While telecommuting used to be somewhat of a rarity, it is now a regular part of working life for many people. Indeed, some companies are now happy to employ full-time remote staff, or offer current staff the option to telecommute.
If you’re considering telecommuting, make sure you are ready before you dive in. A work-at-home job has many benefits, as long as you know how to prepare your home and your expectations.
1. Set up a professional, dedicated work space
You may have telecommuted occasionally, plopping the laptop down on the dining table with a few pertinent folders and a cellphone at hand. That was OK for a temporary work station. But if you’re doing this full time, you need a dedicated office space in your home.
Hopefully, you have the option of converting a room in your home into an office. If you don’t, can you build a space in the basement, or convert a large portion of a room into a work space? Room dividers and clever furniture placement can help. This needs to be somewhere that you use only for work, allowing you to easily separate it from your personal and leisure time.
What’s more, if you have a family, or live with roommates, you need to set solid boundaries for your telecommuting gig. Let them know that it’s extremely important for you to have a place to work without noise or distractions. Sometimes, it’s possible to shut out noise with a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones, or even ear plugs. But that is not ideal. And when you need to make a call, you have to be able to do it without background noise drowning out your voice.
2. Invest in the best equipment that you can afford
You may be lucky and get a telecommuting job that supplies you with a computer, phone, and other necessary electronics and equipment. On the other hand, you may have to go out and purchase these items on your own (although, remember this is a tax write-off).
However you get your equipment, make sure you have the best that you can currently afford. You are now on your own, without the help of an IT department or other specialist. You do not want to be at the mercy of old, glitchy equipment that could leave you in serious trouble at the worst possible time. Plus, get the latest software updates. Don’t try getting by on 10-year old versions of Microsoft Office.
You will also need to have excellent services to support this equipment. For starters, you’ll need a great, high-speed internet connection. You’ll also need good cellphone reception. If you’re getting a lot of dropped calls or interference, you will find it frustrating to communicate with the office and any customers you may deal with. In that case, look into signal boosters, or get a landline (VOIP is an excellent, and cheap, option).
3. Do not ditch your office attire completely
A lot of people think that when they get a work-at-home gig, they’ll swap the suits and professional clothing for jogging pants and a T-shirt. Depending on the kind of gig you are doing, that’s not always a good idea. If you’re in a very creative profession, you’ll be OK. But if it’s a more typical office job, something in sales, or anything that would require business attire on a daily basis, you should stick to something close to that dress code.
While people can’t see you, your attire can affect the way you work. You might feel more relaxed and laid back in lounge clothing, and that can impact your work ethic and your drive. You want to look and act the part at all times, even if your home office is in the corner of the guest room. The tie is optional, of course.
4. Set regular office hours for yourself
A work-at-home gig means a lot of flexibility. But, if you get into bad habits quickly, that flexibility can soon become a threat to your productivity and your livelihood.
The problem with a work-at-home job is the amount of freedom and distraction that comes with it. In an office environment, you have a work space, a boss, coworkers, and very little else to do but focus on the task at hand. At home, you are literally surrounded by the comforts of home. You have a living room, a TV, music, a kitchen full of food, a garden, and a bed … oh, what a cozy bed.
Fight the temptation to sleep in an extra hour, or take two hours for lunch. These can become dangerous habits. You won’t finish your tasks on time, or you’ll rush and produce sloppy work. Either way, you could soon kiss your telecommuting job goodbye, and all the perks that go with it.
So, set your hours, and stick to them. After a while, it will become second nature. And let your family and friends know that you’re at work, even though you’re at home.
5. Understand what your work-at-home role entails
This one can trip many people up, simply because the expectations they have might not align with those of their employer. If you’re truly working for yourself, and you’re your own boss, this will not be an issue. But if you are working for a company, you may discover that they have guidelines for you to follow.
For instance, you may need to be available at your computer and/or phone at certain hours throughout the day. They may want you to travel into the office for big meetings, or to organize presentations. They may want you to travel to different states, or countries, depending on the kind of work you do. You may have thought that work-at-home meant that you had the freedom to set your own hours, and never set foot in the office again, but that may not be the case. Get these conditions set in stone before you start the gig.
6. Find ways to socialize and connect during the day
This doesn’t mean dropping everything to hit the brunch buffet with your pals. But it is important for you to have some kind of interaction with other people during the day. You may think that these kinds of connections are not important, but isolation can set in quickly. In fact, many people cite the biggest downside of a work-at-home job is the loneliness.
See if you can set up an instant messenger with other people in the same line of work. If you are telecommuting for a company, get yourself on conference calls now and then, even if it’s just to feel like part of the team. You can even do video chats when you need help with something, or just want to kick off a project. Do what you can now to start social groups that can support you when you need them.