Working from home has plenty of perks. You have a two-second commute, more flexibility, and fewer distractions.
That’s part of the reason why the number of people who work from home at least one day per week rose from 9.5 million in 1999 to 13.4 million in 2010, according to the U.S. Census.
But, for many, the increased freedom of working from home can also be demotivating. Without a boss around, it can be easy to spend too much time relaxing with a coffee or snack. And while having quiet can be good for your productivity, the solitude can also be isolating and draining.
So how do you stay motivated when working remotely? To find out, we gathered advice from professionals who’ve worked from home, managed remote workers, and studied them. Here’s what they said:
Set a schedule.
One of the best features of working from home is breaking free of the traditional 9-to-5 workday. But operating without any structure can seriously hurt your productivity, say entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson in their book “Remote: Office Not Required.”
They recommend dividing the workday into three sessions, arranged to your liking: a “catch up” time to go through emails and read the news, a “collaboration” period when you work with coworkers on projects or talk about planning with your manager, and a “serious work” time when you get through the most difficult assignments of the day. At some point in between, they also suggest you take a break.
By keeping a relatively consistent work schedule, it’s easier to maintain a distinction between your professional and personal lives.
Dress for work.
This doesn’t mean you need to put on a suit or dress, but there is a psychological benefit to swapping pajamas or sweats for decent clothes, say Fried and Hansson. Throw the sweatpants back on when you finish working as another way to set clear boundaries between work and relaxation.
Have separate means of communication for work.
Remote workers can run into the problem of having job-related calls, emails, and other forms of communication jumbled with personal messages. Fried and Hansson recommend taking full advantage of company perks like a work phone, computer, and email account. If they are not available, it is at least worth creating a separate email address and instant messenger screen name to maintain focus.
Get a change of scenery.
If a mid-afternoon nap becomes too tempting, consider moving your work to a local coffee shop or library, say Fried and Heinemeier. “It sounds counterintuitive, but the presence of other people, even if you don’t know them, can fool your mind into thinking that being productive is the only proper thing to do.”
And if you’d rather not pack up and move, then take a break and get some fresh air. “Being able to go for a walk and separate myself from my home office truly rejuvenates me and gives me creative energy,” said Kelly Kepner, an entrepreneur who has run her company, Kelly Kepner PR, out of her home since February.
Take advantage of video.
One of the biggest disadvantages of communicating strictly through instant messaging, email, and phone calls is the difficulty of reading people. Avoid becoming a faceless name on the screen or a voice without a body by using video conferencing technology. Consider jumping in a Google Hangout when a phone call won’t quite cut it, says Molly Brennan, managing partner of Koya Leadership Partners.
Make the most of teleconferences.
If someone isn’t coming in clear over the intercom, then let that person know, Brennan says. She strongly believes that telecommuters should not fade into the background during meetings just because they are not physically present in the office.
And that also means being proactive about ensuring that all of their technology is working properly before the meeting starts. “There is nothing more frustrating than someone trying to share a document on a web call or dialling into a conference line and a simple technological barrier keeps us from connecting,” says Brennan.
Don’t stay strictly business with coworkers.
Remote workers miss out on water cooler chatter. Those stories about your weekend or discussions about “Game of Thrones” shouldn’t be dismissed as a waste of time, says Brennan. When she’s working from home, she likes to spend a few minutes making small talk with team members over the phone before getting down to business, if time allows.
And you don’t need to consciously set aside time to be friendly. Ruth Bazinet, a remote worker for the digital marketing and PR firm HB Agency, keeps in touch with her coworkers all day with instant messages. “A quick ‘good morning’ and a funny quip via IM goes a long way,” she said.
Grab lunch with coworkers if you can.
Better yet, if you work from home and don’t live too far from the office, try to meet for one-on-one lunch dates every now and then, says Marnie Swedberg, a professional mentor, author, and radio show host. “Talk about work for five to 10 minutes, and then spend the rest of the hour talking about your family, upcoming vacation, and other personal stuff,” she recommends.
Visit the office and attend special events.
If you’re part of a team, you should occasionally visit your coworkers at work and attend company events even if you don’t live near the office. Jim Lyons, director of client services at FairCom, does this for the value of face-to-face interactions, and so he doesn’t feel like a stranger in the workplace.