Telecommuting can be one of the most productive and comfortable ways of working in the digital age, which is why more professionals than ever are setting up home offices. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 9 million people or more work from home in the United States, and another 4 million telecommute at least a few days a week.
Not surprisingly, the category with the highest increase of telecommuters in recent years is the computer and IT industry. “The responsibilities and tasks associated with management and business,” the Census reports, “translate well to home-based work.”
For millennials, the most recent, youngest generation to hit the workforce, having the flexibility to work at home exclusively or part time has become an important deciding factor for accepting jobs fresh out of college. Younger workers believe that technology frees them to work anywhere. As such, more managers interested in recruiting young talent are warming up to the idea that just because a cubical is empty, it doesn’t mean the job isn’t getting done.
If you’re someone who’s embarking on a new work-from-home schedule, here are five ways to help stay focused no matter where you plug in:
1. Establish a consistent work-from-home schedule and stick to it.
It’s important to set consistent office hours each day, week and month. For many within the tech world who report to a main office or supervisor throughout the day or even one or two days a week, this is less of a challenge. But for true freelancers and independent contractors whose home office is the only office, it helps to rise and shine and report to work – and later sign off – as you would if you were going to and from a more traditional office environment.
While some projects may still run into overtime, being able to cultivate a more standardized schedule can help focus energies and let clients know you are available when they need you most. Establishing set hours also helps distinguish work time from personal time, which can make it easier to log out at the end of the day.
2. Create a functional, high-tech home office space.
When possible, set up a home office that is separate from your living space. Having somewhere that you can go to work and ideally close the door can make the transition between the professional and personal worlds much easier.
It’s also important to have the right equipment to do the job. Combination scanner/printers replicate the old Xerox machine, which can be handy for signing and returning contracts. Also consider investing in backup hard drives to ensure you don’t ever lose work. And don’t hesitate to use a cloud drive to share data with co-workers anywhere in the world.
Another idea is having a portable hot spot at hand should your wireless connection be interrupted. Some freelancers may even go so far as to invest in back-up generators to ensure that you can keep your phone and computer charging no matter what obstacles may occur because of weather or location.
3. Take a break.
All work and no play can take its toll. It’s important to remember to do something that may come more naturally in a social environment like an office; simply taking a break.
It’s not always easy to give oneself a little elbow room, but it’s worth trying, especially when you consider that people who work at home generally get a great deal of work done in a much shorter time frame compared to people doing the same jobs on site. Telecommuters often have fewer distractions than do office workers – no water cooler talk and less chit-chat – and can usually focus intently on projects without interruptions – like yet another co-worker’s birthday party.
4. Dress to impress.
In line with establishing clear work boundaries, dressing as you would in reporting to an office helps get in the right frame of mind. The belief is that one’s physical presentation can have a psychological impact on performance, and that if you are showered and dressed, as opposed to staying in pajamas, you are likely to work more efficiently.
Do what’s right for you. One of the perks of not having to show up at the office is being able to work comfortably in sweats or yoga pants from time to time. Consider creating a routine. You may only be commuting downstairs, but it’s worth turning on the morning news and investing in a coffee maker. While your co-workers may be commuting, you will also be gearing up for the day.
5. Avoid distractions and set boundaries.
One of the biggest challenges for anyone who works from home is avoiding distractions. And one of the most glaring distractions is social media. While many of us may use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for professional purposes, it’s easy to slip into bad habits, like watching too many cat videos or getting into heated online discussions about, say, last night’s political debate.
One way to avoid digital distractions is to set boundaries. Yes, it’s OK to check into Facebook throughout the day – for many of us it provides needed socialization that we lack while working alone – but don’t make it a priority. Try putting off more in-depth interactions until after hours. And try tackling at least a few projects in the morning before you even look at social media.
It’s sometimes necessary to remind friends and loved ones that even though you may be at home, you’re still working. The advantages are myriad, like saving on travel, wardrobe and other expenses. For many parents, telecommuting can also mean spending more time with their kids.
These days, even loneliness can be tempered while working remotely, like at a coffee shop or collaborative space. In many urban areas around the country, shared workspaces are being used for a variety of projects with the bonus of high-speed connections and being able, ultimately, to socialize with other like-minded professionals facing the same experiences.
Natalie Hope McDonald is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia.
Working in IT offers numerous work-from-home opportunities. Looking to get into IT? Learn more in the career change section of our website.