Working at home: five tips to make it work
I've been working at home for over 2 years now, and while I do run my own freelance business at night, the bulk of my work time is spent working 8am-5pm for my employer (it has been two separate ones over the last 2 years). Working at home is a huge benefit and one that I enjoy very much. I can't imagine anymore having to work in an office for 40+ hours a week -- I'd go nuts.
Here are five things that I do to make working at home easier. Warning: These are slanted towards men and women with families since that is what I've got. If you are single or don't have kids then try to apply them to your life the best you can.
- Make a work schedule. This is probably the most important aspect of working at home. Since the lines can be blurred as far as work time and non-work time you need to create a schedule and discipline yourself to use it. Sit down with your spouse and decide this together (or sit down all alone if you are single). You should revisit this issue as often as necessary since your conditions at home are constantly changing. My wife and I seem to revisit this about every 3 to 6 months and we change it depending on work load, school, and other things that are going on in our lives. My current work schedule is:
6-8am: write and work on devtrench
8am-5pm: work for my employer
8:30pm-11:30pm: free lance work if I have it, development of my money making sites, or take the night off and spend it with my wife.
You have to be strict with yourself! I have a really hard time getting off the computer, so I've made this rule for myself: If I've put in my 8 hours for the day, I push the off button on my laptop at 5pm (it's set to hibernate my computer). That simple step took me over a year and a half to figure out, and I still don't do it every day, but I do it most days. Don't be a slave to your work, and try not to just get that last thing done, and then the next, and the next. Tim Ferriss's book, The 4-Hour work Week, really helped me out here and I strongly recommend that you read it if you are working at home.
- Get a separate phone. You are going to need a separate phone for work and the best arrangement for this is if you can get your employer to pay for it. This would most likely be a cell phone that you don't make personal calls on. If you can't get your employer to pay for it, then I suggest you get a cell phone and use that for all work related communication (since it's yours you can use it for personal use too if you want). It just makes it easier on your family if the main telephone you use isn't ringing off the hook during work hours, and you are the one answering your work related calls.
- Use your own stuff. For me this is a comfortability issue -- I just don't like the idea of bringing home a brand new laptop computer that my boss just bought me and then having my 4 year old daughter spill juice all over it. So I buy all of my own equipment, and I keep it when and if I quit or get fired. It definitely made the transition from my old job to my new one easier. I only ask my boss to buy me something if I can't afford it, and I make sure to mark it clearly that it is a work item. You don't want to be accused of stealing if you just couldn't remember what equipment you bought, and what your boss bought.
- Be extra responsible. Since you are working at home you are going to have to be extra responsible to gain the trust of your boss and coworkers. You'll need to keep and excellent record of your time (I use and excel spead sheet and track everything) and report to your superiors more than your coworkers might. I suggest writing an email once per week about what you are doing for the week, and then keeping your boss updated daily with little emails or IM. Don't leave them in the dark or their fears of you playing Playstation all day will start to haunt them.
- Spend your extra time with your family. This should have been number one, but I've left it for last. You don't commute, you don't go out with your coworkers for lunch, you don't have to spend an hour getting ready since you are working in your underwear, etc. So spend all of that extra time with your family. It is so cool that every morning I get to wake up and eat breakfast with my family every day (at my at-work job, I had to leave before they got up). It's awesome that I can take them to the park for lunch, and that when I get off at five, instead of fighting traffic, we can go on a walk. It is so easy to take your at-home working arrangement for granted, especially if you've done it for a while, or have just started and are trying to impress the boss. I suggest making a sign and hanging it in your work space that reads, "Work is temporary, family is for life!", or something like that.
I hope these tips help you if you work at home. If you are curious about how to get a work at home arrangement with your boss, Tim Ferriss's book, can help, or you can do what I did and cheat - I found a job where working at home was part of the deal.