Any advice for a person new to working from home?
May 12, 2006 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Anyone have any tips on making telecommuting work?

On Monday, I start a job where I'll be working from home in Toronto. My boss will be in New York, while the company we both work for is in San Francisco.

Anyone have any specific hints, or tips or advice for making telecommuting work successfully, whether from a productivity standpoint, a separating work from home standpoint, or a maintaining a life when you have no actual need to ever step outside into the bright scary sunlight standpoint?

I work from home fairly regularly (one or two days a week) for my current employer, so I'm familiar with some stuff. But there's a huge difference between one or two days a week at home, and being several thousand miles from the office, and working from home every day.
posted by jacquilynne to Work & Money (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
These words were passed on to me by an old school freelancer: Take a shower every day.
posted by jedrek at 8:04 AM on May 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

get dressed every morning before you sit in front of your computer.

make sure everyone understands you hours and stick to them as much as possible.

get a gym membership or something to get you out after work.

meet friends for lunch/ picnic lunch if you get tired of eating out.

if you like dogs and would like to own one, this may be a good time to get one (assuming you could provide a good home in all the other important aspects)
posted by TheLibrarian at 8:13 AM on May 12, 2006

I don't work at home, exactly, but I work for an employer who has the main office in another state, and the people who are in the local office with me are not working on any of the same projects. So it's much like working at home.

* Religiously keep a log of what you do. Not too frequent, but not too sparse. I try to write a few paragraphs daily. In my case, I submit them to basecamp and people can read them at your leisure. For your situation it may be better to keep a daily journal which you submit once a week to your boss. It's really important that your company knows what you're working on, and that you ARE working. It's also handy for yourself.
* Take breaks, like you would at work. This may or may not apply to you but when I actually worked at home I tended to not take a full hour for lunch, since actually making and eating lunch might only take 10-15 minutes. Watch TV. Read a book. Leave the house for a while, something. It's easy to underestimate how much of a productivity boost you get from an hour of downtime.
* Keep work within work hours. It's so easy to get caught up and sit back down and do some more work at 10pm. Don't.
* Be honest with yourself. Most of the above stuff is made to help you do this. If you keep a regular 8 hour work day you won't fall into the trap of working less (or more) hours, spread out at random times. Keeping a log will keep you honest, and the days where you goofed off, you'll know.
* Encourage your employer to set regular short term goals for you. Have regular meetings, just to talk about what you're working on. Give demos. Do code reviews. All this stuff is a pain remotely but it's worth it. No matter how good of a worker you are, it is in the nature of people who do not see you daily to either forget you are around, or suspect you don't work hard enough. You are going to have to do stuff that a person working in the office would NOT have to do in order to keep the people at the office happy. Get acquainted with tools that will help you share stuff with people in the main office. I use microsoft netmeeting, webex, etc so that I can show people stuff I'm working on.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:14 AM on May 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

make sure everyone understands your hours and YOU stick to them as much as possible.

forgot some letters/words
posted by TheLibrarian at 8:14 AM on May 12, 2006

What I learned was that it was only possible when I had a dedicated home office I didn't mess with unless I was doing work (so, no games or goof off stuff in my office, that stuff is in other parts of the house). So my work space became my "office" in my mind and when I was sitting at my computer, I could get lots of serious work done.

Now, about the remote offices, the last place I worked was based in San Francisco, but I had coworkers in the midwest, boston, london, and germany. Our killer app was AIM and it was necessary for all the little office things you might say to one another in the same physical space (like "hey glenn, do you have a copy of the press release we're sending out tomorrow, I want to mark it up for the site ahead of time"). More urgent or detailed requests meant we would move from IM to a phone. We had weekly phone conference calls for meetings.

Personally, I found IM to be really effective as an office tool. Basically when anyone was online, they were at "work" and it became not only a communication device but also a presence tool ("I see that Nathan is up and working, I'll ping him about the python code after lunch").

Oh yeah, be sure to get out at least once a day into the real world so you don't lose basic human interaction skills. You may laugh, but a couple years ago I was holed up in my office for weeks barely ever venturing out and when I attended a party and couldn't make small talk with strangers, I knew I was out of practice with casual conversation so I started going out for lunch every day.
posted by mathowie at 8:23 AM on May 12, 2006

My advise is to be mindful of career development. If you have career goals within an organization or field, you may have to focus on their development more than normal. Towards that end, working at home makes continuing education easier by giving you more time.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 8:26 AM on May 12, 2006

You may laugh, but a couple years ago I was holed up in my office for weeks barely ever venturing out and when I attended a party and couldn't make small talk with strangers

My ability to chit-chat has gone absolutely down the crapper since I started working at home two years ago.
posted by jedrek at 8:35 AM on May 12, 2006

Make sure there's money budgeted for occassional trips to the home office so you can't in-person exposure with some of the people you work with and the bosses who are budgeting your paycheck. Once a quarter, a few times a year that kind of thing. My old boss said that was the most important thing when he was working about 1200 miles away from the nearest office.

I work from home a few times a month and sometimes I' don't actually stay at home. I'll work from a coffeehouse or somewhere where I'm out but still connected via IM, email and phone with those who need me.
posted by birdherder at 8:43 AM on May 12, 2006

From a career standpoint you are going to need to make an effort to maintain visibility with your cow orkers and bosses. I've seen it many times where someone who works at a remote office or from home is devalued and sometimes let go because people don't perceive them as being as valuable as the people who show up in the office every day.... regardless of how useless those people who are in the office actually are.

For that purpose you should remember that people don't make a personal association with email, they make it with voices. Find reasons to speak to people in the course of the day.
posted by phearlez at 9:04 AM on May 12, 2006

I've been working from home as a freelancer for about six years, and working as a staff editor for about a year, telecommuting.

1. Set a work schedule, and preferably confine work to a single room in your house. Otherwise, work starts to encroach on other parts of your home life, and home life starts to get in the way of work.

2. Set "office" hours, and live by them. If you live with other people, make sure they understand when you're "at work." Some people don't easily get the hint, and it can be very disruptive.

3. You don't say what kind of work you do, so if you're in sales or something this may not apply -- but I find phone calls very distracting. I use a call blocker to screen out telemarketers, and schedule calls that are work-related as much as humanly possible rather than taking them randomly. I'm a writer, so I value my uninterrupted quiet time greatly, your mileage may vary.

4. Not sure whether you need to keep a specific schedule or not, but I've found that getting "to work" early -- around 5 a.m. works very well. I'm more productive between 5 a.m. and 1 p.m. than I would be between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. for a variety of reasons.

I've found that freelancing is much easier than being a staffer in some respects when telecommuting. As a freelancer, communication between editors and myself was fairly uncomplicated -- whereas working with a team can be greatly complicated by distance.

Good luck with it, telecommuting is so much better than working in an office if you can make it work.
posted by jzb at 9:07 AM on May 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've been freelancing from home since 1990. My own work style has changed back and forth over the years, so clearly there are no hard and fast rules.

One thing that I've found helpful is to have a transition between gettin-up time and work time. Go out, go to a coffee shop, read the paper--or just go for a constitutional--then come home and get to work. Create a psychological demarcation in the day.

Get up and move around frequently. I'm easily distracted, so this isn't a problem for me.

Depending on the nature of your work, office, etc, it may be that you are actually more productive at home than the office, since there are fewer work distractions. On the other hand, you've got all those home distractions. You can kind of combine the latter into the breaks you should take anyhow.
posted by adamrice at 9:11 AM on May 12, 2006

Just a while ago Lifehacker posted a link to this interesting story on Training Yourself to Work at Home.
posted by soplerfo at 10:10 AM on May 12, 2006

My biggest issue when I was working from home was the TV. I needed to keep myself away from the TV in order to get work done.
posted by antifuse at 10:16 AM on May 12, 2006

I've been telecommuting for almost exactly five years. My advice:

- Spend some time formally beginning and ending your work day, since you no longer have the time spent travelling to and from work in which to get in and out of work mode. For me, this means an involved process of coffee-making in the morning, and a short walk or some errand in the afternoon.

- Make a point of leaving the house, every day if possible. Otherwise, you lay in some groceries, maybe a few movies, you get into your work, and suddenly you haven't left the house for three days. Not healthy. Take a walk, go look at the sunset - something, just so you have to get dressed and change scene.

- Expect to spend some time on the phone socializing with your workmates, or you'll lose track of what's going on in the company, and they'll lose track of you. There's a lot of stuff that floats around "in the air" before anyone commits it to email. It takes more work to stay "in the loop" when you don't hear all this just by being physically present.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:39 AM on May 12, 2006

One thing you'll miss is the way a (good) workgroup can have of keeping everyone focussed, upbeat, and moving forward.

Set goals, regularly share what you're doing with others, get something happening in your weekly sched that involves other people who will expect you to be there like lunch or coffee.
posted by scheptech at 12:55 PM on May 12, 2006

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