Whether you've set out on your own or have convinced your boss to let you telecommute, it may feel like a huge relief to finally lose the commute and be able to work from home. So it may come as a surprise when you find yourself struggling to maintain productivity and a stable work-life balance when you haven't struggled with either before.
You left your at-work attitude back at the office.The structure and formality of an office setting offers unconscious cues that allow you to get in "work mode" that a home office may not provide. However, you can replicate the benefits of an office setting but still have the flexibility and comfort of working from home.
A physical boundary
The most obvious difference between commuting to an office and stepping out of your bedroom is the physical boundary. When you're at the office, you can't access your couch, your bed, your Tivo. Your neighbor can't knock on the door to borrow some tools. All the stuff you have at home—a leaky faucet, laundry, DVD set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer—is literally out of your reach until you get home. It sets your mind on the tasks that are in front of you.
Consider using a coffee shop or a library as your "office" to avoid distractions at home. Sometimes doing this just once or twice a week can make a big difference in your ability to focus on tough tasks or when working on a deadline. At home, create a designated work space. If you can't have a whole room for an office, use something physical to block off the space and make sure both you and others in the household respect that space. Get noise reduction headphones and turn off the house phone so you can't be disturbed.
Among the most valuable aspects of a traditional office are daily social interaction and camaraderie. It's not only nice to have social relationships, but it's also an opportunity to network and establish bonds with other people in the industry.
Remember to make time for professional engagements that allow you to connect with colleagues. This might be joining a local meetup group or just keeping in touch with old coworkers by meeting them for lunch. If you are telecommuting while fellow coworkers are at an office, it's all the more reason for you to maintain regular contact (in person) to stay properly integrated into the team.
Not having a boss down the hall who can easily look over your shoulder may be liberating, but on the flip side, not having someone you can quickly reach out to for advice and direction limits your productivity. Further, one of the best ways to grow professionally is to have a mentor. If you're working from home, you may need to reach out to people you look up to and see if they'd be open to mentoring you.
One of the best things about working from home is that you can be on important conference call in your bunny slippers. However, being in your pajamas all day isn't conducive to training your mind to be in work mode. After all, PJs equal bedtime; our bodies respond to routine. If you go through a "getting ready for work" process, it will help your mind and body gear up for it. This doesn't mean you have to wear a tie at home, but it does mean getting out of your PJs and brushing your hair.
Employees are increasingly breaking out of the usual "office hours" by checking and sending e-mails during non-office hours, but regardless, it's still important to establish your work hours. Working from home allows you a lot of flexibility in setting those work hours. For example, you can work four hours in the morning, break for four hours, and then work four hours in the evening. Whatever works best for you is what you should go with, and then make sure the people in your life are aware of that.
One of the problems about working from home is that friends and family think that you're available for them at any time. You'll get requests for airport pickups, impromptu visits and other tasks and events that you're expected to do or participate in because you can work "any time." While it's true that you are able to adjust your work time, it's just as important to maintain a regular schedule so that your colleagues can reach you, your work is done promptly and efficiently, and you don't lose your professional edge.
It's easy to take the ways a "real office" contributes to your professional growth and productivity for granted, but a home office can give you the best of both worlds. All you have to do is step out of your slippers and keep yourself actively engaged.