At first blush, working at home sounds pretty dreamy: no traffic to battle, no time-sucking coworkers—just you, your computer, and possibly your pet.
Working from home definitely has its advantages, for both employees and employers. A 2013 experiment run by professors at Stanford University and Beijing University found that call center employees’ productivity shot up by 13 percent when they worked from home, based on metrics like calls per hour, number of sick days, and number of breaks. A number of other studies note that working from home boosts employee morale.
But before you start making your case to the boss, be sure to take into consideration whether it’s a match for you—and whether the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks (that same Stanford/Beijing experiment points out that employees who worked from home were promoted much less often, and that disconnected work spaces can reduce coworkers’ ability to collaborate).
The best way to get the most out of working from home is to treat it as similarly as possible to actually going into the office. People who are successful at telecommuting give their workdays a structure—and they don’t forget that they’re still professionals, even if they’re working 20 feet from their own kitchen.
Here are the best practices for succeeding at working from home.
Make Sure You’re Around
FaceTime, Skype, and other technological options allow you to attend meetings and have conversations even if you aren’t physically in the office, but are they enough? Consider how many meetings and face-to-face interactions you have, and how much they contribute to your work. If they’re crucial, consider working from home only one or two days a week instead of full-time.
A good practice is to check in a few times a day with on-site coworkers. Even a “Hey, what are you having for lunch?” over Slack or Skype will remind them you’re around and on duty. Similarly, keep on-site colleagues abreast of your whereabouts. Let them know if you’re taking a late lunch or have an appointment that will keep you out of pocket, so they don’t wonder where you are.
Quiet Is Nice. Isolation...Not So Much
It’s quite possible to go an entire day without speaking to another human being when you work at home. Don’t do this. Not interacting with the world won’t make you more productive. It will only make you a hermit. “Peace and quiet are a boon to home working productivity, but remember the flip side, too,” says productivity trainer Monica Ricci on LinkedIn. “Working from home can be isolating at times. Keep in contact with your coworkers, colleagues, and associates via Skype, phone, or even instant message. Going out for a bite to eat or hitting a networking event now and again will get you in front of other humans, too.”
You may have visions of lying around with a laptop in your fleecy sweats all day. Resist! It may sound silly, but it’s important to get dressed in grown-up clothes. The way you dress can affect you psychologically. Pajamas may be comfy, but many experts think they contribute to a less productive outlook.
Take a Break
Just because you’re working at home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time away from laptops, phones, and spreadsheets. Many studies show that taking a break increases productivity and can have health benefits. Just make sure your quick coffee break doesn’t turn into doing laundry, picking up toys, and taking the car to get serviced. Act as if you’re still in the office by taking regular breaks for a designated period of time. If you must run an errand, make up the time later.
Designate a Space
A designated work space indicates This is where I work, which helps you get in the right mind-set and stay in the groove. You don’t have to invest thousands of dollars to remodel a spare bedroom into a home office. Instead, the key is consistency. If you decide that the best spot to work on your laptop is at the dining room table, plant your butt in that same seat at the same time every workday.
It’s also crucial to make sure you have the right equipment—computer, software, phone headset (these cut down on echo and background noise), and lighting. Your company may help out with some equipment—check with them before you invest your own money.
Plan Meals and Snacks in Advance
Working at home makes it all too easy to try to ease work stress by wandering into the kitchen to grab a handful of chips or a couple of cookies. Protect yourself from those spontaneous snacking opportunities by planning ahead. Decide the night before what you will eat during the day and at what times—and stick to it. You’ll be glad you did.
Cutting a few days of commuting out of the workweek can benefit workers, families, organizations, and even the environment—if you make sure your set and setting is as conducive to productivity at home as in the office.
Jonanna Widner lives in Portland, OR, where she writes about sports, music, travel, and fitness.