As many already know, telecommuting has some clear upsides - the flexibility and autonomy that come with the territory is hard to beat. Not to mention, the pure envy of your friends.
It's no wonder Fortune 1000 companies are entirely revamping their space around the fact that employees are already mobile. Studies repeatedly show they are not at their desk 50-60% of the time. A poll by Gallup in 2015 showed telecommuting for work is up to 37% at least part-time, and experts predict this will only increase. There’s plenty of debate around the question of whether working remote is more or less productive than in the traditional office.
I personally think it can be, but there is a certain art to working from home. Here are strategies you can implement to help with staying focused, motivated and productive from home:
1. Be honest with yourself
To work from home effectively, you need to be well-organized, motivated and possess time management skills. Be honest with yourself, not everyone is hardwired with these qualities, and remember, there’s nothing wrong with some self-improvement if you aim to strengthen any personal shortcomings. Like most, I recognize Mondays are not my most productive days, so I make it a personal goal to wake up a little earlier to have more precious time with my coffee.
Working from home, we don’t have the convenience of comparing ourselves to peers, but it does leave more time for self reflection. After a particularly long day, or if I catch myself getting behind, I always take time at the end of the day for self reflection. I ask myself things like “If I was more organized this morning, would my conference call have gone better? Would I have more time to ask questions?”
2. Dress the part
Whenever I tell people I work from home, I always get the same responses: “I could never do that” or the infamous “I wish I could just work in my pajamas.” The truth is, although I do often partake in wearing sweats, for important calls or busy days I always make it a point to dress the part. I can’t take myself seriously in a robe, so why would I expect anyone else to? After all, you’ll be far less likely to get distracted sweeping your patio if you're wearing J. Crew trousers.
Have you ever stumbled into your local Starbucks on a Monday morning, laptop in hand, wearing the same thing you did to bed the night before? It's an unsettling feeling to say the least. Although I was sitting down to write a daunting 100-page report on vascular stent grafts, by what I was wearing, all the businessmen and women surrounding me had no choice but to assume I was some scatter-brained kid struggling to write a report.
Which brings me to my next point: embarrassment can be a great motivator. I find it much easier to work when the people around me are also actively working. Sometimes just having a common purpose with strangers is all one needs to get a productive day started - and pants are key.
3. Be your own boss
After a vacation or a particularly short weekend, I always make it a point to remind myself how lucky I am to work remotely, so on Monday morning I’m a lot less likely to hit the snooze button.
As remote employees, we often don’t have the face-to-face time with bosses, and it's easy to forget about that jolt of energy that possesses you when a higher up walks by your desk. Sometimes we need to simply threaten ourselves a little – remind yourself there are a wealth of people who would love the opportunity to work from home. Using a tool like Rescue Time is a life saver for those who struggle with being their own motivator. It runs simultaneously while you’re on your computer and phone and tracks exactly how much time you spend on a variety of tasks (social networking vs. word processing programs). By understanding how much time it takes for us to complete normal tasks, and finding the holes, we can be more prepared and organized, making everything come together easier.
4. Start (and follow) a daily routine
Sure, being steps away from your keyboard in bed is part of the allure of working from home. But there is much to be said about the time from when you wake up to when you sit down at your desk to begin your workday. Make sure you’re making time to eat a healthy breakfast, take a shower, and maybe a get in a quick morning workout. Following a daily routine acts as a mental reminder that it's time to work, and separates your time at home from a weekend or holiday state of mind.
Start by establishing a designated start and end time for your day. Waking up at the same time everyday will keep your brain on track, and establishing a point to close your laptop everyday will help maintain your sanity. Taking a designated lunch break and doing what you would do at the office – whether it be a brisk walk outside with coffee, or scrolling through Pinterest on your iPad in the break room – can trick your brain into staying in the right frame of mind during your workday. Keeping behavior patterns consistent with how they would be at the office is the best way to stay productive, but don’t forget to take advantage of the perks - being able to make your own lunch while doing a load of laundry in your own home is a privilege not many others have on a Tuesday.
5. Limit distractions
I know colleagues who like to leave on a TV in the next room just for the background noise and simulation of having other people around. However, I opt for listening to music, and make a rule to have the TV off during my allotted work time (not to mention, living in downtown Dallas provides more than enough background noise for me). If you haven’t already made a Spotify or Pandora radio account, it's time to do so! I like having a few different radios or playlists at my disposal depending on the kind of mood I’m in.
Disabling personal notifications on my laptop was one of the best decisions in my working-from-home career! If you have a bad habit, check out the app SelfControl (or Freedom for Windows users), which will block out your personal email, Facebook, and Twitter for an allotted amount of time. This was an easier habit to break than I thought. I eventually forgot about these distractions during my workday completely, and rewarded myself by logging off a bit earlier than usual.
6. Network, network, network!
I cannot stress enough the importance of getting involved with organizations within your industry. In reference to an African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.
There are many ways to meet up with people in your industry. For my team, QRCA has been a life saver. There are informative blogs, webinars, and even the ability to ask other members questions. This is invaluable for people who work from home full-time, and can easily give us the daily motivation we need from other people.
For those a little shier to meet-ups and conferences, you can start by getting involved on LinkedIn (an obvious if you haven’t done so). Make it a point to comment on all blog posts you read. Putting in my two cents makes me feel more connected with a community, and sometimes typing out a well thought out comment or question is all the confidence boost I need to keep my day going. It's very easy to slip into being an observer, and it's something I struggle with myself, but the smallest interaction with like-minded people can really make a huge difference in your daily productivity.