So you’ve finally managed to grab the holy grail of the millennial dream.
You’re working from home.
[message_box title=”” color=”beige”]
- You work on your own time.
- Cafe, poolside, basement, hammock – you choose where you work.
- Other people envy you
- No office politics
- Fewer interruptions from co-workers
- More time with family
- No more road rage during rush hour
- Gas money, Lunch money – more savings!
- More control over how you balance your life
- Helping the environment
- Less sick days, better health
Expert opinion on the topic of productivity among those that work from home remains divided. Researchers at Stanford studied a large-sized Chinese travel agency and found that people working form home worked more hours, took shorter breaks, took less sick days and were more satisfied. A similar study at Cisco had the same results.
Ironically, tech-giants Google and Yahoo are not so keen on the work-from-home mindset. In fact, in February 2013, Marissa Mayer (CEO) sent out a new directive saying that employees could no longer work from home.
It seems to me that in this day-and-age, working remotely, telecommuting, or even working while “away” from work is inevitable. While not every small or medium sized start-up can afford to bring their telecommuting staff (some of which live in other countries) into a physical office, we can definitely offer employees training and resources to maximize their productivity when working from home.
[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]How do you stay productive when there is no structure to your workday?[/quote]
Establish a routine
While it may seem ideal to wake up and start working in your pyjamas while watching Dora the Explorer with your two year old, instead of dragging yourself out of bed by sheer will to start the day with a dreary hour long commute; there are some unexpected benefits to commuting. The trudge to work creates a morning ritual that gets you into the mental space to start work. This transition period is a crucial signal to your subconscious mind to get you in the mood for serious work.
Have a plan
Without a plan, you may get lost in the pile of pending items demanding your attention. You’re also vulnerable to numerous distractions at home. If you’re rolling with the punches and just working on things that come up in front of you, you may be working without a clear direction of your own, and despite the fact that you’re now working form home, you’ll still be working to further someone else’s agenda.
Creating a plan can be as simple as prioritizing and streamlining your to-do list to pick the tasks that are most important at the start of the day. If you want to get really fancy, you can even create a distraction elimination plan to overcome any disturbances and work like a ninja.
You may no longer need to don a blazer or a pencil skirt to work from home, but lounging around on the sofa in your sweats or boxers won’t boost your productivity at home. Get dressed before you start working. You don’t have to go all out but the simple act of maintaining a decent appearance sends subconscious signals to your brain that you’re settling down to business.
Similarly, your workspace should remotely resemble an office. If you’re sitting on the couch watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother, that report isn’t going to magically get written. Treat your home office like professional business and I promise you, your productivity will skyrocket.
- Define your work space and time. Refrain from attending to personal stuff during this time. When you’re working from home, uninterrupted work time is sacred. Do whatever you can to protect it. Just like you protect your personal time and space when you were commuting to the office.
- Separate yourself physically. If you live with other people, especially if you have kids, you will be more productive if you isolate yourself from the other people in your house away from the clutter, chaos, noise and distractions of everyday living.
- Some people recommend working in the same space everyday to train your brain to be more productive. While this may work for some people, I’ve found that changing things up, finding a different place to work, especially taking your work outside to a novel, but soothing location can do wonders for your creativity and productivity. Working everyday in the same space without interacting with co-workers can get boring fast, and varying your work space (as long as your new place is conducive to focussing on your work) can make you excited about your work and boost your productivity.
Finding a place to focus and get work done is crucial to staying productive, but equally essential is the need to take breaks and move your body. This Swedish study found that getting yourself outside, moving physically and doing a differently paced activity to your usual work can make you more productive. If you are a sedentary worker working with your laptop all day, getting outside is even more crucial in order to:
- Reduce eye strain
- Relax your strained muscles (shoulder rolls, neck stretches, walking the tension out of your legs)
- Breathe fresh air and gain clarity
- Use balanced meals to recharge your energy
- Use the change of scenery to inspire creative solutions
- Clear your mind of repetitive thinking patterns
- Give yourself a mental rest
- Get back to work with a fresh ideas and a recharged mind/body
- Working form home can be very isolating and staying in touch with your co-workers can be beneficial in several ways. Being proactive about keeping in touch with your boss and co-workers not only projects a professional image, it also helps you feel connected, keeps you focussed and helps take some of the edge off the loneliness of working alone.
- Even if you don’t actually meet up with anyone, you can still satisfy your inner social animal by just hanging out in public places, letting yourself experience the human interactions happening around you. I don’t mean you should eavesdrop and get carried away listening to other people’s conversations (unless you’re a budding novelist), but just hanging out at a coffee shop or other public place filled with human chatter can boost your creativity, help you meet strangers that might trigger new thoughts and give you a different perspective on the problem you’re struggling with.
- Use other people as sounding boards, critics and idea magnets. Check our this article that talks about how Tim Trampedach, owner of Level X Motorsports reaches out to others for coffee to exchange ideas, bounce questions in order to stay productive.
- Take advantage of the WWW. This article talks about Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, who created a virtual water cooler message board so her employees can share photos, talk shop, share personal interests and catch up with each other to create a better connected organization.
As we venture over into the unknown territory of work-from-home gigs and flexi-time, questions of productivity and engagement while working in the home environment will become both personal and organizational concerns. While it remains to be seen whether working form home is more productive than working in an office, one thing is for sure – employees and start-up founders now have much more control over their time than they ever did. The key is to use it critically, looking at how you spend your time, energy and resources, analyzing, tweaking and improving your productivity.
Do you work from home? What is your biggest challenge in staying productive? Leave a comment below to let us know!