Discover How to Effectively Work in a Home Office, Whether Long-Term or Short-Term
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
I recently celebrated twenty years of working from home. For the first year I divided my time between my home office and a traditional office. I followed that with a couple more years that included travel. But for the last sixteen years I’ve worked exclusively from home. It’s an ideal arrangement, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, I doubt I could ever return to a job that required me to go into an office to work each day.
Here are some of the key considerations to make a work-at-home scenario a success.
A key element to effectively work from home is to have a dedicated workspace you can call your own. For me, an unused bedroom became my office. When I’m in my home office, I work. When I leave, I stop.
But not everyone has a spare room they can take over. If that’s the case, can you carve out a corner in another room? Can you make a room multifunctional, where it works as an office during office hours and serves as family space the rest of the time? Regardless, the goal is training yourself so that when you go to your office—whatever it may look like—you’re conditioned to work and not do anything else.
Having a workspace without distractions is ideal, but it’s not always feasible. In that case, the goal is to reduce distractions is much as possible. Remove everything from your home office that you don’t need for work. This includes televisions, radios, and books. Delete games from your computer, as well as other programs that don’t facilitate work.
Many home workers buy a white noise machine, turn on a fan, or listen to instrumental music so they can tune out household activities that may occur as they’re trying to work. If you have an office door, close it. Post office hours in your work area. Then enforce them.
Establish expectations with family and friends. When I began working at home, I told our young children that until 5 p.m. they were not to interrupt me for any reason unless they were sick or bleeding. That did the trick. Other family members were a bit harder to train, but the point is to insist that your family and friends respect your time in your home office as sacred and not assume you’re available for nonwork activities. This also means not answering your home phone or taking personal calls while you’re working.
Just as when you work in an office location and have a series of steps you do before work and after work, do the same for your home office. Though it’s quite feasible to do so, don’t work in your pajamas. It conditions you to not take work seriously or put forth your best effort.
Also, don’t eat meals or snacks in your office. Eat breakfast before you arrive, enjoy supper afterward, and leave your office for lunch. Doing so promotes focus, priority, and professionalism.
An effective office requires tools. First up is a fast and stable internet connection. I can’t think of a job you can do from home for long without internet access. Get the best that you can afford, and don’t let online access hinder your success when you work from home.
A slow or buggy computer is another detriment. Every second of delay or frustration at your computer provides time you’re not being productive. The seconds add up to minutes and minutes add up to hours. Again, get the best computer you can afford. Install all the same programs on your home computer as you have at the office. Don’t skimp.
Also look for tools that you may not use in your workplace office, such as Skype or Zoom so that you can connect with your coworkers as needed.
If you’re work-at-home situation is direct contact center work, then your scheduler will tell you when to work. Easy-peasy.
For everyone else, establish your own schedule, just as you would in a workplace setting. You start at a specific time, end at a specific time, and take time out for lunch and breaks. The rest of the time you should be in your office working.
The converse of this is outside of your work schedule you should not be in your office working. This takes us to the final consideration.
We often talk about work-life balance. Though always a critical consideration, balance looms as an even bigger concern when you work and live in the same place. This means segregating your work from the rest of your life, even though both happen at the same location. Some people prefer the word compartmentalize: to place work in one mental compartment and your home life in another.
If you suddenly find yourself working at home, put these tips into practice as soon as possible. Then you will experience a successful, enjoyable, and effective situation.
If you’re planning to one day work at home, put these steps into place before you start. It will make all the difference.
When done right, working at home can increase productivity, decrease stress, and improve your enjoyment of your work. Though you might now be working at home as a temporary solution to a problem outside your control, you might find the results so beneficial that you want to turn working at home into a permanent scenario.