Having a job working from home is an enormous change in your life. If it’s been forced upon you then you may feel some resentment. Perhaps you are already missing the camaraderie of your workplace, the coffee runs, and the social interaction. Or maybe you are enjoying the experience and find that you can get lots of work done…once your pets are not interrupting. 🙂
But if you embrace working from home it can be a huge step towards improving your lifestyle, whether you are working for an employer, as a contractor, or completely for yourself. You also need to know about tax implications if you choose to claim home expenses related to your business.
If working from home is your choice – perhaps starting your own business – you need to consider if it is going to suit you personally and whether it will suit others in your home in the long term.
All too often, people fall victim to distractions when they work from home and their productivity levels fall off sharply. So we need to consider why this happens and how we can be efficient workers but still enjoy the pleasures and perks of working from home.
How do you measure your productivity?
When working a normal 9 to 5 job most people base their level of productivity on their surrounding atmosphere of co-workers doing similar if not the same tasks. This gives you a baseline on which to compare your own productivity. But when your job requires work from home it’s up to you to determine how hard you should be working to achieve what you want to achieve in a day.
However you may find that being able to leave work (at home) to do exercise or pick up groceries actually increases your productivity dramatically. Not having to go to your normal workspace can save you hours in your week. Someone told me recently that they timed how long dressing for work, then commuting (not very far), took out of their day – 2 hours 15 minutes!
Of course, there are many distractions throughout the workday at home which will easily lead you off the path you planned for the day.
There are the usual distractions that happen at any time. Phone calls can be a huge problem. People know you are at home so friends or family call up for a chat. Emails keep popping up, as do distractions on your phone. The house needs cleaning. The laundry should be put on. The family pet is hungry or wants to be patted. All these things are good in their own way, but not if they are stopping you from getting your work completed.
How’s your time management?
Time management can become an issue when you are trying to make your work from home job work well for you. Some people would suggest setting up a schedule of what you are going to do and stick to it. Yeah, right! That’s not going to happen for most of us, myself included. If you are that organized you probably aren’t reading this article! Every day I make a list of what I’m going to accomplish. Every day I only get through about half of it.
From my experience, everything takes longer than I think it will. Certain things take a lot longer if I’m finding out how to do something I haven’t done before, or if I want to find a better way to complete a task. When I write articles I have no idea if it is going to flow for me and I’ll write quickly, or if I’ll need to reflect, research or rewrite.
Find the best system for you
I’ve given up beating myself up about this. I now create a list of tasks for the week and try to create blocks of work. One day I might be writing, the next day doing business administration tasks, the third day preparing social media. In theory this works well. Some weeks it even works well in practice, but things crop up and that can throw all your planning out the window.
The nature of your work may make time demands on you through deadlines you must meet. In some ways that makes things easier because it is non-negotiable. However, if you have a lot of independent tasks to complete it is important to recognize what works best for you. Use your most productive time for the most difficult tasks. Save the easy tasks for the early afternoon brain-slump or whenever you are least likely to feel motivated.
Working in your pajamas?
Experts say you should dress like you are on your way to the office. I’m not a fan of this idea. If one of the reasons why you want to work from home is so that you don’t have to dress up, then don’t! Neither am I an advocate for working in your pajamas, but in summer (in Queensland, so you’ll forgive me I’m sure) I often work in my swimming costume after I’ve been in the pool. If dressing up every day helps you focus on your work then do it. If not dressing up makes you enjoy your work from home job more, then go with that.
Beware of Zoom or similar!
Remember that on Zoom you are visible to everyone in the group. When you are not speaking the other participants can still see you if they are using gallery view. When you stand up to get something they can see that you are wearing your boxer shorts under your business shirt. If you move the device around a bit they can see the mess (or cat) on your desk. Don’t be like that poor woman in a coronavirus viral video who visited the toilet during a meeting, not realising that she could be seen!
You do need to have a dedicated workspace. Ideally use a room with a door, with no bed in it (too tempting when the mid-afternoon slump sets in). Your desk and office chair must be the correct height for you to work comfortably. This is a health issue as poor working posture can lead to many problems with your neck and back. It is pleasant to have a comfortable chair to take a break from the work, but I just use a lounge chair if I want to sit somewhere else. A window to let in fresh air and light makes the room feel more welcoming.
Exercise vs The Fridge
If you aren’t used to working independently The Fridge can be your greatest enemy when you work from home. You know what I mean 😉 Following a regular exercise program can actually be the best productivity boost you can give yourself. If you are used to exercising every day then keep up the good work. But if you aren’t all that keen, time your exercise for the time of the day when you are feeling distractible and do something you enjoy. See if you can rewire your brain to think of it as your ‘reward’ for the hard work you have done.
Has working from home become your ‘new normal’
This post was originally written for people who chose to work from home. I updated this post in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Now in June people many people are going back to work. But some companies and employees have seen the advantages of working from home.
If you find you have enjoyed the ‘work from home’ lifestyle, or if working from home remains the new normal for you, these points may interest you.
If you can’t work at home due to space constraints enquire in your local area for a co-working space. For a low cost you can be working in an office with other people around you, all engaged in some sort of work from home job. They may be employed but working off-site, a contractor or self-employed, but you all have that same common desire to get the work done in a non-traditional setting. You wouldn’t technically be working from home, but at least you’d still be in charge. An alternative is to enquire if a local professional business may have an office that is not being used which they would rent to you for a manageable cost.
Coffee shops are a great place to have a break
I’m self-employed so if I feel alone, or more commonly if I feel stuck on a decision that I need to make or a blog post I am writing, I take myself off to a nearby cafe, usually with a pen and notebook in hand. There I sit quietly looking out at the Bay and thinking about the problem. By the time I’ve finished my coffee I am usually ready to start writing all the thoughts down. It seems my mind sometimes likes to sort out problems while I relax and not give much input. It works for me. Besides, it’s a very good excuse to go out for coffee! Interestingly there are always a few other people sitting in the coffee shop using a computer or notebook.
Of course there will be days when you have to leave the house, do some shopping, go to a doctor’s appointment, take your car for a service and you may feel you got nothing accomplished. But that’s the beauty of working at home. If you are self-employed it’s all up to you. If you are employed you don’t have to tell the boss that you have to leave early, you just get your work done at a different time.
Having a work from home job, employed or self-employed, does require discipline and consistency just like any other job. It certainly doesn’t suit everyone but if you get it right it can be very rewarding.
[UPDATED June 8, 2020]