With the flexibility wrought by the Internet, business owners in many industries can make the valid and cost-saving decision to run a company right out of their homes. But, as you’ll soon find if you’re new to working at home, the convenience of avoiding a commute can be threatened by the myriad distractions and productivity challenges of laboring where you also eat, sleep, and play. Fortunately, adopting a few simple habits can help turn the work-from-home day into a truly industrious experience.
(These tips will also help you if you’re a contractor or a full-time employee with the freedom to work at home occasionally.)
Get dressed. Your office is just down the hall from the bedroom, so that means it’s okay to roll out of bed and work in your pajamas, right? Not so fast. Studies have shown that our clothing choices affect how we act. So even if you have no in-person meetings or video calls scheduled, it’s worth your while to don a presentable outfit, one that will make you pay attention to your tasks, sit up straighter, and sound more proficient on the phone. That said, if formal work attire feels constrictive, do take advantage of your isolation to skip the fitted skirts or ties and pick respectable apparel that’s also plenty comfortable.
Set work hours. It might seem like a contradiction, but at home you’re at risk of working both too much or too little. Without boundaries, you might schlep through tasks all day, never finding the urgency needed to complete the most pressing ones (and then wind up with no free time at all!). Alternatively, you might fill up your time with non-billable chores and household concerns only to discover that you’re not spending enough time at your desk. Put some rules in place regarding when you work and when you don’t, and stick to them. Although 9-to-5-style business hours might be a good starting point, you can enjoy the flexibility to start earlier if you’re a morning person, take a break for school pick-up if you have kids, or work late if you’re a night owl. If you have clients or partners, you’ll clearly want to coordinate work hours with them so that you overlap for collaboration.
Design a workspace. Invest time and money in setting up an office for yourself. Just as what you wear matters, your surroundings have an impact on your productivity. Whether your office is above the garage or in a corner of your living room, furnish the space you’ve got with a desk, ergonomic chair, and other necessary equipment (see below). Set things up to suit your tastes and work habits, adding art to brighten the space or an extra monitor to visualize important data. If your business stores inventory, make a plan for where you’ll keep the gear. If you see clients, ask yourself whether you are comfortable having them in your home. If not, expand “your” workspace to include a nearby café or other place that feels comfortable and professional.
Acquire the needed equipment. Don’t skimp here or you’ll lose your professional edge quickly. Make sure your computer is speedy, you have a printer with ink, your file cabinets can control your papers, and your supply cabinet is full of envelopes, stamps, and pencils. Purchase any other specific necessities your company makes use of on an ongoing basis, and set up subscription plans for items that call for frequent replenishing. If the budget for all this seems daunting, consider how much time you’ll waste otherwise, trekking to the post office for stamps and the copy store for flyers.
You’ll also want a robust, never-fail Internet connection, a clear phone line, and any particular software your company favors for calls, conferences, and presentations. This will prevent stumbles when interacting with others; part of being an effective at-home business owner is making contacts forget that you’re at home.
Keep in touch with your colleagues. Just because you’re physically alone doesn’t mean you need to feel isolated or out of touch. If you have employees or partners, set up daily or weekly check-ins, whether in person or online. Install a chat application. If you work alone, create some colleagues by establishing a rapport with other local businesspeople and scheduling regular lunches or happy hours with like-minded at-home workers.
Regulate distraction. Even in the right clothes, with set hours and a designated space, you’re likely to run into distractions when your workspace overlaps with your home. It’s okay if you can’t tune them out completely. Instead, make a plan to manage potential interruptions. For example, if you’d ordinarily spend 15 minutes on a coffee break at the office, feel free to borrow that same quarter hour to throw in the laundry, empty the dishwasher, play catch with the kid, or sip iced tea on the porch. (Try setting a timer to be sure that 15 minutes doesn’t turn into 45.) If you’re diligent about moderating at-home distractions, you may find them revitalizing, rather than energy-sapping.
Working from home can be a great choice for business owners who don’t need a lot of office space, especially when getting a new company off the ground. And, with the right set-up, an at-home work space can generate just as much productivity as the office, maybe more, since you’ll lack a commute, florescent lighting, and overly chatty colleagues.