Most of us, at some point, have fantasized about quitting that 9-to-5 office job to work from the comfort of a couch. I certainly did.
After all, I was clocking in four hours daily commuting into work (and sometimes, sadly, it was closer to five). Although I loved my job, I hated the wasted time spent on the train. So, when the opportunity arose to work from home—and doing what I love for a company I respected—I jumped at the chance. I might have even danced the jig.
But, working from home proved to be way more challenging than I imagined. For one thing, it was so quiet. My cubicle at my previous job had been smack-dab in the center of the hallway, where people would stop and chat all day long. I got used to the chatter, the incessant ringing of phones, people slurping their soup—all of it.
So, now, being at home (a home that’s surrounded by woods, mind you), the silence was deafening. I quickly realized that it takes certain skills to work from home. And if you’re considering a telecommuting gig, too, here’s what I learned are the keys to success.
Who can resist the dinging sound of a new email? You, that’s who, especially if you want to stay on task. And forget about signing in to Facebook “just for a minute.” It’s easy to get distracted when you telecommute—unlikely distractions that just don’t exist at work abound at home. At the office, for example, you might visit the company kitchen once in the morning and once in the afternoon for a cup of joe (because that’s what’s appropriate), but at home, you’re hitting the fridge every hour on the hour. Or more.
The way around this is to act like your home office is in the center of an actual office. That means, yes, taking a shower, getting dressed, and being presentable for your workday. Somehow, it switches your mindset, and being preparing to “go” to work (even if it’s just a stroll down the hallway) makes the transition easier.
I also schedule specific times to check email and when I get an Instagram alert, I refrain from logging in until lunch hour.
Mad Organizational Skills
At work, you had to keep your desk neat so that you looked organized—and sure, it’s always helpful to see the top of your desk. But at home, who cares if clutter collects around you? Well, don’t fall into that trap (especially video conference calls are part of your routine). While you might miss the building services team, who used to wipe down your crusty keyboard and empty your waste paper baskets every night, it’s ultimately up to you to keep your space spic and span so you can do your best work.
What’s more, it’s time to get those list-making muscles in working order. Without face-to-face communication, it’s easy to let things slip through the cracks, so you’ll need to find ways to be as organized as possible. You might find that you like to write things down in a notebook, or perhaps you prefer calendar notifications. Find what works best for you to keep you organized and on task.
The Ability to Work Alone
When I started to work from home, I missed talking to people. A lot. But I soon found a friend. Every day, I would hear the UPS guy gunning his motor as he drove down my long driveway to deliver my packages. As soon as I would spot him, I’d fly out of the house and chat him up. And now he leaves the packages by the curb. Sure, the one big bonus of working from home is that it gets you away from the petty office politics and never-ending gossip.
But once you’re in your home office—alone, every day—you might start to miss that collegial camaraderie. Since the UPS incident, I’ve reached out more to colleagues via IM and will post cute pics of my new puppy for my colleagues to see on Yammer. And when we’re on deadline, we even (gasp!) talk on the phone. It’s helped tremendously to make the disconnect not feel so severe. It’s a good balance between having peace and quiet when you need it and much-needed interaction with others, too.
Excellent Communication Skills
When you work in an office, you can ask your boss about the details of your upcoming presentation when you see her in the company kitchen. But if you telecommute, she’s just another email in your inbox. From letting her know if you’re going to miss a deadline or getting clarification on an email, you’ll have to be proactive about communicating all aspects of your job and any questions you might have with her.
Also keep in mind that communication with a telecommuting team requires an extra layer of crystal clear clarity. Since almost everything is done via email (and there are no facial or body clues to read), you’ll need to make sure that you mean what you, um, type. I’ve found that shorter, more succinct sentences go a lot farther than long-winded soliloquies.
Without the fear that your boss could walk in on you watching Netflix, your motivation can get foggy when you work from home. So while you might be tempted to throw a load of laundry in the washing machine or start working later than you’re scheduled to, you’ll need to keep yourself motivated.
How? Start by giving yourself daily, weekly, or even hourly goals. Once you start accomplishing them, you’ll feel productive and happy in your career—and you’ll be one step closer to achieving your own work-life balance.
Working from home can be the Holy Grail—but you have to know what you’re getting into. But if you do, and you make a plan to gain these skills, you can make working from home work for you, too.