The telecommuting trend has been steadily gaining in popularity and currently one in ten American employees work remotely at least once a week. Studies project that by 2016, 43% of U.S. workers will telecommute. As employers begin to relinquish their skepticism and embrace working from home, remote workers must create a virtual work environment that not only breeds productivity but also propels professional development while maintaining a work-life balance. While it can be a challenging feat, with the help of some telecommuting tips, you can be one of the remote workers who is 25% less stressed and 20% more productive.
1. Have a designated workspace, preferably with a door. While being out of the office is one of the advantages of working from home, not having a designated workspace can also be one of its hazards. Without one, your entire home is your office and your workday is no longer confined to a particular place and time. Workaholic Americans already struggle with separating themselves from their jobs and an undefined virtual office can make it that much harder. Create a space that is dedicated solely to work. The best option is a room with a door that you can leave at the end of your shift, but even in a studio apartment, you can establish an area dedicated to telecommuting.
Another benefit of a defined workspace is the ability to shut out distractions. While virtual workers tend to be a productive and focused bunch, everyone’s home contains a number of diversions ranging from people to pets and chores to appliances. Minimize interruptions and temptations with the help of some architectural boundaries.
2. Follow a schedule. Having flexible hours is one of the most attractive aspects of telecommuting. As long as you are meeting your work responsibilities, you have the freedom to run an errand, go to a doctor’s appointment, throw in some laundry, or sleep a bit later. The flip side is a lack of structure also makes it more difficult to stop working and conversely can make it easier to procrastinate. Also, without the parameters of specific times, self-care tends to suffer. Sleep schedules can fluctuate wildly, exercise can be neglected, and eating can be erratic. Those are three major things that undermine our health, work performance, and happiness. Do yourself a favor and commit to specific work hours and include breaks. That does not mean you should never shuffle your schedule around, but it should be the exception not the rule if you want to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
3. Go outside. Working from home can be isolating, especially for the single among us. Technology allows us to work, shop, and socialize all from the comfort of our couch and often in our pajamas, but just because you can do something, does not mean you should. Everyone needs fresh air, sunshine, and in person human interaction. Make yourself leave the house for at least 15 minutes a day and meet up with a friend or family member at least once a week, preferably more. You can also avoid becoming a hermit by going to a gym, volunteering, taking a class, or participating in a group activity. Make a genuine effort to go out into the world and you will reap the benefits of working remotely without becoming disconnected and lonely.
4. Interact with your co-workers. There is a social aspect to work that we lose when we telecommute. Many full-time remote workers go for months or even years without meeting certain colleagues face-to-face. Without the daily interactions of a shared office, it is not only easy to become out of the loop, but also harder to foster relationships, which can impede your professional growth. With a little effort, however, you can circumvent those repercussions. Replace break room chatter with instant messenger and befriend your coworkers, particularly if the two of you click. If you are quick to help others, extend genuine compliments, and create opportunities to collaborate, bonds will naturally form, even if you are on opposite sides of the country. If possible, attend company social events and, if there are any coworkers in your area, meet up for lunch once in a while. Also, be proactive about scheduling regular phone calls and/or video chats with your supervisor. These do not need to be long, but it is important to check in with your boss and be more than your work product and a name on a computer screen. Lastly, you should visit the office occasionally. While geography can make this more challenging, it is a worthwhile investment that could bring you that much closer to a promotion or a raise.
5. Do not skimp on your virtual office. While some employers will reimburse employees for office furniture, equipment, and supplies, more often than not, furnishing your virtual office will be your responsibility. Technology will be your most critical investment. Since your job depends upon your computer and internet connection, spend the money for performance and reliability. Also, put a back-up system in place such as an external drive, cloud drive, or both, so you do not lose important work if your equipment fails. Keep your software up-to-date and consider purchasing a three-in-one printer that will allow you to fax, copy, and scan documents. If there is an accessory that will make your life easier such as a vertical mouse, wireless keyboard, or wrist rest, do not hesitate to buy it. Have plenty of printer paper on hand as well as back-up printer cartridges. Even though you may have an excellent mobile phone, you would probably benefit from a landline phone that has a speaker, mute button, and some sort of headset capability.
Your most important piece of furniture will be a high-quality, ergonomic office chair that is comfortable and provides strong support. This worthwhile expense affects your work performance as much as your physical well-being, so choose carefully. In terms of a desk, find one that is a good height and provides enough space for you to work. Other popular but not always necessary items are filing cabinets, bookcases, lamps, and foot rests. If you do not have them already, you will also need to purchase all of the regular office supplies most of us take for granted such as: a stapler with staples, scissors, tape, binder clips, Post-it notes, notepads, file folders, corrective fluid, pens, pencils and highlighters. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and over time, you will discover what you need. If you have everything you need to do your job well, you will create a pleasant and productive environment that is conducive to exceptional work.
While telecommuting presents some challenges, overall remote workers are healthier, happier, and more productive than their in-office counterparts. In fact, of the 64 million employees who telecommute at least part-time, 80% feel they have a good work-life balance. By implementing the telecommuting tips above, you can be one of those 51.2 million workers who have discovered the joys of the virtual office.