Ragan.com by remote: 7 telecommuting tips that HR won’t tell you

Working from home requires some effort. If you’re going to love it, you’ll have to avoid common pitfalls and pay attention to the intangibles.


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I love working remotely.

There are fewer distractions, no dress code, better coffee, and a sense of freedom. In theory, I can work anywhere: a coffee shop, a bar, the beach, you name it.

But it’s only an illusion of freedom.

In reality, I’m still parked at a desk, tuned into the midday loneliness that only mail carriers and stay-at-home parents experience. Ever been outside around 11 a.m. on a Tuesday in a city neighborhood or suburb? It’s quiet—too quiet.

Working from home requires effort. If you’re going to love it as I do, you’ll have to pay attention to these intangibles and avoid common pitfalls. Here’s some advice:

Create a soundtrack. The silence of your home office can be deafening. Even if your corporate office is quiet, there are still the occasional outbursts of conversation or laughter (or your cube mate’s phone call that you pretend you’re not hearing). Unless you want to talk to yourself—or your pets—fill that dead air with music. The best part of your morning might be sipping coffee and creating your playlist for the day.

Start working out—or smoking. If you’re focused on work, it’s easy to let hours pass without moving more than your hands and eyeballs. When that happens, you need to get up and move around. Better yet, you need to get outside. Try jogging. Once I’ve reached a stopping point around mid-morning, I lace up my sneakers and head outside for a run. It’s refreshing. If you’re not prepared to jog (or bike), an architect friend who worked from home took frequent cigarette breaks on his back porch. I don’t recommend it, but it seemed to work for him.

Invest in ergonomic furniture. My desk chair at home is a hand-painted torture device made from restored wood (and by “restored” I mean the chair was recovered from a dumpster). This is a terrible idea. An ergonomic chair is key to a comfortable home office. Even better are those workout balls. One of these days, I’m going to inflate the one my wife bought for her core workouts and finally lose that chair.

Take a bath. My colleagues have said it’s important to shower first thing in the morning when you work from home. Pajamas at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday are kind of depressing, they say. Maybe. But, I think a bath at 2:30 p.m. is pure delight. Feeling stressed out from that deadline you just finished or all the e-mails you returned? Take a soak. It’s good for those muscles that are sore from your mid-morning run (or the hours in your hand-painted chair).

Stay off the damned Internet. Ever noticed how prolific writers have become prolific Twitter users? (I’m looking at you, Susan Orlean, Buzz Bissinger, and Ayelet Waldman.) It’s because they have no one looking over their shoulders monitoring—or simply blocking—their social media use. If your job is mostly online, then you’re excused from this browbeating. If not, stay off Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Amazon.com, HummelExchange.com, whatever. You’ll be dramatically more productive. I promise. Once you’ve completed a task, reward yourself with some social media time or online shopping. Just go easy, partner.

Take your laptop to a coffee shop—or a bar. We’ve all worked from a coffee shop in some capacity. The advantages are obvious: free Wi-Fi, caffeine, relative quiet. But have you worked from a bar? Not the loud sports bar with wall-to-wall TVs, but the quiet spot that’s more akin to a European cafe. These bars serve coffee, the music is better than that acoustic mix at the coffee shop, and once it’s quitting time there’s nothing better than swapping your latte for a cold one.

Don’t work past your quittin’ time. We all take our work home, whether that’s checking e-mail or writing an article about working from home. It happens. But it’s a bad idea if you’re working remotely. When your office is a room in your house—or your kitchen table—it’s easy to pull out the laptop and work an extra 15 minutes (or two hours). Your spouse, no matter how understanding he or she seems, will only tolerate this for a couple of days. One week, tops. Tell yourself you’re calling it quits for the day at 5 or 6 or 7, your call. Just make sure you stick to it.

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