Must-Haves for Telecommuters
Tips to Make Working at Home Work for You
Home offices need a door and a dog — or cat, if you're a cat person.
Image by Micki Bare
You've convinced your boss you'd be more productive at home and it would save the company money — a win-win that has you moving out of the cubical and into the corner of the basement or a spare bedroom. Or maybe you scoured LinkedIn and all the Internet job sites for the perfect telecommuter position, for which you were the most qualified. And now, after dreaming for so long of this perfect way to balance work and family life, it is finally time to transition into your home office.
As you aspire to settle into your new work environment, I'd like to offer a few pieces of wisdom from someone who has worked both full and part time for the better part of a decade from the cozy comforts of home.
Walls, Door and Window
You might be thinking as long as you have a computer, printer and Internet access, you are all set up. You're probably going to work all over the place, anyway, right? The kitchen table while cooking; the patio while enjoying the weather; the porch during a rain shower; the laundry room while catching up on those piles that got away from you over the past few...well, let's be honest...years. That's the fantasy. The reality is you will need your separate workspace. A corner will not be separate enough. And absolutely do not set up your workspace in your bedroom.
Find a spare bedroom or, if you are using a corner of the basement, erect a couple of walls and enclose the space that includes the little window. You must have an actual office with walls, a door and at least one window. It is imperative that you are able to separate work from home and family. The door helps set boundaries with your family and friends. They will still open it and barge in every now and again, but they will feel a twinge of guilt when they do — as if they are interrupting something important. The window is purely for your own sanity. You need to gaze outside every now and again for that all-too-precious 30-second mental break.
Now, I know one of the reasons you wanted to work from home was the promise of flexibility. However, without regular office hours, the flexibility thing falls apart. If your family expects you to be in the office from 7:30 a.m. until noon, and then again from 2-5:30 p.m. for example, they will be less likely to interrupt you during those hours. You can also note to others in your life that you are working during those hours, so you are not, in fact, available any time just because you work at home. Not that they won't call you or drop by anyway, but at least you can refer to your office hours.
Flexibility plays in when you have to run out to pick up your sick 7-year-old at school at 11 a.m., so you start back up at 1 instead of 2. Or maybe there is a school play or field trip, so you work evening hours to make up for the time lost during the day.
When you have an infant, toddler or preschooler — and I cannot stress this enough — you will still need child care. Whether it is your hubby on baby duty during the early morning hours and evening hours while you're in your office, or an actual sitter or child care center, if you're going to work, you will need dedicated work time sans the mommy duty.
Pets, Music and Plants
There is a dog bed six feet from my desk. Ms. Lily, pictured above, takes her breakfast in my office and naps nearby most of the day. Our cat, Hal, also uses my office windowsill to sun and lounge. Unagi, my beta fish, swims around his tank just to the left of my desk. They are my office staff. I bounce ideas off of them. They are great listeners.
It can get awfully quiet in a home office. There are no people milling about, talking and making coffee at all hours of the day. Since my pets are also rather quiet, I stream music. You have to have something more than the occasional car passing by. Make work playlists, listen to the radio or keep a collection of CDs in your office. The white noise will help keep you focused.
Greenery is another must-have. The plants offer fresh air and something pretty and green to gaze at when needed. Another mental break option that also provides soothing interior decoration.
Working at home is not for everyone. Some people cannot get any work done at all. Some slide helplessly into workaholism, frantically working every waking hour because they are always at work. But for those of us who have found balance, home can truly be the best place to work.