Starting my first business in the 1990s, I treated working from home like a dark secret. I made every effort to appear as if I had a “real office” with a new phone line, business-sounding address, and corporate feel. When I was on a call and someone was mowing in the background or a dog was barking, I would cringe. Plus, I felt disconnected, and at times, lonely. As soon as we had the revenue to support it, we signed a lease in a corporate office building.
Fast forward to just six years ago when I started a coaching business, and this time, I began with a traditional office. Then I’ve slowly moved to a virtual office over time, as I’m so often on travel or with clients. Having a corporate office simply ceased to be necessary. My team works virtually, and for clients it’s a non-issue.
I’m amazed at how far we’ve come in telecommuting norms. With our distributed workforces and hoteling cultures, we accept and expect it.
A recent USA TODAY article reveals that over 13 million Americans do some level of telecommuting every week. Numerous studies have shown that remote workers tend to be more productive, take less sick days, tend to feel less stressed, and work more hours than employees who are exclusively on-site.
For those of us out there who enjoy all these benefits, there are pitfalls of telecommuting, which is why Mayer made the decision she did. It can be harder to stay focused, collaborate with colleagues, advance your career, and stay connected to the larger organization. If you want to make sure telecommuting is working for you — and your career — try these strategies:
1. Have set hours.
One of the most appealing things about working from home is that in most cases, you can flex your schedule. While there are obvious advantages to working early or being able to take time to run a personal errand, it’s also easy for this to work against you. Colleagues may not know when they can reach you, or may find you unpredictable.
On the opposite side of the coin, it can be difficult to maintain separation between work and home, as work is always there, just a few steps away. Experts suggest that when it comes to scheduling, it’s best to treat remote work like a workplace. Work similar hours as you would if you were in a physical office, with a clear cut off point. If setting “opening” and “closing” hours alone isn’t helping you be more efficient, authors and entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson suggest dividing your day into blocks devoted to specific goals, such as “catch-up, collaboration, and serious work.”
2. Have a dedicated workspace that’s conducive to productivity.
This takes a bit of reflection and honesty with oneself, but some of us simply cannot work at home. We may not be able to focus when home chores are ever looming or may lack a separate workspace that’s conducive to doing our best work.
To the extent possible, set up a dedicated office that feels as if you’re going to “work.” Silence your home phone and create distance from your most common distractions. If you find it hard to feel motivated at home, remember there are also places outside your door where you can work in relative calm and quiet. Coffee shops and libraries (which offer the added bonus of being free) are two ideas. If you miss the hum of working alongside others, investigate the growing number of shared office spaces.
3. Get out.
Isolation is one of the biggest problems for remote workers. You no longer have the ease of quickly connecting to grab lunch or popping in a colleague’s office to bounce around ideas. It requires more planning and diligence to replace the human contact we all need. (And the impetus to get out of your sweats.)
Make a point to schedule lunch with a friend who’s also home during the day, or who works in the area. Take exercise breaks with a colleague. Even just getting out and running some errands or taking a walk around the neighborhood will let you interact with others and get a break that’s likely to clear your head and help you go back to work more refreshed.
4. Be a regular guest star in the office.
One of the biggest career concerns with working from home – which is valid – is that it might curtail your promotion potential. When most people know you as a disembodied voice over email or conference call, you can be easily overlooked. You can also feel out of the flow of information and may find it harder to keep up with the latest in your industry.
The onus is on you to minimize the negative consequences of telecommuting for your career, as no one is likely to do it for you. Figure out the critical meetings and times to be in the office and make them count. Meet with a variety of people and bring in fresh ideas to demonstrate your range of knowledge. If there’s a key meeting coming up, offer to come in (or fly in) for it.
And be sure to schedule regular time to do research on your industry, and to stay abreast of breaking trends. Plan to attend events or conferences to keep your network and knowledge growing. Use some of your time getting out (point #3) to network.
If you use your time well, you become like a special guest star in the office. People are happy to see you and look forward to the fresh perspective you bring.
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