By T Traub
Work from home, also known as remote work, is booming in our connected economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last year that a record 24% of Americans are doing some or all of their work from home.
If you are working from a home office, either as a freelancer or salaried employee, you may find that there are drawbacks as well as advantages. The advantages are multifold: reduced or no commute, no office politics, your workspace is set up to your own tastes, no need to dress up, and best of all, you can have coffee exactly as you like it.
Disadvantages to working from home do exist, unfortunately. The biggest one is that it may limit your career opportunities with your current employer. The lowered visibility of a remote worker is a fact of life that cannot be changed, unless you are willing to make the trek to company headquarters on a regular basis. The other disadvantages are relatively minor: it’s easy to overeat, and of course, your family may not totally accept that you are at work when you are just a few feet away from the living room.
You should strive to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages. How to do so? Here are five easy tips to success for the remote worker.
1. Keep it 9-5.
It’s easy to overwork when you are on a more flexible schedule; the boss may email you at 8 pm and since your workstation is right there, you can easily log on and answer a question. There! you say. You’ve scored a few points by being available after hours.
Unfortunately, this merely signals your employer that you’re always on the clock. It may or may not score you the career points that you think you deserve. In some ways, it makes you look less professional. In the eyes of most employers, a true professional values their time and charges accordingly for it.
Try to stick to a regular schedule, be it 9 am to 5 pm or 8 am to 6 pm, whatever you and your employer have agreed to. They should not expect you to be available outside of these hours aside from special circumstances such as on-call or emergency situations. In the long run, you will have a better separation of work and home life and you will tend to be more productive during the strict working hours.
Maintain a separate workspace.
The ideal setup at home is to have an office with a door. You disappear into that office in the morning, emerge at lunchtime, and finally, are done at supper time.
Not every home can accommodate this amount of separation. If you are sharing a two-bedroom apartment, you may, at most, have a corner of the living room, or if you are really lucky, a sunroom. But most likely, you will be stuck in your bedroom. Even in a typical three or four bedroom house, you may be hard-pressed to carve out a special, isolated workspace.
Make what you can out of what you have. You can have a desk that you only use when you are working. That desk takes on a special aura of being where you make your living. The rest of the time, stay away from it and surf the web or eat or hang out in the regular living space along with your family or housemates. You will find that you achieve more of a mental separation between work and home life, just as in tip #1 above.
You should pick a corner of your home where there are minimal traffic and noise. You can also wear noise-canceling headphones to shut out the world around you.
Visit the employer.
Everyone needs to constantly be boosting their career. One of the best ways is to be highly visible and to be seen as a talented and reliable member of the team.
As a remote person, you have an extra responsibility to keep yourself visible. If you have a corporate culture where remote workers are second-class citizens, you need to fight that image with extra communication and the occasional cameo appearance at the office.
Write lots of emails and texts, use your phone or Skype liberally, and make sure your face will not be forgotten. If your employer is hundreds or thousands of miles away, make an effort to visit, even at your own expense if necessary. You are less likely to be laid off if your management can put a face to your name; it’s a human reaction.
It may seem obvious, but it needs to be stressed nonetheless. Remote workers have to work harder than on-site workers in order to avoid the appearance of slacking off.
There may be days or even weeks when your workload is on the light side, and you should use that time to take some personal initiative and do some projects that might help the company. For example, you could clean up your filing system, or go through some old customer listings and make sure the contact information is up to date.
If you are a computer programmer, there’s a world of things you can do — write little apps to make life easier for yourself and your team, take tutorials to improve your skills — and let them know you have done so.
Regardless of your field, you need to get your work done on time or early, and make sure you receive full credit for it. Go the extra mile, and your employer will see you not as the invisible one, but as a valuable contributor.
Enjoy your job!
You have an excellent opportunity to have a higher quality of life than the average commuter. For one thing, you have saved perhaps 10 or 15 hours a week of commuting time. That translates to an extra hour of sleep every night. You can exercise at noon every day: a 45-minute walk or run, for example, followed by a ten-minute shower. No need to take a shower in the morning, then a second one after hitting the gym at lunchtime or after work.
You can enjoy the security that someone is home much of the day, and you can receive packages and service people at any time. You can have a leisurely breakfast and home-prepared lunches. The danger is to over-eat, so stay away from that refrigerator in between meals! And, of course, as noted above, you can have coffee made exactly as you like it, rather than whatever machine they happen to provide in the office kitchenette.
Working from home can be a great experience and if you approach it carefully and professionally, you can be very successful and have a generally higher quality of life than you might otherwise experience.