10+ Years of Telecommuter Wisdom

I have more than 10 years experience as a telecommuter.  Every year I learned something for myself that would have been nice in a set of guidelines to have before I started to work from home.

Year 1: Cancel your cable television.  You will get a lot more done in and out of work.
Year 2: Your bedroom does not make a good office.  Use a dedicated room.…with a door.
Year 3: A 5 or 10 minute daily phone check-in with your team can save hours of work later.
Year 4: Be careful writing e‑mail.  It can easily offend or be misunderstood.
Year 5: Just because you are “home all day” does not mean that you can babysit your nephew.
Year 6: Wake up on a schedule, work on a schedule.
Year 7: Get an animal companion. 
Year 8: Go outside and see the unfiltered sun at least once every day. 
Year 9: If you still have a land-line coming into your home, don’t answer it when you are working.
Year 10: Get exercise when you can.  It keeps you sharp and awake during the day.

Looking back at my list, I see that these items divide into two categories: ideas that help you to work harder and ideas that help you to get away from work.  Paradoxically, telecommuters suffer from both problems.

To help you work harder you need to bring in the good bits about working in an office.  During work hours, you need to focus on work.  That’s a lot easier to do sitting in a cube farm with the rest of your team than sitting at your kitchen table by yourself…with last nights dishes in the sink and every other distraction of your personal life surrounding you.  Every hour you skip working from 9–5 is another hour you need to make up in the evening or weekend.  And that is no fun.  I learned that very quickly.  The solution that worked for me was to make my home office environment feel a lot more like a regular office environment. 

If you have a dedicated room for your office you are surrounded by the trappings (pun intended) of your work life.  Having a door keeps the sounds, and possibly children, of your home life at arms length during business hours.  A 10 minute “stand up” phone conference keeps you in sync with your peers the just as well as stopping by their desk a couple times a day.  Finally, keep as far away from daytime television, classic movie reruns, and 80’s era sitcom reruns as possible.  For me, killing my television was the best way to do that.

Then there is the other side of things: feeling like you are working all the time.  When you are in the middle of a big project it is easy to get sucked back to your desk for “just a minute” after dinner.  Colleagues working on a different schedule will still call your desk phone seeing if they can catch you for a question.  When I work at home I don’t really break for lunch…I just bring food to my desk to eat.  Then when you finally decide to get away from work, just seeing your office when you walk down the hall can keep you from mentally getting away from work…ever.  These things just don’t happen when you work outside the home.

Keeping to a 9–5 schedule, or whatever works for you, gets you in the habit of being away from work for the evening.  I’m lucky because my kids get home from school at 4PM.  That’s my quitting time.  I get up early and have a full day’s work done by then.  In the best case, I don’t even think about work until 6:30 the next morning.  It is necessary to get some down-time if you want to be efficient the next day.  Owning a dog ensures that I will have to get up to take care of it a couple times a day, maybe even a nice 30 minute walk in the fresh air at lunch when the weather is good.  Regular exercise is necessary for everyone, especially us folks sitting at a desk for 8+ hours a day. 

These rules work for me.  Everyone is different and they might be just the change you need to start loving your telecommute job with all your heart…or you might need to do things differently.  Either way, if you have the opportunity to try working from home, I recommend it.