Mary Smith sits at her computer finishing an article for the local newspaper. Jeremy Rogers hits “send,” and a problem on a computer over a thousand miles away is solved. DeeDee Ankins uses her computer to check inventory for a small company she started two years previously. Dennis Franks clicks on “print,” and his novel spews from the laser printer in a corner of his office. The one thing all four people have in common, they all work from home. Whether self-employed , a writer, or a remote employee for a company, people working at home will face different problems than found in the workplace and must set ground rules for others and themselves.
A person must first decide why to work out of the home. A writer may not have any choice, or someone starting her own company may not afford office space somewhere else. But all who work at home need strong motivation because working at home is in effect taking on another job, a second job. More possible interruptions will occur; family needs will interfere; friends will consider a home-worker as mainly at home and not working.
First, a home-worker needs a well-prepared, separate work place: the more separated from family areas, the better. However, no matter where located, a person needs a productive work space with needed storage and organizational items.
Tools for telecommunicating, writing, keeping files, and other needs include a computer with enough memory and accessories for the job. Internet access has become a must for researching, networking, and/or connecting to a corporate network. A phone so that colleagues, customers, or managers can reach you are essential.
The person must set goals and adhered to them. Realizing those goals will help one keep to the goal or goals and support his self-concept. One needed goal involves time management: a worker loses control of time when working at home. Until a routine is thoroughly ingrained, many times late nights become the norm as a person tries to make up time lost during the day. Therefore, a major goal should be setting a routine.
A routine or schedule will help a person keep focused, allow others to know when to interrupt and when not to, create a more professional environment. Some strategies for creating a routine include the following:
Start working at the same time every day. According to Karen McCoy in “Rules for Writing at Home,” it may be possible to write all day in pajamas, but that won’t be conductive to productivity. “You don’t necessarily have to put on a dress and high heels (especially if you’re a guy), but getting showered and dressed will make you feel more professional.” She does on to say that children will appreciate a parent picking them up after school without wearing bunny slippers.
Therefore, get up, get dressed, and start work just as you would if reporting to an off-site job.
Set a schedule. Working away from home means sticking to a schedule, one established by someone else. Working from home does give flexibility, but a person needs to set up a schedule around other appointments and family needs without compromising job time. Yes, sometimes the routine is disrupted, and time has to be made up later at night or on weekends. However, adhering to the schedule as closely as possible will result in more being accomplished.
Limit distractions. A few ways for home workers to limit distractions include controlling the telephone, pretending not to be home, and learning to say no.
1. Controlling the phone may mean turning off the ringer if possible. However, not hearing the phone ring may not be an option. Another idea would be having an answering machine so that calls can be screened. If voice mail is used to take messages, then a person needs to check messages regularly. Another suggestion, a home-worker can set certain times when calls will be accepted and/or returned.
2. For a person to pretend not to be home might be the hardest decision to make. However, someone working in an office away from home wouldn’t jump up and load the dishwasher, run the vacuum, or do a load of laundry. When working at home, the worker needs to have times for housework separate from job, writing, or corporate work.
3. Some people have the idea that anyone who “works” at home isn’t really working. Home-workers are often asked to volunteer, babysit, or take on other obligations. The home-worker shouldn’t feel the need to explain the reason for refusing. Anyone too busy should never take on more responsibility unless it’s wanted.
Finally, home-workers, as those who work on-site, need to realize that sometimes schedules and routines are temporarily broken, that distraction happen and are unavoidable. Unless the worker has a deadline, accepting the unexpected and adjusting the amount of production is the only alternative. If a deadline does loom, then the worker has to adjust work hours and do without sleep, if necessary, to make it.
Working at home has advantages and disadvantages. A person has to weigh the two and make the decision that works better for her.
1. Jay Massey, “The Realities of a Work-at-Home Dad,” Slowlane.com
2. Karen McCoy, “Rules for Writing at Home,” ByLine July/August 2006, page 6
3. Armelle O’Neal, “Tips for Working at Home,” http://www.microsoft.com/AtWork April 26, 2005