Tips for working from home

By glblguy

I’ve been working from home now off and on for a few months. It started with 1-2 days at home, then 3 and within a few weeks I’ll be working from home full-time. Personally I love it, but it’s different in more ways than I anticipated. Working from home also isn’t for everyone. I’ve found it to be highly productive for me, but it does require a great deal of discipline. Here are just a few tips I have for those that are either already working from home or might be considering it:

Dedicated Space

Depending on your situation, dedicated space could mean just a desk over in the corner where you go when you work. Having 6-kids, this wouldn’t be an option for me. I have a dedicated office downstairs away from my family. It’s quiet and distraction free.

The important thing for most professionals is being able to work at home and not having the person on he other end of the phone know. I’ve been on way to many calls where I hear dogs barking in the background, children crying, and spouses talking. I have one person I work with that must watch TV as he works. Every time I call him I always hear a TV blaring in the background. While all of these things are a normal part of being home, they aren’t a normal part of the work environment for  most. You have to separate yourself from these things.

The other advantage of a dedicated space is that when you go there, you go into work mode. If it’s your kitchen table, it’s hard to make the mental distinction that you’re at work rather than sitting down to eat breakfast or dinner. When I walk into my office downstairs and shut the door it feels like I am walking into the doors at my companies operations center. I go into “I’m at work mode”.

Communication Tools

When you work from home, you spend far more time on the phone than normal. Therefore it’s critical to invest in a good quality phone line, phone, and headset. Prior to moving I had used Vonage with a fair amount of success, but now that I’ll be going full-time at home I moved to a land line for clear and reliable phone service.

Get familiar with Instant Messaging technologies, they are a life saver. The phone is a wonderful tool for lengthy or complex conversations, but instant messaging tools are a life saver for short and quick questions/conversations. It’s far less distracting and intrusive as a phone ringing. It also allows you to be on a phone call, but continue to communicate with people. Just be sure you pay attention to the phone call!

I tried to avoid it, but I’m going to have to purchase a fax machine or use an online fax service (any suggestions??). As much as I try to work paperless, paper is still somewhat of a reality especially when dealing with other companies or people that aren’t as paperless.

Having good communication tools allows you to be available and being available is a critical requirement for making a work from home situation successful. Regardless of the reality, if you aren’t available than people will perceive you as not working. Do everything you can to make yourself available.

Staying Focused

This is by far the biggest complaint I hear about people working from home: staying focused. Here are just a few suggestions to help:

  • Establish a schedule – Most likely when you worked at the office you had a schedule. Do the same when working from home. Be at work at a certain time and leave at a certain time. Not only will your co-workers appreciate it, it will help you mentally feel like you’re going to work, even if the commute is only a few feet!
  • Get up and get dressed – Sure one of the advantages of working at home is working in your PJs. This doesn’t work for me. I have a morning routine that I’ve been going through for years and in order for me to get into work mode I have to go through that routine. I get up, fix coffee, eat breakfast, write for my blogs, shower, get dressed, then head to my office downstairs.  Granted, I wear sweats, jeans, shorts, etc. rather than business casual, but it still helps to put me in “work mode”.
  • Take breaks – Ironically enough, this one has been tough. I tend to just keep working through the whole day, even eating at my desk. Not a good idea. Take breaks. Take a walk outside, come upstairs to eat lunch for a 1/2 hour or so. This will keep you fresh and avoid overworking.
  • Plan – Each day before I turn off the lights and close the office door, I make a list of everything I need to accomplish the next day. Before I leave the next day I make sure everything on that list is done, then I make the next list. When you begin working from home you’re no longer evaluated on whether you are at work but by how much you get done. Make sure you are getting things done.

A few final thoughts

Just a few final thoughts from some experiences I’ve had with others working from home…yes believe it

  • Don’t carry the phone or cell phone with you to the bathroom. Awkward.
  • Don’t drink alcohol while you’re working. Resist the temptation to open that beer at 3:00pm. You wouldn’t do it at work, don’t do it at home.
  • Wear clothes. If you aren’t, don’t proudly tell everyone that you aren’t. Even if you don’t tell them, they’ll know. I’m not sure how, but we just do.
  • Don’t eat while you’re on the phone. Nothing worse than talking to someone while they crunch chips in your ear.
  • Get a phone with a mute button that is easy and quick to find. When working at home, the unexpected will happen. A mute button just might save you uncomfortable explaining like when your dog stands outside your window and barks at you, or your kids come busting into your office to have you settle a dispute.

What tips do you have? Are you thinking about working from home but have concerns? Add a comment or question!

Photo by: Yogi

24 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Tips for working from home”

  1. Miranda Says:

    Great tips. I’ve been working from home for about 4 years now, and you have the basics pretty well covered. I would say that you should get an all-in-one printer. Mine’s been great. And, if you have a package that includes long distance, even better. When I need to send a fax, I simply swap out the phone cords until I’m done. And, I was able to take depreciation on it, since I use it for my home office.

    Also, for international calls, I like Skype. It is MUCH cheaper than using the landline. If you make a lot of international calls, I suggest getting a Skype account. Sign up is free, and you can load up as much as you want in pay as you go for the ability to call land phones in other countries. I’ve saved hundreds (going on thousands) of dollars doing this. And many international folks also have Skype, so in some cases it is free.

    The other thing I’m getting excited about is the GTalk video feature. I’m experimenting with interviewing other people who have gmail “face-to-face” for stories I’m working on.

  2. Green Panda Says:

    Good practical tips. my father had his own business for awhile and used the garage as his space. I didn’t understand why he wanted to be alone, but he needed the space to help him focus on work.

    I’m surprised someone took the phone with them to the bathroom. You’re right – that is awkward!

  3. Bobbie Says:

    Good article! We work from home and our problem is that since the office is “just downstairs” we work a bit too much! The good news is that the kids are grown and out of the house so we CAN dedicate more time to work, otherwise, the family would suffer.
    One of the aspects we struggle with is working all day and going upstairs only to find that it’s DARK outside. Big bummer.
    Keep up the good work!

  4. That One Caveman Says:

    You can always use your computer as your “fax machine”. There are programs that will receive the fax via modem and save the document as PDF. You can also send faxes directly from your computer by using the fax as a “printer”. It’s a lot easier, quieter, and uses less paper than a traditional fax.

    Great article! I will keep these tips in mind when I proposition my boss to let me work from home after our baby is born.

  5. Frugal Dad Says:

    These are great tips! Now, if I could just convince my boss to let me work from home. Perhaps that’s an idea for a follow-up post?

  6. Mr. ToughMoneyLove Says:

    There are advanced multifunction machines that will receive and convert faxes to TIF files that are then emailed to your inbox. We use one at our office – we never print faxes. If you expect to receive lots of faxes, I recommend a solution of this type.

  7. Andy Says:

    Some excellent tips. Unfortnately I work at a company where the old school mentatility of working in the office is the only way to be productive applies.

    One thing I would definetly have in a home office is a big Whiteboard and calender.

  8. Taryn Says:

    I’d suggest MyFax”

    I’ve used it for about a year for my home-business. For ten dollars a month, you get to send 100 faxes and receive up to 200. They have other plans, but that is enough for me. Faxes come to your email inbox as .pdf files. It gives you a great backup without having to deal with the paper.

  9. Justin Says:

    One thing that is missing from your list is to make sure the family knows you are working and to leave you to your work as much as possible. One trap my wife fell into when I was working at home many years ago was believing that I had time to run errands because I was “home”.

    Now, throwing a load of laundry in is one thing that can be done on one of those breaks, running to the supermarket is completely different.

  10. Nicki Says:

    Great tips. I am a stay-at-home mom and find that some of these same things apply. There is a lot of self-motivation that goes on in order for my days to be productive. Establishing a routine and getting ready each morning are a big part. Thanks!

  11. Steve Says:

    Make yourself available more than you would at an office. You wouldn’t believe the things people will say if you are never available on your land line. Nothing is more annoying than calling a home based employee and not getting them on the phone. If you only take calls on your cell phone… don’t answer the phone when you are getting the kids off the bus or some other non work related task. Cubicle based employees get jealous real quick.

  12. Craig Says:

    Good tips. I work at home every now and then and sometimes find it hard to concentrate. Sometimes I split the time by going to the library for half the day, a nice, quiet separate location. I know technically that’s not home but you need to be able to concentrate on what you are doing. There are a lot of benefits at working where ever you want like saving gas, more efficient with time and errands, etc.


  13. frugalchick Says:

    I suggest that you contact your landline phone provider and inquire about their fax service. I’m with AT&T and I do have the option to add that service to my existing business line. It only costs $6/month. I will be activating this service soon but from I remember with my conversation with the phone rep, the fax # will be the same as my phone #. If a fax comes in while I’m on the phone, I won’t be interrupted. The faxes will be delivered into my inbox and if it’s spam, I can just delete it. No wasted paper and ink.

    As for taking the phone to the bathroom, the other party knows because of the echo!

  14. Doreen Orion aka Queen of the Road Says:

    I’ve worked at home for years and although I do much of what you say, I’m never dressed. To me, that’s just too much of a benefit of working at home and part of how I keep motivated not to have an outside office: I couldn’t go there in my PJs.

    I do take my cell phone into the bathroom, as I frequenty get emergency calls. But, I make sure any PJs (ie “work clothes”) I buy have a breast pocket, so that’s where the phone goes.

    Mute buttons ARE crucial. Unfortunately, I have a very vocal cat who likes to “work” with me. When people ask what that noise is, I just say, “Oh, someone brought her baby to the office.”

  15. Thedeise Says:

    These are great tips. I second the MyFax comment. I use it and love it. I have the same plan as the commenter which works for me.

  16. Make Friends, Earn Money Says:

    one of the biggest mistakes that people make is not to establish a working routine from the start. It’s important to assign your work hours just like you would at work and the points you make on this subject are right on the button.

  17. Workin' from Home Says:

    I have been working from home for 18 months. It gets easier over time. Your tips are great. I have a basement office with a door. The key to staying at home is availability. I am at my desk and logged in every morning before 8:00 am. I go up for a cup of coffee at 10:00 for 5 or 10 minutes. I eat lunch at 12:00. Coffee at 2:00, try to wrap up by 5:00 or 5:30. You get the idea. I use Skype all day long. For $5/month you get unlimited long distance in the US & Canada and your choice of local phone number for incoming calls (I got one for where my company headquarters is so it is a local call for my manager to call me). Voicemail is included. I also use the international as mentioned by the earlier post. You definitely need a fax-to-email service for incoming faxes and get an all-in-one machine for outgoing faxes and scanning documents to pdf for emailing, filing, etc. Of course, it is also a printer and copier. I actually keep two computers going all day. I have my company laptop for all the stuff I would normally do at the office and then I have my personal computer for running Skype, playing music, etc.

    I spent two years carefully making my case for working from home. I had all the technology in place and working (at my expense) and then asked to stay home a couple of days when I had a doctor appointment, my wife was sick, etc. I also found some great articles on the web about companies enhancing QWL for their employees and reducing costs by having employees work from home. I sent these articles to my manager. I also discussed it during my performance reviews. Having excellent performance reviews before you start talking about working from home is a good idea if your company culture is focused around everybody being onsite. It also helps to have a job that doesn’t require a lot of face-to-face. In my case, most of my time was already spent on the phone and computer so it was not a giant leap.

    Working from home is very enjoyable for me. I don’t mind being somewhat alone and skipping the commute is awesome. I save money (even paying for my own “technology” costs), and I get more time with my family. My productivity is every bit as good or better than in the office.

    Finally, don’t brag about it to your coworkers. Most of the people I interface with, even from my own company, don’t realize I work from home. Keep it as transparent as possible.

  18. Bark Off for Dogs Says:

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