Whether you are an independent contractor working for a company or leading teams, working from home can be a real challenge for those new to it. Yet today more than ever before technology makes it not only possible but extremely viable as a long term staffing solution for many businesses.
The advantages of working from home for employees and managers are the flexibility of being at home, zero commute times and a relaxed work environment. For employers, having staff work from home reduces office costs, increases the potential employment pool and can build a resilient and flexible workforce.
The disadvantages for workers are often social isolation - not being able to have face to face meetings with team members but also not meeting casually with others and gaining cross-group synergies. Other disadvantages include a distractible work environment, potentially reduced productivity (though most studies show the opposite), and reduced impact of corporate culture to influence organizational loyalty and liking.
Let’s talk about how to set up a work at home office to maximize the advantages while minimizing the disadvantages. There are two main areas we need to focus on, the work environment: which includes addressing the physical needs but also the psychological needs of the worker, and the technological: which includes all the technology required to effectively do the job and be a part of an organization.
Having a dedicated place to work is important. One extremely important aspect of working from home is being able to separate work time from personal time. Some people can do that with a laptop from anywhere but most of us, especially if you are new to working from home, require a more dedicated space. Having a room or part of a room set up for work will help you put your mind in the right place to associate that space with work.
Equally important is having an understanding with those with whom you share a space. When you are working, others should treat you as if you are away at work. Having partners or kids interrupt your working time because you are home can derail efforts. Be sure to discuss your plans and needs with those around you and review them as necessary.
A third consideration, especially if you are new to working from home, is to set up a regular schedule and stick to it. Depending on the job, it’s all too easy to find yourself working at odd hours of the day, work too much or not enough and find yourself with an unbalanced life. Starting with a strict schedule can help establish good work habits in an otherwise flexible environment. As you and those around you get used to your working from home you will naturally find yourself in a routine that works but don't assume that will be easy if you don’t plan for it.
The second major hurdle when working from home is in getting all of your technologies set up. Some jobs may require only a phone while others may need to integrate seamlessly with a larger organization's IT infrastructure. Having your computer technologies, access to the relevant software and a stable internet connection is the start of any decent work at home environment.
The most common technologies today focus on communications. I led a team on hundreds of work from home contractors in the early 2000s. We didn’t have nearly the number of options available today nor were they as reliable as most of today’s options. Not only did we make it work, but we also did so seamlessly. Today you have lots of choices. Voice over IP (VOIP) telephone technology can integrate a homeworker into a larger organization and allow seamless call integration. A caller could call an organization where all employees are at home but still function as if they are in the same building. For teams, video chat programs abound as do group text chat. Team apps like group chats are central to creating virtual workgroups. It’s important to allow your corporate culture to shine here as if you were in a physical environment. That means being prepared for nonwork conversations but also in not allowing those to hijack productivity.
Another extremely helpful bit of technology involves scheduling and tracking your time. If you work for someone else, your company will likely do this for you. However, if you work for clients or customers, managing your schedule and knowing what time was spent with what client becomes vital. Some will be fine with a simple calendar app while others may want to have something that allows clients to schedule and track project time. The good news is that there are lots of capable options out there accessible with a simple Google search.
Working from home requires a bit of flexibility. Don’t fall into the trap that everything must be perfect right from the start. You will quickly discover that some things need to be changed. When you do, make plans to change them. For example, if you discover you need a better solution for billing, do your research or talk to a consultant to see what the best options for you might be. Don’t stress it. Improve as you go.