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How to get sh!t done working from home

Yahoo says that its employees are no longer allowed to work from home – but if you do, these are the benefits and drawback of telecommuting that you need to know…

Image: working from home stock pic via Shutterstock

Republished with permission from Greatist.com

IMAGINE WAKING UP five minutes to 9am, still in PJs with eyes barely open, grabbing that steaming cup of homemade coffee, and settling down in a comfy office chair to work. There’s evidence such a scenario is becoming more common: One study estimates 45 per cent of America’s workforce has a job suitable for part-time or full-time telecommuting (the fancy term for working somewhere other than the office). In Ireland, it’s 4.69 per cent according to the most recent figures available, for 2011.

And research suggests employees who spend time working outside the office are more satisfied with their jobs and even argue less with family members [1]. But working outside the office isn’t always easy – it means learning how to manage time and prioritise, regardless of what those bunny slippers are saying[1][2].

Homeward bound – the need-to-know

Around a third of the American workforce telecommutesas of 2011, somewhere between 34 and 44 million Americans (the exact number varies between studies) worked outside the office at least occasionally. And the number of companies that allow employees to work from Starbucks or their friend’s couch has increased at least 25 percent over the last few years. Today’s telecommuters have such diverse jobs as public relations specialists, graphic designers, and nurses who give patients advice over the phone.

The potential benefits of working outside the office range from less time on a sweaty subway to more motivation to get stuff done. For one thing, a 2.4-second trip from the kitchen to the living-room workstation can save people time, energy, and money on commuting to the office. In some cases, telecommuting can also increase employees’ job satisfaction, improve work performance, and reduce stress[1]. That’s possibly because telecommuters feel more independent, free to take a break and look at images of cute puppies whenever[1]. And one study found telecommuters experienced less conflict with family members the more time they spent working from home[2]. (No more having to sneak to the stairwell to answer calls from that special someone.)

Perhaps surprisingly, working outside the office may also increase productivity. The boss can’t check to make sure telecommuters are actually working, and not just playing Words With Friends, so employees might try to prove themselves by submitting a finished project at the end of the day. But not everyone is ready to jump out of the desk chair and onto the couch.

Cabin fever – your action plan

Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side of the cubicle. Even part-time telecommuting can cause tension between coworkersOne study found in-office employees thought they were treated unfairly when other employees got to work from home, while telecommuters felt just the opposite[1]. And working from a house where the laundry machine’s overflowing and dinner’s burning in the oven may also mean family obligations distract us from professional responsibilities[2].

Before abandoning the office, consider whether telecommuting is right for you. It takes strong self-discipline and motivation to produce results on the job when there’s no one else around. Here are some general guidelines to follow when working outside (or inside) the office:

  • Designate a workspace when staying at home. Use that area for work and only work. (When on the couch, commence reality-TV-watching!)
  • Set a schedule. Let family and friends know you won’t be able to answer the phone or pick up groceries during work hours.
  • Keep it professional. It’s hard to take someone seriously when the dog is barking in the background of a conference call – time to put Sparky outside!
  • Work with a buddy. Having a coworker nearby can make sure you both stay on track.
  • Switch up your location. If sitting at home, bring the laptop to a café; the new scenery might motivate you to get more done. (Just don’t spill coffee on the computer.)
  • Check email and social network updates at set times, no matter how distracting that Facebook notification may be.
  • Take a break! One study suggests frequent short breaks from heavy computer use can actually boost productivity. Stand up and stretch or try a mid-day workout.
  • Don’t forget to go out and actually interact with people. Working alone all day and night isn’t healthy for anyone, so save time for socializing!
  • Bring water, but not food, to the work desk. Most of us know from personal experience that it’s easy to get caught up in work and eat an entire bag of Pirate’s Booty. Stick with just the water bottle.
  • Make sure health is a priority. Don’t use working at home as an excuse to slack on sleep or exercise. Good health is especially important since one study found people suffering from certain health issues tended to be less productive than healthy people[3].

For those seeking a career that allows telecommuting, check out openings for freelance gigs and other lesser-known jobs, like an online juror or mystery shopper. Happy (telecommute) job hunting!

- by Katie Golde

Works cited:

  1. The good, the bad, and the unknown about telecommuting: meta-analysis of psychological mediators and individual consequences. Gajendran, R.S., Harrison, D.A. Department of Management and Organization, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. Journal of Applied Psychology 2007 Nov;92(6):1524-41. []
  2. Telecommuting’s differential impact on work-family conflict: is there no place like home? Golden, T.D., Veiga, J.F. Lally School of Management & Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Journal of Applied Psychology 2006 Nov;91(6):1340-50. []
  3. The relationship between health risks and work productivity. Boles, M., Pelletier, B., Lynch, W. Center for Public Health Studies, School of Community Health, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2004 Jul;46(7):737-45. []

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