This article was originally published on October 16, 2014.
SOME START OUT WORKING REMOTELY, SOME ACHIEVE THE RIGHT TO WORK REMOTELY, AND SOME HAVE WORKING REMOTELY THRUST UPON THEM.
I recently had major ankle surgery. This meant that I was going to have to spend a significant amount of time working from home. The situation spurred lively debate among my friends as to the nature of telecommuting, spanning a range of vehement opinions: from “You’ll get so much done without people lurking around your desk,” to “I don’t know how you would do that and notwatch Game of Thrones all day.”
I personally hadn’t ever spent an extended period of time working from home—and on top of that, was a relatively new hire—so I was slightly worried about setting up new workflows and processes that would maintain momentum across my various projects.
All the same, the ankle business was moving forward, and I had to figure it out. Post-surgery, I set up my ice machine, laptop, external monitor and wireless mouse (hamster?) and got to work. From home.
And upon further investigation, I found that I was not alone in my solitude! A Census Bureau report released last year found that some 13.4 million people (9.4 percent of U.S. employees) worked from home at least one day per week in 2010. The number of people working from home multiple days per week grew nearly 80 percent between 2005 and 2012.
13.4 million people (9.4 percent of U.S. employees) worked from home at least one day per week in 2010.
[...]Is productivity amplified or diminished when folks are working remotely in pajamas? Are they missing out on some secret creativity sauce singularly sparked by in-person interaction? Can a distributed team collaborate and communicate as effectively as one that regularly works from the same place?
Now that I’m back in action and bonking doors out of my way with my crutches, I realize that I accomplished more during my work-from-home days than I normally did at the office.
I attribute a good portion of this productivity bump to the fact that I’m a bit of an introvert. My home office was naturally introvert-friendly, devoid of various people milling about (barring burglars) and spontaneous conversations (barring gregarious burglars). The home office is one extreme on the open-plan office/private workspace scale; physical barriers and a sense of psychological privacy are closely linked with better job performance.
At home, it was easier to design my own schedule. I was able to adhere to many trendy tenets of productivity:
- tackle the tough stuff first
- stick to single-tasking
- use the 2-minute rule
- do not, under any circumstances, start your day by checking email (in fact, limit your otherwise compulsive email-checking to a few times a day in batches)
I was knocking out assignments with unprecedented speed. I felt more energized throughout the day, even during the customary mid-afternoon zombie period.
These results are actually typical of my telecommuting compatriots’ experiences. In fact, working from home is correlated with significant performance increases and improved work satisfaction, as well as improvements in overall quality of life. The option to telecommute at least some of the time begets employees who are both happier and more productive.
The journey to becoming a member of this happy, productive, pajama-sporting group, however, is wrought with pitfalls. Here are a few strategies from a newly minted virtual worker that will help you avoid the telecommuting traps and make the most out of your situation:
SET UP A SPECIFIC WORKSPACE
I’m a big believer in setting up different contexts for different activities. Don’t wake up and start working from your bed. Go over to your desk (or your dining room table, or whatever surface we’re working with) and declare it your workspace. Work there. Are there certain books or quotes that spark your creative thinking? Surround your workspace with those positive triggers to generate more ideas (seriously).
At the end of your workday, don’t forget to leave your workspace at the same time you would leave your office.
STICK TO A SCHEDULE
The lack of a defined schedule at home can often be a slippery slope, and it’s wise to set specific start and end times for your workday (and stick to them!).
That being said, use your flexible schedule to your advantage! Design a daily routine that truly enhances your productivity. Circadian rhythms are often the culprit of the dreaded mid-afternoon slump; perhaps you can designate a short break around 3:00 p.m. for exercise, meditation or a nap to feel more energized.
Use your flexible schedule to your advantage! Design a daily routine that truly enhances your productivity.
I like to further break up my schedule to manage my mental energy, remaining cognizant of the fact that every hour of the day is not created equally. For instance, I set aside time every morning to work on anything that requires extensive writing or creativity, and I save the more automatic tasks for after lunch. Furthermore, I’m often working with a number of different companies at once, so having a set schedule allows me to focus on one set of related tasks at a time, rather than experience the productivity-killing effects of constantly switching between projects and contexts. Design your home workday to suit the types of tasks you’re usually working on and stick to it!
ACTIVELY STAY IN THE LOOP
The theory behind the prototypical modern workplace, in which desks are spread across open floors or arranged in pods, is that frequent informal interaction between colleagues results in increased creativity and subsequent breakthrough ideas. It follows that the major concern with remote workers is that ideas won’t be able to percolate effectively across a distributed team; companies often fear a loss of creativity and innovation fueled by in-person interaction.
It’s important to actively stay in the loop with your colleagues and balance increased productivity at home with making time for in-person interaction. Can you work from the office one day a week, or even just schedule a weekly face-to-face meeting with colleagues (and follow it up with an informal lunch)?
Balancing the productivity factor (accomplishing more at home) with the creativity factor (interacting informally with colleagues every so often) is critical to optimal job performance.
I never would have considered the option to work remotely if it hadn’t been thrust upon me by a particularly persistent injury. If you do have the option to work from home, consider testing the waters—you might find it to be a productive change of scene.
Enjoy the insta-commute!
A version of this article was originally published on Fast Company.
* * *
How do you take advantage of your work-from-home schedule? Any tips for novices? Tell us in the comments.