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Working From Home? The Telecommuter's Guide to Staying Productive

If you’re lucky enough to have a job that allows you to work from home, you’re aware of its many advantages.

However, any work-at-homer (WAH) also understands the unique challenges of getting the job done in the comforts of their own home. Establishing a productive work environment is essential.

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Here are a few key pointers below to help you achieve that goal.

Benefits of Working From Home

One of the most obvious perks of working remotely is the money-saving opportunities. Employees cut costs for gas, office clothing, and lunches. But employees aren't the only ones trimming fat. Research suggests employers save approximately $11,000 annually for each employee who telecommutes.

In addition to the monetary benefits of telecommuting, studies also show working from home increases productivity, improves morale, and reduces stress. A study from the University of Texas at Austin revealed telecommuters working 5-7 hours more than their in-office colleagues. Staples conducted a study in 2011 that found telecommuters were 25% less stressed than those in the office.

However, this is not to say working in the comforts of home is for everyone. Telecommuting requires discipline and assiduity.

Winning the Mental Battle

Thanks to technology (all hail the cloud!), telecommuting is becoming increasingly popular. According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, nearly a quarter of Americans work remotely at some point or another. Here's a surprising stat: Telecommuting is on the rise in other countries (China, India, UK, France and Germany). However, the U.S. leads with the number of employers who provide telework opportunities, according to a Citrix study.

Working at home is, first and foremost, a mental struggle. It requires discipline. This is especially the case if you have spent any time working in a formal office environment. We’re used to having a different mindset when we are at home in pajamas or in the office meeting with clients.

Working at home requires you to figure out how to “go to work” and turn on the business side of life, even if you’re walking into your homework area in slippers. A few tricks to get in the best work mode include:

  • Have work attire: While it’s great to be comfy at home, go through the process of changing from your pajamas in the morning. Even if you’re putting on very casual clothes, it’s useful to let your mind and body know it’s time to get into gear. This may go so far as to develop a routine that lets you pretend you are going to work in an office out of your home.
  • Set a plan and work it: Again, flexibility is a great part of the WAH life. However, flexibility is not synonymous with totally unstructured. The great wisdom in “plan your work and work your plan” is just as applicable at home as in the office. While you won’t put yourself on report for being late, it’s wise to set a fairly regular work schedule. You know when you’re most productive, so if that is 3 in the morning to 10 at night, that’s fine. Just treat your schedule as an important part of meeting your work priorities.
  • Give yourself planned breaks: Reward your discipline with breaks and the right distractions. You’ll work more efficiently if you draw a line between your work and play/rest.

Setting Boundaries

The importance of defining a workspace is vital to you and other members of your family. Get everyone used to treating your work area as something separate from your normal household activities. Points of control include:

  • Control the interruptions from family and friends: The biggest danger of working at home is people forgetting that work is a part of that equation. Let them know you have hours, and it is inappropriate to “drop in” as it would be at the office.
  • Control the TV and music: You may work best with music or even the TV on in the background. Or, you might be constantly distracted by these. Figure out which is best for your productivity and make that a part of your routine and work discipline.

There are many distractions at home as opposed to the workplace. Children, pets, and chores can easily divert attention from your work. Just like at a formal office, though, you should take breaks every now and then. That’s when you can take the dog for a quick walk or clean up the dishes that have piled up in the sink. But when you’re done, get back to work!

Do you telecommute at your job? What tips do you have for working at home?

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