Working from home is a rapidly growing trend these days. Otherwise known as “telecommuting”, more and more companies are structuring for employees to work from home at times.
According to a 2017 report by Global Workplace Analytics, 3.9 million U.S. employees telecommute at least half of the work week, a 115 percent increase from 2005. In over half of the metropolitan U.S. markets, telecommuting exceeds public transportation.
For obvious reasons, employees love it.
If done right, working from home has significant benefits, both for employers and employees. However, I’ve always questioned the efficiency and would bet there’s a huge variability from one employee to the next in “telecommuting” production.
As someone who’s had a home office for almost 20 years, I’ve lived through the benefits and the challenges of working from home. The convenience of working from home is great.
But there are watchouts.
Here are 8 tips for maximizing your efficiency when working from your home office:
1. Set up a good space
In recent years, much has been written about setting up the best office space. Some have advocated filling an office with motivating, inspiring objects that put you in a positive mood. My office has some of that.
For me, the two most important factors have been a space that can be quiet when you need it and with good lighting, preferably natural lighting. When we first moved to our house nearly six years ago, my office walls were lined with dark, natural oak wood. As hard as it was to do, when we remodeled our house last year, we painted the entire office white.
That decision has brightened up the entire space, and I think it’s helped make me more productive when I’m in there. It also creates a much more positive, uplifting vibe.
2. Be proactive before the workweek
Use weekends to catch up on non-work chores, like grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning the house, and doing yard work. Don’t procrastinate on those things because you’re home a couple days during the week.
Just because you’re home during work hours doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be operating at the same productivity as at the office.
Sometimes it’s not always possible to accomplish these items and also spend time with family, especially if you have kids into sports.
For the items that can’t be completed during the weekend, consider delegating those items. For us, the yard and pool get delegated. I love doing yard work, but carving out 3-4 hours every weekend for yard work just doesn’t work for my family.
3. Establish clear expectations and boundaries
One of the benefits of working from home is being around family during the workweek and not being away. There are many times I’ve completed expense reports on a play room floor, booked travel while eating lunch with the kids, or worked on a report on the couch.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
However, when you need to concentrate or need it quiet for a call or teleconference, you have to set those expectations and make the accommodations necessary, especially if you have younger kids.
4. Plan your days – don’t wing it
Unless you’re in a business that’s highly unpredictable, plan your days out ahead of time. Instead of working from to-do lists, put those items into your calendar.
Some businesses are more reactive in nature. However, even in those businesses you can minimize the amount of random calls and fire drills that surface.
A couple years ago I was dealing with this exact issue. I’d have a full schedule of calls and tasks to accomplish, but I’d be inundated with calls all day long. When I started logging the calls that came in, and why, I realized most of them were from my direct reports.
Most weren’t urgent.
So I communicated the expectation with my team in terms of what items were urgent and needed my attention, and which items needed to wait until our 1-on-1 calls. It made all the difference and freed up an abundance of time.
Take a close look at what consumes your day. Are you running your business and team, or is it running you?
5. Block out free time
It’s okay to block out an hour to have lunch with your family, or to meet a friend for lunch. Office-based employees do this type of stuff all the time.
When I first started working from home, I never did this. I’d hole up in my office all day, trying to maximize every minute of every day. In terms of productivity, it was great, but in some ways that work model was counterproductive. It’s definitely counterproductive to your family.
Additionally, people working from home don’t have a commute to or from those days, so most likely, the work day starts earlier anyways. If you’re diligent about starting early and sticking to your plan, there’s time to take an hour for lunch with your family every now and then.
6. Minimize distractions
Recently, a friend of mine was telling me he negotiated with his company to work from home two days a week to avoid office distractions. His reason: he couldn’t get anything done because people stopped by his office all day.
I’m sure that’s a real challenge in an office environment, especially if you have folks reporting to you, directly and indirectly. However, I’d argue the challenge is even greater at home, where no bosses are around.
With no supervision, the culprits for most people are social media, radio, and television. I’m not going to say don’t look at these things on home office days, but be cognizant of how much time you’re on them.
7. Set a cutoff time – and stick to it
There are certainly times when you’re trapped in your office, and it seems like you’ll never be done working for the day. But that should be the exception, not the norm.
Have you ever noticed how productive you are the day before leaving for vacation? Practice that mindset every day, have a solid understanding of what you can accomplish in 9 or 10 hours of work, and get to it.
Once your cutoff time comes, leave all electronics in there, close the door, and walk out. No employer will argue with that level of effort.
8. Include when possible
I’ve always believed one of the greatest benefits to working from home is your kids get to see you working hard. It’s important for kids to see the hard work their parents put into creating the life they have, as long as all of their needs are being met.
In their earlier years, they won’t understand it. But over time, it will start to sink in.
As long as it’s not top-secret information you’re working on, I’ve found it helpful to share with your family some of the projects and challenges you’re currently working through. And don’t forget to share the wins.
Some may disagree with this, but I’ve always believed that being as open, transparent, and communicative as possible yields the best experience for all. The key is open, transparent communication.
Working from home, and balancing the responsibilities that encompass it, is not easy, but it’s possible. My family and I had grown accustomed to it, and it works out extremely well for us.
If you take these tips and apply them to your home, office, and family situation, I’m confident this area of your life will work out well.
What are your best tips for staying efficient while working at home? Please feel free to provide comments below.
Bret Barrie was a Hall-of-Fame and President’s Club-winning sales rep and is a top-producing sales leader in the medical device industry. He is also the author of The Selling Edge: How to Reach the Top in any Sales Industry. A baseball enthusiast and fitness junkie, he is happily married with three children and lives in the greater Sacramento area. For more information, visit bretbarrie.com.