Telecommuting & Remote Work

By mrbagnall | 30 December 2014

For past year I have had an amazing opportunity to work for my company remotely. They are located in Silicon Valley and my home is in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee where my wife and children live. It has afforded me unique opportunities but with those have come a high sense of responsibility and discipline that you might not expect when working in your office of one. Fortunately I have a working spouse. I say fortunately because it gives me most of the day to myself to sit and get my job done in an undistracted and consistent way. Along the way, I have learned there there are some pitfalls to working remotely that you should consider before you take taking a job that could lead you to work from home. I have learned that working remotely might not be for everyone.

  1. Dress for work every day. It is important that even though you will be working remotely, that you get up at the same time, get a shower and dress at least casually for your day. Comfort is OK unless you spend a lot of time on conference calls with clients where ties may be necessary, but getting up, getting showered and being punctual at your desk is key to setting up a routine. Sure, you could roll out of bed at 7:50 and be at your desk at 8am, but you won't have had breakfast, you may not even be out of pajamas and it just does not set you up for a productive day. Plus if you have those 8am conference calls I'm sure nobody likes either the sound or the view of someone devouring a bowl of cereal on the call. Be dressed, get a good breakfast and, in short, prepare like you would for any other work day.
  2. Take lunch. Make it the whole hour. This is a biggie. There is a temptation that since you're working at home you can lose track of the time and miss lunch. You need a break as to not burn out. Step back, set your away message if you’re your messenger or Skype and either go out, get lunch, eat something quick and go for a walk. Just do something to give yourself not just a nutritional break, but a mental break as well. A lot of workers even in the office world eat lunch at their desk but it really isn't healthy physically or mentally. You need a break, take it. You will feel better mentally and be more productive which ultimately makes the time go faster.
  3. Avoid the temptations. It's easy to fall into a housekeeping rut. You go to the refrigerator to get a drink and notice the living room a mess, so you start to pick a few things up and the next thing you know - 20 minutes has gotten behind you. Avoid distractions of doing laundry, tidying up the bedroom or living room or doing dishes. These things will all be there for you later and if you like, take care of some of these items over lunch if you feel it will make your home environment more productive. I have been guilty of this and it takes a LOT of discipline - develop that discipline - or save the house work for your lunch break!
  4. Have a clean, dedicated space for your office. I have an office that is decorated with professional and some personal artifacts. It will also soon have a closing door. When I am working - this is my "space". My wife knows it. My kids know it. Then know when I am in there and doing my job that anything short of either themselves or the house being on fire is not something that needs my attention at that moment. I encourage all remote workers to have a space. This doesn't preclude taking the laptop outside on a nice spring day, but be sure wherever it is you work that it is organized in your own way and your own dedicated space. It helps with routine and makes it so the whole house is not your office. It will help you with consistency and productivity.
  5. Avoid noisy office distractions. I learned this the hard way. In my job I do a lot of conference calls, and many of these can extend 30 minutes to over an hour and a half. I have an antique wall-clock on my office wall that gongs every 30 minutes and is VERY loud to anyone who I might be on a conference call or Skype with. This can be a bad thing for people who do sales from home. It's annoying enough in employee meetings (where I am usually quick enough to mute my microphone before it sounds). But for sales calls, it can cost you money. Move your clocks, reminders, loud printers anything that makes enough noise to be heard on a conference call into another room - or take your calls in another room. Hear me now, believe me later.
  6. Don't use this as an excuse to keep young children home from day care or pre-school. If you are a single parent or even if you have a significant other, make sure kids are not in the vicinity when working. They can demand your attention, taking time away from your work. Also see the noise recommendation in #4. These can be a high source of distraction that could get in the way of your productivity. I don't mean this to sound cold, but working time is to get work accomplished, and not for changing diapers, playing hide and seek or other kinds of things kids will want from us to do if we keep them home with us. Fortunately for me, my wife and I both work and our youngest goes to a pre-school program five days a week at her job which pretty much makes my ability to work from home possible. Children are wonderful - but they can be very detrimental to productivity in the office space. Many employers are very understanding of children who are stay at home, but my experience has shown that I am more productive, less irritated and less distracted when I am able to sit and focus on work without the interruptions.

I hope these keys work for you the way they have worked for me. I welcome other thoughts and suggestions or even criticisms of the ones I have listed.