Working from Home: Common Pitfalls to Avoid

This post originally appeared on June 27, 2013 in ShoreTelSky’s blog here.

According to a USA Today article published on June 20, a “quiet revolution,” as the newspaper calls it, is changing the way Americans work.  Their study found that a third of all college-educated workers over the age of 25 work from home at least part-time, and in all but the nation’s largest urban centers, more people telecommute than use public transportation. Research regarding the effectiveness of telecommuting continues to pile up: the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that telecommuting improves productivity while decreasing absenteeism, while a much-publicized Stanford study found that a remote-work program at a Chinese travel agency boosted productivity by 22 percent.

More people are working from home than ever before, and they’re doing it more productively than ever before.  But anyone who’s telecommuted with regularity knows that it can come with some pitfalls that must be overcome: a wandering attention, the siren call of the television and couch, and the difficulty of focusing on a deadline when there are kids and pets underfoot.

That’s why we’ve compiled the following tips for frustrated telecommuters hoping to improve their efficiency and productivity at home.  Try them out, find what works for you, and unlock your true work-from-home potential.

Establish a Work Zone

A famous psychology study found that insomnia is exacerbated by a vicious cycle: the more time you spend in bed not sleeping, the more your brain associates the bed with a lack of sleep.  Study volunteers’ ability to sleep improved dramatically if they got out of bed after ten minutes of struggling to sleep, waited until they were ready to try again, and returned to bed.  In much the same way, a lack of focus while working from home will create a continuing cycle of negative productivity.  The solution?  Designate a room or even a nook as your personal office space, and treat it as such.  It’s a “sacred’ place for work and work only.  You won’t watch TV there; you won’t conduct family business from there.  Instead, you’ll “train your brain” to associate the area with an efficient work environment.

Hone Your Time-Management Skills

While most of us have decent time-management skills, years of working in an office environment under a chain of supervisors doesn’t necessarily prepare us for the way telecommuting puts us completely in charge of our time.  So when working from home, start off with some small goals: work an hour without checking your email, or get a project done by noon even if it’s not due till three.  Eventually, you’ll have trained yourself to be proactive about your time, and the temptations to catch that TV marathon will dissipate.

Start Teleconferencing

It’s important to stay connected with your coworkers and superiors while you’re working from home; it not only keeps the lines of communication open, but it fosters a sense of community even while you’re working remote.  Nothing does both these jobs better than a modern video conferencing solution.  Not only does it make communication quick and easy, but it perfectly replicates the experience of a face-to-face conversation.  Modern options are dependable and scalable, so it’s never been easier to get all the benefits of working at an office while working from home.

Build a New Routine

If you’ve spent your working life in a normal office environment, then you’re probably used to the ebb and flow of an 8-5 work day, with breaks at the water cooler and an hour for lunch.  As you transition to working from home, you may find yourself losing your internal rhythm because your old routine no longer fits into your new work life.  It’s time to build a new one, one that reflects the changes in your schedule.  Check your email at a certain time, set aside blocks for particularly focused work, and make sure you take small breaks.  Walk around the house, do yoga or hit the gym, and keep yourself physically active.  Once you’ve acclimated to your new routine, it’ll be much easier to manage your time.

What strategies do you employ to stay productive while working from home?

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