How to Deal

Strategies for Working From Home

By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, December 4, 2008; 12:00 AM

What strategies would you recommend for making the most out of working from your home?

Many people believe that they lack the discipline to effectively telecommute. They fear that they would be too distracted, lured away from their job duties by household chores, too easily tempted by the television and the bed. Although the challenge of remaining focused without the positive influence of a bustling office environment is very real, I doubt that most telecommuters actually spend their work days watching "The Price Is Right," napping and doing laundry. The typical office environment is replete with distractions of its own, after all, including chatty coworkers, nosy bosses, and needless meetings. The distinct advantage of working from home is that the potential distractions and interruptions are usually within your control.

What, then, can you do, to capitalize upon the peace and quiet of your home while ensuring productivity? Here are a few important lessons that I have learned:

Rise and shine. Get ready for work in the morning as if you were about to leave your home. Take a shower, brush your teeth, and change out of your pajamas. I am not suggesting that you slip into an Armani suit, but do wear clothing that you would not be embarrassed to be seen in. This exercise will help you to set the stage for a successful day of work.

Minimize interruptions. That means telling your family and friends that you are working during certain times and that your availability is no greater than if you were in a cube somewhere. It also means scheduling medical and other appointments with due regard for your work schedule. If you would normally see the doctor first thing in the morning to avoid interference with your projects, then keep to this habit when you telecommute.

Schedule breaks and lunch times. Minimizing interruptions does not mean that you must work nonstop for eight hour stretches. However, you should try as much as possible to stick to a schedule of breaks and lunch periods rather than resting at haphazard intervals. Taking this disciplined approach will allow you the uninterrupted time that you need to get things done and allow you to take care of personal business without feeling guilty. Yes, it's okay to watch television and bake cookies, as long as you do so on your lunch hour.

Plan time out of the office. An important benefit of working alongside other people is the opportunity to network and socialize. Even a confirmed introvert can feel isolated after a stretch of days without face-to-face conversations (significant others, children, and cats excluded). An important rule of telecommuting successfully, therefore, is to schedule time out of the office. Meet people for lunch or coffee, or just take your laptop to a public place that offers free Wi-Fi. It will lift your spirits and help to keep your professional network alive.

Set a boundary between your work and personal lives. Just as some telecommuters worry about being less productive than their office counterparts, others must take precautions not to let their work swallow their home life whole. Unless you must work late, make sure that you are taking affirmative steps to "leave" your office at the end of the day. If possible, locate your home office in a separate room and close the door when you are done. If you do not have space for a separate home office, then power down or hide your computer at the end of the day. If you leave your computer on, mute the sound. You will otherwise be haunted by the sound of incoming emails and the temptation to check might become too great.

Assert your presence. Even though you are not located next to your coworkers, you are no less a part of the team. However, your boss and coworkers might at times forget to include in team activities and decisions. To ensure that you are taken into account, you must work twice as hard as your office counterparts to be seen and heard. Schedule a weekly check-in meeting with your boss, make sure that you are on all appropriate email distribution lists, reach out at least once a day to the people who work most closely with you, and drop by the office for visits as often as you can.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, Dec. 9, at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company