Can you work from home?

The Aumnia OfficeTelecommuting and remote working options continue to grow in popularity. It begs the question, can you be effective working from home?

My answer – it depends.

I spent the first 14 years of my career working in an office. I never worked from home and was opposed to having people in my group do it. Back in that time (prior to 2005), the lack of broadband connectivity and communication tools made it difficult for people to get their jobs done when they weren’t in the office. In my mind, working from home wasn’t an option.

When I started my own company in 2006, working in an office was a luxury we couldn’t afford. I was forced to work from home to get things started.

At first, working from home felt like liberation. There was no time lost commuting, getting lunch was a simple walk to the kitchen, and I was never late for dinner. On the other hand, the distractions were numerous. Home projects that waited until after work or the weekend called for immediate attention, family members interrupted with non-work related questions, and household noise (especially from the kids during the summer) made concentrating difficult.

It took me the better part of two years to figure out how to be productive working from home. Here are some lessons I learned:

  • Establish a work schedule and stick to it. Don’t fall into the trap of working strange hours. A regular work schedule helps with the discipline of when you are “at work” and when you are “at home”.
  • Let family members know your work schedule. Set times with your family when you are “at work” and when you are “at home”. I’m aware of someone who went as far as to close his door when he was working and have family members call him on the phone during “work hours” to talk. I’m not suggesting it needs to be this radical, but family members need to respect work time vs home time.
  • Dedicate a place in the house for working. If you plan to work at the kitchen table where you eat, it won’t work. Pick a room, or even a desk, that is only used for work. A dedicated work space will put (and help keep) you in a working frame of mind.
  • Separate home computer from work computer. There are too many distractions on your home computer that can interfere with work – think games, browser favorites, being logged into social networking sites, chat programs, etc. A dedicated work computer reinforces the notion that you’re working when you’re on it.
  • Have a reliable, broadband internet connection. I would think that no further explanation is needed here.
  • Dress for work. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean staying in your underwear all day. Dress as if you were going to the office – it’s a psychological thing.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned that these work from home tips aren’t enough me. I started working in an office again last year, and my productivity has risen – both at work and at home.

While I can make telecommuting work, it’s not the best situation for me. I am most productive when I can physically separate work from home. I know other people have figured out how to be more productive when working from home, which is why I say “it depends” when someone asks me the question. It’s a decision you have to make based on your situation and work habits.

Maybe someday I’ll take another crack at working from home, but for now I’m going to stick with what’s working.

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