If you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home either occasionally or full time, you’re probably fully aware of the benefits. And if you want to keep those benefits, you’ll need to stay organized by keeping on top of a few best practices.
This list of tips and best practices is divided into two parts. The first part is for people who work from home full time. Most of the suggestions apply to both the self employed and those employed by some other organization, although a few tips are slightly more relevant to the latter.
The second part of the article contains tips specifically for people who work in an office setting most of the time but occasionally work from home. Reasons for working from home only part-time might range from needing a different environment to providing child care. Whatever the reason, occasional at-home employees have very different circumstances, needs, and objectives than full-time homebodies.
Here are 20 tips and best practices for working from home.
Best Practices for Full-Time Home Office Workers
1. Maintain regular hours. Set your schedule, and stick to it. The best way for most people to maintain a healthy work-life balance is to have clear cut guidelines for when it’s time to work and when it’s time to enjoy life.
2. Get dressed before work starts. Some people may see pajama pants as one of the perks of working from a home office, but plenty of successful at-home employees will tell you that getting dressed every morning changes their mindset for the better. Getting dressed also helps delineate working hours from home life time.
3. Set ground rules with family, pets, and other home life. Set clear boundaries and ground rules with anyone else who may be in your general space during office hours. That includes the pets.
4. Take scheduled breaks. Know your company’s policy on break times, and take them. If you’re self employed, give yourself adequate time during the day to walk away from the computer screen and phone. An hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks seems to be the standard for 40-hour per week U.S. employees.
5. Take breaks in their entirety. Don’t short-change yourself during breaks, especially your lunch hour. You can use an app, such as TimeOut for Mac and Smart Break for Windows, to lock yourself out of your computer for 60 minutes. Or you can just launch a simple clock or timer on the screen when you take a break. If you return to your desk after only 40 minutes, walk away for another 20.
6. Leave during lunch. You don’t have to eat out every day, but do try to leave the house every day during your lunch hour. This is good advice for those working in office environments, too: leave the building at least once a day. Your body needs a little exercise, and the fresh air will do you good. Talk a walk. Go to the post office. Weed the garden. You get the picture.
7. Ask for what you need right away. If you’re employed by a company or organization that supports your work-from-home setup, request the equipment you need as soon as you start working from home, or within a day or two of when you realize you need something new. It’s extremely important to set precedents early that you will ask for what you need to get your job done comfortably, including the right monitor, keyboard, mouse, and chair supports.
8. Keep a dedicated office computer. If possible, buy a separate computer for personal use, especially if you would have your own computer if you worked in an office full time. Keeping separate computers for separate uses also helps establish that line between home and work life.
9. Keep a separate phone number. Keeping two computers might be a choice, but having a separate phone number for work is not. You need a dedicated office phone number.
10. Stay in frequent contact with colleagues. This bit of advice applies more to employees than the self-employed. Use instant messaging programs, email, phone, video-chat, social networks, or whatever makes the most sense for your organization, to communicate with your colleagues every day. This best practice becomes tricky if you work in a radically different time zone from your peers, but it’s not impossible. Asynchronous messages count for something, although real-time communication is best. Do your best to make small talk, too. Nurturing relationships can be as important as the work-focused talk.
11. “Show up” to meetings and be heard. Of course you’ll dial into mandatory meetings, but it’s a good idea to attend optional meetings sometimes, too. Be sure to speak during the meeting so everyone knows that you’re on the call. A simple, “Thanks, everyone. Bye!” at the close of a meeting will go a long way toward making your presence known.
12. Get face time. If your boss or employer is lax about calling you in to the office, ask to have an annual or semi-annual trip to headquarters worked into your contract. If you can time it with a yearly fiscal meeting or nearby conference or tradeshow, you’ll make a stronger case. Whatever you do, don’t wait too long for someone else to ask you to show up at the office. Be proactive.
13. Take the day off when you’re sick. When you’re ill, take a proper sick day.
14. Work from a different location occasionally. Café, libraries, and co-working spaces can help break up the tedium of being at home too long.
15. Seek out training and learning opportunities. Some of the office perks you’re missing by working from home probably include free coffee and the occasional lunch outing. Of course these little perks don’t really compare to not having to commute, being able to do light housework on your lunch hour, and so forth. It’s very easy to get over not having free coffee. But it’s much more difficult to justify missing out on more important office perks such as on-site training or the skills development that comes with being in close quarters with other employees–nor should you. If your employer doesn’t provide adequate e-learning for telecommuters, ask to attend (and get reimbursed for) the odd skills-development class or webinar.
Best Practices for Occasional Work-from-Home Employees
1. Define what you will accomplish at home. Write down or think through what you intend to accomplish at home ahead of time, like while you’re still in the office. The list could be different each time you work from home, or it might be the same. Whatever the task, make sure you’re clear about what it is before you get to work so that you can be diligent about doing it.
2. Silence the distractions. Turn off email, don’t take calls, or avoid whatever it is that prevents you from getting work done when you’re at the office.
3. Work diligently or record how you spend your time. If you’re not self-disciplined enough to get your work done at home, try tracking how you spend your time. A great desktop app called RescueTime lets you track how you spend your time on the computer, as well as remind you when you’ve dallied too long in apps or websites you deem distracting.
4. Communicate when you’ll be out and back. I once worked for a boss for six months before I learned that he worked from home every Friday. I just thought he was always in meetings! Tell your colleagues, more than once, when you’ll be home, when you’ll be back, as well as whether and how they should get in touch with you while you’re home.
5. Remind your boss that working from home works. When you finish the tasks you set out to complete from home, let your boss know—especially if you did the job faster or better at home than you would have in the office. Better yet, head into the office if it’s near enough to where you live. If your boss thinks your tasks will take you all day, and you can get them done in five hours while working at home, she or he will be more amendable to your requests to work from home in the future. Building that trust and confidence benefits both of you.