Lessons from working at home

Geoffrey James put together a good list of 10 lessons learned from his 10 years of working from home. I’ve worked at home (and in my kayak, as shown above) since 1999 so I thought I’d chime in on the topics in his list.

1) Solitude: Solitude can be addicting, but like all good things, you can’t let it become a required condition for work (See #3). Pros perform well regardless of crowd noise.

2) Cut your hours: “you’ll be able to get twice as much done in half the time” – This can be true, but never assume it will happen simply because you’re working at home. Other interruptions that only happen at home can fill the gap left by interruptions you’d only encounter at the office. You have to manage your work environment and interruptions in both places.

3) Avoid Starbucks: Working at a neighborhood coffee shop has positives and negatives. If you’re likely to run into a bunch of people you know, go to a different shop. I used to do this a couple times a week simply to get out of the house back when I wasn’t traveling much. In a small town, it’s very likely that you’ll run into someone you know and that can easily consume an hour of time intended for real work, so don’t set yourself up for that. Going to a shop where you won’t likely run into friends / clients / etc will eliminate the interruptions. Some people filter the white noise of a coffee shop better than others, so use headphones if necessary. Avoid coffee shops that don’t use the sound-proofing systems for their 110 decibel smoothie machines / blenders. Learn to work productively in these environments because you will inevitably find yourself needing focus time in an airport or out of town.

4) Stay out of the kitchen: The draw of the fridge is a big one because it’s so convenient.

5) Limit gaming time: I’m not a gamer, but if you are, manage it as well as you do trips to the fridge or you’ll find yourself out of work and/or out of clients.

6) Don’t setup shop in the bedroom: James is right on point on here. Anywhere but the bedroom, for so many reasons.

7) Limit phone time: This depends on the work you do, of course. I strenuously avoid taking calls without an appointment – particularly conference calls. If you can’t do this, “train” co-workers (or clients) when to call you (if you can) or try to schedule planned calls immediately before or after another disruption to focus time (such as another meeting). Even if you can’t get anyone else to change their behavior, it’s on you and no one else if you pick up the phone during focus time. You’ll likely have to remind clients that you don’t allow interruptions from other clients when working on their stuff, and that this rule works for everyone equally. If you need to be available in an emergency, give people a way to let you know they need you ASAP. Text messaging works well, but only for people you aren’t regularly texting with.

8) De-clutter: This is a battle for me. The Fujitsu ScanSnap 1500 helps immensely but you have to stay on top of it.

9) Be comfortable: Absolutely. Comfort, proper posture and ergonomics are critical whether you’re at the office or at home.

10) Don’t assume telecommuting gig will last forever: I’m a bit contrary to Geoffrey on this one. I don’t care what Marissa demands of Yahoo employees. Each of them had to decide to accept the changes she demanded or find another job. Make your choice and make the best of it, or deal with the lack of choice until you can make life and/or career changes that allow you to resume working from home. If telecommuting is what you need or want, then you must use the ability to telecommute as a filter for clients and employers. I understand that some work must be done on premises. For the work that doesn’t, the best people for a project or a job don’t always live where the company is. Businesses who don’t recognize this sharply limit the talent they can leverage.

Working from home is a great thing most of the time. Preparation of your telecommuting environment and management or yourself & others are critical to doing it well.