Working from home comes with a huge upside, along with some risks. You don’t have to commute and probably don’t even have to get dressed for work, but being at home has drawbacks, too.
Not only is your house full of distractions, it’s not a typical workplace. That can make it hard to stay focused and easy for family members or friends to forget that even though you are home, you’re still working.
Our panel of Motley Fool contributors has significant experience working from home. All three have learned things that you can apply to your experience doing the same.
Working from home isn’t always easy.
Keep a routine and have a workspace
Jason Hall: Working from home can be amazingly flexible. But it can be too flexible and encroach into other parts of your life more than you may want, and even create unnecessary conflict. Furthermore, if you have family or roommates, you may need to implement a few house rules to define when you are “at work” and when you’re “at home.”
Two ways I do this in my own situation is by adhering to somewhat regular “office hours,” and maintaining an actual home office. If I’m in my office during these hours, my family members know I’m at work and not to ask me to come watch kitten videos on YouTube.
By adhering to regular hours, I have a routine that helps me be more productive during work hours when my family isn’t home, so I’m not working when they are here. And by having a dedicated workspace, I literally go to work when I’m in my office.
My exact routine won’t fit everyone, but having a work routine and spaces dedicated to doing your work will almost certainly pay off with more productivity and less intrusion into the rest of your life.
Check in with your colleagues
Maurie Backman: As a writer who works from home full time, it’s easy enough for me to exist in a bubble. After all, my job is to do research, create content, and edit my work to ensure that it reads reasonably well. None of these tasks are collaborative. Sure, there are various editors tasked with proofreading my work, and there are people I’m required to update on various assignments. But for the most part, I can easily spend days on end interacting with no one.
That’s why I like to make a point of checking in with various colleagues on a weekly basis. First of all, I happen to like my colleagues, and I genuinely want to know what’s going on in their lives. But also, keeping those communication lines open helps me do a better job.
The other week, I happened to send a colleague a quick note to say hello, and he replied with an article idea he thought I’d want to run with. Another time, I was emailing a colleague when he asked me for advice on a story. In giving that advice, I realized I could shift the focus of one of my articles to make a more compelling point. Maintaining relationships with colleagues is important no matter what line of work you’re in, so if you happen to do your job from home, make an effort to stay in touch.
Set ground rules
Daniel B. Kline: As I write this, a locksmith is fixing the lock on the front door of our condo. That’s a perk of working from home because I did not have to take time off to get that work done. I’m also able to pick my son up at the bus every day around 3:45 p.m., and I’m able to have dinner nearly finished as my wife gets home.
That flexibility, however, can easily be taken advantage of. I need to work in order to get paid. And if you ask me to drop you off at the airport or take you to a doctor’s appointment, I can do that, but I have to make up the time to make up the lost income.
Because of that, I have strict ground rules when it comes to doing things that aren’t work during work hours. Basically, if you would not ask someone with a traditional job to do it, don’t ask me.
Of course, I make exceptions for my wife and son, and I’ve been known to pick my mother up at the airport. But for the most part, if you wouldn’t ask me to do it if I had “real job,” then I won’t do it just because I can.