If you work from home, you’re likely to have encountered a fair share of misconceptions about your work life. Whether people kid you about working in your PJs or they assume that, without a boss hanging directly over your shoulder, you’ll be free for lunch so it’s totally cool to just drop by unannounced whenever, family and friends alike seem to think that working from home means…um…not actually working.
But you know that quite the opposite is true. In fact, working at home means being a little more strict with yourself than you were at the office. Here are a few of the most common problems work from homers encounter, and a few strategies for dealing with them.
1. Staying On Task
Sure, there are plenty of distractions in the office, but it’s not like you equate your office desk with relaxation. The same can’t necessarily be said for your home desk when the couch is just around the corner and the fridge is even closer.
• Email. While email may be your essential link to the office and clients, it’s also a major source of distraction. Checking that inbox is far more attractive than doing the task at hand, and even briefly reading an email can disrupt your concentration. To master that inbox, it’s best to process emails in batches at the beginning and end of the day, so that you can work through them just like you would any other task. You’ll also be best served by immediately filing, filtering, or responding to email rather than keeping it sitting in that inbox and hanging over your head. Browse through this email guide for a few more tips on mastering your inbox.
• Work Area. In case you’re wondering, no, it’s not okay to work from the couch. Set aside an area of the house that is all business, whether it’s an office or a nook. Keep it clutter free, and don’t do anything else there, no matter how tempting it might be. The goal here is to have your brain instantly say, “It’s time to get serious” the moment you walk through the door rather than, “Why don’t we switch on the TV?”
• Home Life. Just like the actual space you in which you work, it’s important to keep home life out of your work life. That can mean anything from getting a babysitter to bringing in another remote worker to keep you from getting distracted, or even going to a library or coffee shop.
2. Slow Internet
One of the nicest things about working in a real office: lightning fast internet speeds. Not so at home, unless you want to pay a hefty price for enterprise level service. That said, as this networking guide shows, there are still a number of things you can do to speed that internet back up.
• Choose Your Bandwidth Hoggers Strategically. If the kids are streaming Netflix in the next room while you’re trying to have a Skype meeting, you’re almost guaranteed to drop the call. Put the movie on hold.
• Limit devices. Chances are, it’s not just your computer that’s connected to your router. If the internet is running slowly, unplug that flatscreen TV, that tablet, your e-reader, and any other devices that might be lurking around unseen.
• The router. That basic G router (if you have no idea what type of router you have, check out this guide onhow to buy a router) might have done the job when you were just using your home internet to check email, but you’re going to need an N, N Dual Band or AC router for the best audio and video streaming across devices.
• Bandwidth vampires. If your wireless doesn’t have a good or any password at all, get one. Bandwidth vampires may be downloading large and illegal files on your network.
3. Managing Time
When you’re deciding your own schedule, it’s tempting to say, “Eh, I’ll wing it.” But doing so is the best way to get off track.
• Make a regular schedule. And follow it. Get up at a regular time and know when to call it quits. Make a to-do list for every day. Don’t try to pump out one more edit to an RFP before putting the kids to sleep. Save it for when that task is scheduled, and give yourself life-work balance.
• Let everyone know you can’t come for lunch. If you’re just starting to work from home, be firm when friends and family members try to get you to do things during work hours, whether they’re fun or a chore. Once you set the precedent, you can add in a few lapses here and there.
• Track your time in the cloud. Use a tool like Toggl or Harvest to track your time down to the minute and bill accordingly without having to enter your data in multiple places. This will also give you a good sense of how you’re spending your time and how you can become more efficient.
When you’re working remotely, using a cloud service to collaborate with colleagues is essential. You’ll save yourself a ridiculous amount of time when you stop sending multiple versions of files back and forth and when colleagues can edit and comment in one spot. Services like Dropbox, Google Drive and Windows Live Sky Drive will make you feel like you’re right in the office, able to access and edit any file you need from the device of your choosing. What’s more, cloud services make for reliable and instantaneous backup, so you won’t have to worry about losing that big presentation.
5. In-Person Meetings
Sometimes, there’s just nothing as effective as face-to-face communication. While there are a number of meeting apps out there, Skype is always a great way to go for one on one chats, and hangouts on Google Plus are a casual and effective way to see everyone in a room. Plus, if you’re using the Google suite of cloud products, you’ll be directly integrated with the rest of the materials you need to be productive, meaning it will be easy to enter notes into a Google Document or share a file loaded up to Google Drive. No matter which platform you choose, it’s important that you firmly establish your presence so that your colleagues remember how crucial a member of the office you really are. It sounds simple, but making sure to say hello and goodbye at the beginning and end of a meeting rather than slinking out when you’re bored or distracted will go a long way towards doing just that.
Working at home really can provide an ideal lifestyle, just as long as you overcome a few hurdles. So get yourself out of those pajamas and get to it!