technique® can help here.
Set a timer for doing one hour of work and, when the alarm goes off, reward yourself with a five- or 10-minute break, during which time you can relax, make a coffee, or get some fresh air. Repeat this process throughout the day, giving yourself a larger break for lunch.
Train your children to let you work. It's almost impossible to produce quality work when you have young children around. Make sure that you have reliable childcare in place, and teach your children that when you're in your office, you're not to be disturbed.
Put a sign on the door to help them to remember this, or use colors to let them know when they can (green) or can't (red) enter your office. (Don't be too rigid: one of the joys of working from home is being around to welcome your children home from school, so be sure to reserve a little time to enjoy these simple pleasures!)
Home working is increasingly common in organizations. While it offers a lot of benefits – no commute, for instance, or flexible hours – there are also challenges to consider such as a lack of communication with your team, or the temptation to procrastinate.
You can do a number of things to overcome these challenges. Firstly, set up a dedicated, comfortable workspace at home. Secondly, make sure that you also organize your day as you would at the office (including breaks). And keep the lines of communication open between you and your team, by using instant messaging apps.
It's also important that you manage your time effectively. Do this by creating To-Do Lists and managing the distractions of home life, whether children, chores or daytime television.
Lastly, it can be easy to lose track of time when you work from home, so it's vital that you maintain a healthy work-life balance. Create "no-go" zones for work devices, take regular breaks, and have a door that you can shut at the end of the day.
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