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6 Tips to Stay Productive and Engaged While Working From Home

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Young man working or studying at home

Over the past year, we have both found ourselves in a situation that’s becoming increasingly familiar to the American worker. Rather than wake up late and dash out the door to beat rush hour traffic, we simply roll out of bed, throw on a pot of coffee and turn on our computers. That’s because we’re telecommuters and work partially or totally from a home office.

Sound perfect to you? Hold on a second. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Sure, there are plenty of perks to working from home, but it can also be full of challenges.

Having navigated the telecommuting waters ourselves, we put our heads together and came up with the following tips to help you deal with life in your home office.

1. Try Co-working

Co-working arrangements allow freelancers and telecommuters to rent space in an office by the day, week, month or year. The agreements vary widely: some offices have permanent desk spaces and private rooms for meetings, while in others you might share a desk with someone else. But they all offer the perks of an office: wireless Internet, printers, coffee, and most importantly, a place to be out and about in the world with other people. Many telecommuters have found that co-working not only helps their productivity, but has increased their opportunities for networking, partnerships, and possible job opportunities.   This wiki is a good resource for finding a location and co-working arrangement near you. (Thanks to @caligater for the info!)

2. Establish Regular Call Times

One of the hardest parts of telecommuting for many, especially those who are extroverts, is the loneliness factor. Because you don’t go into the office, you can find yourself going hours, days or even weeks without seeing another human being. If you’re not careful, telecommuting can lead to a feeling of total isolation and cabin fever (especially during the winter when there’s a foot of snow on the ground).

So next time you need to talk to someone in the office or a client, don’t email them. Pick up the phone and call, or better yet, schedule a quick chat on Skype. The human interaction will do you good, and you’ll also get two side benefits: 1.) a chance to strengthen the relationship with the coworker or client you don’t see every day, and 2.) the opportunity to get useful updates that might not come up over email.

3. Pick Times to Visit the Office (If Possible)

It’s true, thanks to the cloud, you really don’t have to work in an office anymore. But that doesn’t mean that telecommuting can totally substitute for good old face-to-face interaction. If your office is close to where you live, talk to your boss about having a few set days when you come into work. If you work remotely from another state, find out if your company will be willing to fly you in several times a year. Depending on the size of your office, there may be a designated space you can use, or an office or desk you can share with other telecommuters (this is sometimes referred to as hot-desking). This will allow you to set up meetings with fellow team members, attend any training or information sessions your company is holding, and get out of the house.

4. Designate a Comfortable Workspace At Home

Sure, you could grab your laptop and work from your bed all day, but in the long run it can increase your risk for back, neck, hand or wrist strain injuries. The best setup is to have an ergonomic chair, elevated laptop stand (if you have one), a ergonomic mouse, a separate keyboard, and a desk that ideally doesn’t double as your kitchen table. Along with physical health benefits, a designated workspace can help you focus on work, and feel more like you are in the office.

5. Have a Backup Plan

It’s the deadline of a giant project for your biggest client. But somehow, everything around you is crumbling. The dog is barking incessantly. You cannot get a good signal on your phone. Your computer shuts down and won’t turn back on. A neighbor is hammering and drilling next door. Your printer runs out of ink. Your Internet slows down and finally cuts out. Having a backup plan is necessary if nightmare scenarios arise. Your plan could include going into the office, heading to a quiet public place with Internet, or going to a copy center to print documents. Make sure to constantly save your work and backup your emails– if something can go wrong, chances are it eventually will! You can use a site like JiWire to find WiFi near you.

6. Set Your Work Schedule

One of the biggest challenges that people working from home face is that since they don’t have a commute, it can be difficult to designate set work times. When you are working alone from home, it is easy to lose track of time. You turn on your computer at 8am instead of 9 a.m., and then suddenly it is 7 p.m. and you’ve just worked 11 hours. Setting firm hours that align with your company policy will help mold your daily routine, as well as save your sanity.  Also, just like being in the office, it is important to take a lunch break away from your desk if possible. It will refresh your mind and body.

Kristen Creager and Noel Rozny are part of the Brazen Life Contributor Network.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Whitney Parker

    This was great advice! As someone new to telecommuting full-time I’ve found it has some interesting challenges that I didn’t expect!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Whitney! I’m trying for the

    • Anonymous

      Third time to comment … yes, when I started telecommuting I had no idea that there would be a downside, but over time, I’ve gotten a lot better at adjusting!

  • http://twitter.com/R8chel_Marie Rachel Howe

    Very nice article. In the past I’ve had issues staying focused and on task working at home as an Milwaukee SEO and digital media business owner, http://yoursocialresource.com, so I knew I had to change something around.

    I recently came across an interesting website, http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/. The “pomodoro technique” is a supposed to be a good way to get the most out of time management. I’m going to try and implement it as much as I can into my work schedule.

    Your advice will surely help as well, thank you!

    -Rachel

    • Anonymous

      That site, and the concept, is awesome! (Especially because pomodoro sauce is my favorite.) Thanks for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/kontrary Rebecca Thorman

    I totally agree with the loneliness and back issues bit! I really wish I had a fancy ergonomic chair at home and a coworker :) I definitely need to get out to the coffeeshops more and some of the remote/freelance groups. I agree that it helps to talk with your coworkers and boss often. I have a weekly scheduled call with my boss and talk to one of my coworkers daily on gchat and phone. Great post, girls!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Rebecca! I’m really interested in trying one of those co-working opportunities too!

  • http://ariekusumaatmaja.wordpress.com ariekusumaatmaja

    Thanks for the great article! Can you recommend me the best elevated laptop stand, ergonomic chair, and the desk?

    I use Macbook Pro 15 inches, my body height is 175cm (5′ 8.9″). My back, neck, hand and wrist strain injuries have gone so bad. I must exercise regularly.

    I once bought a comfortable chair and that only lasted for a year, it’s broken already. I guess that’s the price for “only” IDR 2m (USD 234.27), I bought it when I was in Jakarta.

  • http://kristencreager.com Kristen

    Thanks for the comments guys! I found a leather ergonomic chair for $5 on Craigslist, when a Beverly Hills office was going out of business. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars!

    I’m not 100% sure on the desk and stand, but I recommend a separate mouse and keyboard for the best setup.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with Kristen! You don’t have to spend a lot. I prefer to stand and work, so I literally prop my lap top up on an old U.S. Post Office mail bin that works with my height and the height of my desk. I think the key thing you want is to try and and be facing straight at your screen (so you’re not looking down or up, which strains your neck) and so you’re elbows aren’t angled up or down when you’re typing.

  • http://www.popzy.com popzy

    I’ve been telecommuting for the past 2 years and during the first 6 months I swore that I had Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. I could hardly focus at home, yet in an office setting I was detail-oriented and focused. I wish I had read this article last year! Great material! I will definitely be visiting this site again.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks! I also had a hard time in the beginning; especially because it was winter and I was shut up in the house. Having a mix of telecommuting and in-office days definitely works best for me right now.

  • Athena

    Very well written blog! Everything is well said. I like the ideas very much. Keep posting good articles. =)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Athena! :) Is there anything in particular you’d like to hear about?

  • Anonymous

    Third time to respond to your comment! Tech fail on my part. Anyways, yes, when I first started telecommuting, I was SO excited. I didn’t anticipate but downs, but over time, I’ve adjusted my schedule and planning so I have more ups.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MorganBarnhart Morgan Barnhart

    Excellent advice, Noel! I admit, I’d rather email or text than pick up the phone, but at times when I yearn for that human interaction, I’ll try to set up a face-to-face meeting instead of over the phone.

    Also, studies have shown that actually getting dressed and ready for the day, will get you in the mind-set of ‘ready to work’ and you’ll have a more productive day.

    Great stuff!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/阳光/100002447380861 阳光

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  • http://www.cloudsuccess.com Matthew Robbins

    This is a great article – I’m in this situation myself and have tried a couple of the suggestions here however some of the others give me food for thought! Thanks

    • Anonymous

      So glad it was helpful! :)

  • Mili

    i’ve been working from home for a year now on my own start-up – which means no budget for co-working spaces and no alternative office to go. one thing i’ve found to be helpful (and easier to do in the warm summer months!) is to schedule lunches with friends or colleagues once a week and/or happy hours. this can really break up the routine and make you feel normal :)

    • Anonymous

      That’s a great idea! Especially because so many bars and restaurants do week day specials during happy hour, which are perfect if you’re on a budget! :)

  • http://twitter.com/roz_bennetts Roz Bennetts

    I can really relate to point #2 (the lonliness factor). I was running my own business for quite a while and one of the things I missed the most was the social interaction that comes from working in an office and being part of a team. Some good advice here.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Roz! I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who felt that way. My friends were envious that I could work from home, but the loneliness really got to me. Now I split my time between home and office.

  • http://CameronPlommer.com Cameron Plommer

    Really good tips. I’ve always sucked at working at home.

    One overlooked thing is having a decent desk and chair. Basically have an adequate environment to get into the work mindset is super important.

  • Anonymous

    All simple advice; all true. Take the laptop to a café, it will save your sanity. Even for just an hour; it helps.

    • Anonymous

      So true! Even an hour or two outside your house can help you reconnect with the world.

  • http://twitter.com/RealLifeE Elizabeth Saunders

    Excellent points!

    Here are some pointers for setting (and keeping) your work-at-home schedule:
    -Plan morning meetings or calls that will ensure you start on time.
    -Track your start and stop times on a daily basis (you can do this very easily in Excel)
    -Schedule social activities after work so that you have an incentive to stop.
    -Make activities like exercise or eating lunch a social activity.
    -Decide in advance on what are acceptable activities during work hours and personal time so you’re not tempted to do laundry during the day or check business e-mail at night.

    Your time coach,
    Elizabeth Saunders
    http://www.ScheduleMakeover.com

  • http://howtobecomeavet.co.uk Dimitrihouse

    If you are alone, I find that screaming at yourself hysterically usually helps.

  • Cedric

    Great post Noel, these tips will surely help me a lot to improve productivity while working from home. I also read time management write ups of David Allen (Getting Things Done). What I do to stay productive is I use this tool that helps me manage time efficiently. Using this tool I list my entire tasks on it, break large tasks to bits, organize each task depends on priority and set an estimated amount of time when working on each task. This is how I keep myself productive while working from home. The key that I can effectively follow scheduled task and finish it on time is with discipline. This way I can ignore work distraction and helps me stay focus to work. At the end of the day I feel great each time I see finished tasks.

    • Anonymous

      Great feedback and tips, thanks!!