Telecommuter productivity tips from my home office

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I remember friends in grad school saying they dreamed about telecommuting full-time and working every day from their home offices. At the time, I lived in North Carolia and worked at the beautiful SAS campus, so the thought of working from a dimly lit home office with a particle board desk really didn't appeal to me that much. In short, I didn't share their dreams.

Yet, here I am. After multiple moves around the country, I have been working from my home office for more than ten years, and I've really come to enjoy it. But it does take a lot of discipline, and an introverted personality doesn't hurt.

With this bit of background, you can see why I was interested to read the SAS Users Group blog post, telecommuting tips for managers and telecommuters, that Waynette Tubbs wrote after attending a presentation on this topic at the North East SAS Users Group. After reading it and talking with a few colleagues who work from home, I was inspired to write my own list of tips for being productive in your own home office:

  1. Always shower and get dressed before work in the morning. Act as if you will be getting a video call every day.
  2. Remove distractions. For example, if knowing that you have dirty dishes in the sink will drive you crazy and keep you from focusing on work, do them before work.
  3. Keep healthy foods in the house. It’s very tempting to snack all day when you work from home, so keep fresh fruit and water handy. I keep a 2-gallon water dispenser in my office.
  4. Watch meeting notices. Make sure they include dial-in info and/or make sure the organizer knows to call you from the polycom.
  5. Find a healthy, job-related work distraction. I call Twitter my replacement for hallway conversation. You really do need that down-time of people stopping by your office once and awhile and chatting about their weekend. It helps recharge your mind for work. Twitter or your favorite business blog can do the same. Just remember to limit it to the length of a typical hallway conversation.
  6. Use the phone. We all have to make a conscious effort sometimes to stop the email back-and-forth and pick up the phone. This is especially true for remote workers, because you won’t be talking to that person later in the office. Pay close attention to when it makes more sense to talk instead of IM or email.
  7. Take your breaks! Get up and walk around. Since you’re not walking to meetings, you’ll find that you get stuck in your office chair sometimes for longer stretches of time than you probably should. Set a timer or some other indicator to get up and stretch or get more water. Try as much as possible not to skip lunch. I like to schedule lunch meetings with friends or plan for short runs on my lunch breaks so that I’m forced not to work right through lunch.
  8. Keep your weekly check-in meetings sacred. If you have weekly check-ins with managers or direct reports, attend them religiously and do not cancel when you think there is nothing new. If you’re working from home, there should always be something worth discussing or updating, because you’re not seeing your colleagues every day.
  9. Watch internal webcasts and read intranet articles. These internal resources really help you feel connected to what’s going on at your corporate headquarters.
  10. Untether yourself from your desk once and awhile. I have to force myself to do this, but it can really make for a great charge to your creativity to undock your laptop and work from the back porch or the local coffee shop once and awhile. Just check your calendar first and do it when you know you aren’t expected to be near your phone or dialed in to any meetings.

What would you add? If you work from home every day or just once and awhile, what helps with your productivity?

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About Author

Alison Bolen

Editor of Blogs and Social Content

+Alison Bolen is an editor at SAS, where she writes and edits content about analytics and emerging topics. Since starting at SAS in 1999, Alison has edited print publications, Web sites, e-newsletters, customer success stories and blogs. She has a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from Ohio University and a master’s degree in technical writing from North Carolina State University.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this Alison. Great ideas.

    I was actually one of the first telecommuters for LP&P here on the West coast when companies were just starting to trial it. I've been working remotely ever since. Here are a few things that have helped me.

    Keep the TV and radio off. I never turn either on until after 6:00 p.m. I find that it's easier to be heads down and concentrate when it's quiet.

    Have a routine. As you mentioned, those dirty dishes can bug some people and I agree. Get stuff done while you'd normally be commuting. I take care of my home chores before 7:00 am and then jump back in after I'm done working. That way I know things are still getting done but it lessens the urge to be distracted.

    Where you work in your house matters. I have my home office in the brightest part of my house with a great view outside. Having that natural light all day keeps me in a great mood. Being held up in a dark room all day closed off somewhere doesn't help anyone's creativity. If you can build your workspace in your favorite place. You're more likely to want to spend time there anyway.

    Make your home office space special. I have everything I need to be productive and while I'm not tethered to my desk (I have a laptop) I don't often move around because I like my space so much. Along with all my bright color office organizing things I have pictures that make me laugh and a few inspirational notes around.

    Get out each day. Don't just get up from your desk - but get outside your house. You'll feel refreshed and ready to dig in again when you get back.

    Deborah

  2. Rachel Alt-Simmons
    Rachel Alt-Simmons on

    First of all, I agree with everything that Alison and Deborah say about working from home best practices - it's great advice. Working from home is far more challenging (and less glamorous) than it appears. It takes a lot of discipline. I have the luxury of working all over the place - I travel around 50% of the time, and I have an office in our Hartford regional office, but I tend to work from home when I'm not on the road. You have a lot of non-productive down time when you're on the road, so it's important to be able to catch up and concentrate (which for me, means working at home).

  3. I have enjoyed all the comments on working remotely and have one to add for those of us who miss human interaction during the day. Join a club or group that meets monthly or weekly. This will help to keep your interpersonal skills sharpened and you may learn something new from the group! I am a part of my Local SAS User Group as well as my Regional group. Additionally, for a non SAS related but business applicable group, I highly recommend Toastmasters International. This group has helped me to sharpen my presentation and leadership skills. I recently ran an hour long training call from my home office and feel that it went well because of my practice with Toastmasters.

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