Tips for Working Productively From Home or Telecommuting

I’ve been working productively from home for a number of years, first as a freelance writer (part-time) on nights and weekends and, for the past four years, as a full time marketing communication consultant. My interest in remote work, or telecommuting, stems back many years to when I worked with an organization that was going through a merger. It was highly likely that the corporate headquarters would be in a new location and I was not interested, or able, at that time to relocate. So I was curious.

Based on my own experience as a freelance writer for a number of years I knew firsthand that, yes, it was possible to establish client relationships and deliver value to those clients from a distance. But, would that same model be embraced incorporate settings? Could I, for instance, find a role as a director of corporate communications/marketing that I could perform remotely? The answer at that time was “no.”

But my research at the time resulted in a book that I wrote on the topic and a renewed interest in being free from the constraints of a “real job” and open to pursue a variety of activities with multiple clients, which is what I do today. Since that time the world has changed. In fact, I was asked in 2010 to update that book with a new focus–managing off-site staff. The reality today, of course, is that even while employees may not be in traditional “telecommuting” settings many are, by definition, working “remotely” from their managers and other colleagues in multi-location, and often global, organizations.

So, what does it take to be successful in these settings? I was asked that question recently by someone considering a move from the traditional work environment to a consulting role. I’ve found that there are several things that help me ensure that I treat my “home” office as a worksite:

  • Have a separate, dedicated area where you will work–not at the kitchen table, in a corner of the basement, etc. Set this space up as an office with the tools and equipment you will need to be productive. One of the most useful tools I’ve found recently is a second computer monitor–having two monitors saves me a ton of time.
  • Commit to a work schedule. Years ago when I spent a few months between jobs focused on freelancing, while my son was young, my schedule was 7-2 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I took Wednesdays off and my mother watched my son during the times I was working, which leads to another tip…
  • Make sure that work is work. Working from home doesn’t mean trying to do double-duty as a caregiver for young children, pets or parents.
  • Dress for the job. I found early on that it was very important for me to get up and get “ready for work” each day, avoiding the temptation of just heading up to my office in my jammies. That doesn’t mean I put on a suit; but I do take a shower, fix my hair and make-up and dress in something other than sweatpants.
  • Set goals. I set specific goals for what I want to accomplish each day, week, month and year. Some of these are process oriented- e.g. contact three potential clients; some are outcome oriented–e.g. generate $X in revenue each month.
  • Reward yourself. If I meet or exceed my goals, that means I can “celebrate.” This might mean taking an afternoon off to do something fun, going out to lunch with a friend, etc. I probably need to reward myself more, in fact. Recently, while out to dinner with some friends, one was talking about the “vacation time” she receives through her job. It made me think that I should probably also allow myself some specific amount of “vacation time” each year and track it as I would in a “real job.”
Not everyone, of course, is able to function effectively without the structure of a “real job,” a manager and some ongoing guidance. For me, it works, and I’m continually looking for ways to be even more productive!

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