If you're new to working from home, it can seem a little intimidating. Initially, it can be hard to find your groove, especially if you've never done it before, but there are many perks to not having to go into the office:
Note: This article was originally published on my previous website back in 2013. I've reposted it here because it's still relevant.
Despite what the majority of society believes, working from home is HARD. People that work from home face many different challenges and very few of them are related to the actual work that they are undertaking.
On top of the personal challenges of trying to stay focused on work when the TV is just…right…there, the motivation to actually do the work instead of putting it off until later, and the constant confusion over whether you are “at work” or “at home”, there are also intense challenges directed at us from others. More often than not, these challenges come not from our clients or customers, but from our family and friends.
When you tell someone you work from home, odds are they get this “look” on their face. If you work from home, you know what I’m talking about.
The look that says “oh, so you don’t have a REAL job.”
The look is usually followed by something like “So you get to hang around the house in your PJ’s all day, huh? I wish I could work from home.”
At one point, we have all experienced the “Well, you’re home anyway, why can’t you just watch my kid?
...come to my house and wait for the utility company?
...bring me lunch?
...go to the store for me?
...pick this up at 1pm?”
These all seem to be exacerbated if you happen to have children, though this is just my opinion as I did not work from home when I was childless.
And then there’s the time management aspect of working from home. It can be difficult to properly manage time when your home and workspace are the same. It is far too easy to throw in a load of laundry on your “coffee break”, or run out and bring your kid/husband/wife the lunch they forgot on the counter, and to think “I’ll just do up these dishes real quick before settling in to get some work done.”
After all, you’re home right?
But you REALLY shouldn't.
Doing so starts you down a slippery slope of counter-productiveness, not to mention that it does nothing to help you to overcome all the myths, misnomers, and stereotypes that you’re already battling.
Here are some tips that can help you counteract it all and actually get some work done.
- Set a schedule for yourself and STICK to it! When you worked in an actual office, you had to be at work at a certain time and had to remain there until another time. You probably even got into the habit of taking your breaks at set times throughout the day too. You should be doing this at your home office as well. Yes, working from home gives a person a certain level of flexibility, but it is still of the utmost importance to have a scheduled time to work – even if that time is between 11pm and 4am. Schedules help everyone, including you, know what to expect from you and what is expected of them.
- Get up and get dressed as if you were going to work outside the home. You wouldn’t stroll into work in an office in your PJ’s at 10:30, so why is it okay for you to do that in your home office? Even if you work entirely on your own and won’t even leave the house that day, the next day, or the day following, you will work better if you’re dressed. Think just for a minute about how you feel when you are presentably dressed for work. You feel confident and prepared to face your day. Now think about how you feel in your PJ’s. Lazy, relaxed, and unproductive. Getting dressed puts yourself in a better mental position to just get things done.
- During your scheduled work time, do NOT do anything that isn’t work! Take yourself, and your work, seriously and everyone around you will follow suit. When you first start working from home, you may find yourself inundated with requests from family and friends similar to what I mentioned above. It can be trying, and tempting to do what they are asking just to get them to back off, but if you consistently remind everyone that you cannot help because you are working, you will soon find that the requests stop. You may even find that those same people start taking more of an interest in your work and may even start commending you on your will-power to commit to it. More and more often I’m hearing “I couldn’t do what you do,” instead of “hey, can you do this for me?” and I gotta say, it feels pretty good. And think of it this way: when you worked outside the home, your dishes or laundry waited until you got home. They’ll still be there at the end of your workday now too, I promise. (Unless you have a cleaning fairy – in which case, can you hook a girl up?)
- Enroll your kids in daycare and stop marketing yourself as a “Work at Home Parent”. Seriously. It is commendable that you want to be a stay at home parent AND work from home, but you are not doing yourself or your kids any favours by trying to work with them at home too, especially if they are little. As soon as it becomes financially feasible, put your kids in care a day or two a week. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish without them running underfoot during that time. And I guarantee that your clients and customers will take you a lot more seriously without the cute little voices playing in the background when they call you, EVEN if those same clients are parents.
- Dedicate a set workspace, preferably one with a door that closes and locks. Do not cross-contaminate your workspace or your home! We all know that there are tax benefits for having a Business Use of Home area, but there are efficiency perks as well. If you don’t have a set place to work, your quality of work will suffer. If your desk becomes your dinner table, you’re wasting time moving things. And we all know that the more we move things, the easier they are to lose. Instruct everyone in your household that your workspace is off-limits. To everyone in the house but you, it is a black-hole void in the universe that is your house. They are not to enter it without express permission, and they are to knock and wait for an answer before coming through a closed door (or curtain, or the invisible sound barrier you had erected around your corner of the basement). This goes back to what I said earlier about taking yourself seriously.
- Get out of your house once in a while. Working from home is a lonely, lonely existence. There have been times where it’s been almost a full week that I didn’t set foot outside the confines of my house. But getting out is soooo important! For your sanity if nothing else. Start bringing your laptop down to your local coffee shop once a week for an hour or two. Get to know the barista, socialize with other patrons, enjoy some scenery other than the walls of your house. Even if you don’t actually accomplish anything productive, the benefits of getting out will be seen in what you DO accomplish when you return. (Not to mention there are perks to getting to know your baristas – I very rarely pay for my coffee anymore when having a bad day. Just saying.)
***March 2020 update: Obviously, at this time enrolling your children in daycare isn't feasible or safe for anyone. Working with little ones underfoot can be a challenge. Especially if they aren't used to you doing anything other than paying full attention to them when you're home. You're going to have to get creative. If you can, set them up with activities to occupy them for at least 45 minutes at a time so you can focus for a bit. Or play on their natural curiousity and involve them a little bit in what you're doing if possible. My youngest always LOVED it when I let him watch me build websites; he was (and still is) fascinated by lines of text turning into different shapes and colours. (Which is probably why he has aspirations to become a coder when grows up. 😉 )
Working from home is going to be extra challenging with little ones. Remember to cut yourself some slack, show patience to your kids, and if all else fails, plop them down in front of a screen for a bit without guilt.
March 2020 update: Again, this doesn't really apply in the current climate of social isolation. While you may not be able to go work in the local coffee shop, getting OUT is still important. Coffee shops may be closed but the outside isn't. GO OUTSIDE. Even if it's just your backyard or deck. Get some fresh air and sunshine. It will do wonders for your emotional well-being.
As I said before, working from home is not easy. But there are things you can do to make it easier on yourself and those around you. Just a few minor changes in how you view your job can make all the difference in the world.
And for those that still don’t think I have a “real” job, you’ll have to excuse me; I have waivers to finalize, forms to design and websites to build.
You know, work.
Disclaimer: This post was written while dressed in office attire, NOT my PJ’s. (And also re-posted in office attire.)