There are clear advantages in allowing employees to work at home.
Workers aren’t tardy because of traffic snarls. Sick days are rare. Water cooler dramas, air conditioning wars and feuds over fridge space in the break room are all but eliminated.
But can employees who work at home be counted on for high levels of productivity? Apparently, they can. In a study published by the Harvard Business Review, at-home workers are happier, more loyal and often more productive than their office counterparts.
However, work-at-home employees face special challenges that office workers do not. Below, we’ve cited some common dilemmas and provided tips for solving them.
Keeping It Real
“It’s so tempting to sleep late. How can I get motivated?” Working at home can remove the sense of obligation that a public environment imposes.
Before turning in for the night, we suggest scheduling something to do first thing in the morning. This could be making a phone call, polishing a report or clearing the inbox. Also, showering and dressing in casual office attire—or at least changing into clean pyjamas every day—goes a long way toward inspiring the right mindset for work.
“I love being able to set my own hours.”
We don’t recommend that. Supervisors at the office are bound to have lurking suspicions about how an employee’s time is spent. This fosters resentment. It’s best to stick to a conventional routine. Workers should get going just as if they were expected at the office. They should be easy to reach by phone or email and reasonably quick to respond. Even better, telecommuters should originate communication by interacting with coworkers, initiating conference calls or reporting progress on tasks with deadlines.
We encourage employers to enforce normal business hours.
“Without the boss breathing down my neck, how do I convince myself that it’s a real job?”
People put a lot of thought into making their homes relaxing and comfortable. The puffy sofa, cutting-edge entertainment center and king-size bed are conducive to loafing rather than labouring. Employees can psyche themselves up by creating a serious office environment. A space should be dedicated solely to work. Ideally, it should have a door. It should be in a well-lit area. It should have a reliable computer, high-speed broadband and a quality office chair. It should be stocked with standard office supplies.
“I make a to-do list for my workday, but I never know what to do first.”
If this employee doesn’t know what to do first, then it’s a fairly useless to-do list. Ten minutes at the start of the day should be reserved for prioritising tasks according to urgency. Appropriate timeframes should be allotted and recorded in a day organizer. Task-management software makes it even easier for employees to stick to a schedule.
Keeping It Focused
“How can I stay focused with the kids fighting and the cat running across the keyboard?”
With small children underfoot, it’s almost impossible to concentrate and do one’s best work. Ideally, children should stay at a day care centre or with a babysitter. When there is no alternative but to share space with kids, it’s essential to provide plenty of entertainment such as books, games, puzzles and educational videos. Children should understand the importance of staying quiet. They can always be put to work stapling papers or tidying an office shelf. Rewards for good behavior might keep disruptions to a minimum.
As for the cat, it gets shooed from the room. The door stays shut.
“My family and friends think that I’m always available for long phone conversations or even running their personal errands.”
This is a common complaint, but workers must stand their ground and blame their bosses. “Sorry, Mum, but I’m on so-and-so’s dime right now.” That’s the truth.
“It’s so tempting to shop online or catch up on Facebook when I’m not in a cubicle that people can see into.”
This calls for a forceful reminder that spending company time on one’s own amusement is unethical. In a way, stealing time is no different from sneaking out of the office with a toner cartridge or pack of printer paper for personal use. With any luck, at-home workers will shame themselves into doing the right thing when Facebook tempts. At home or in the office, employees must be held accountable for their productivity. If supervisors aren’t seeing top-quality, timely results from someone, it will be evident that the worker is wasting company time. If that’s the case, a change is in order.
“I have the best intentions, but sometimes I catch myself staring into space.”
Lack of focus is often an indication of fatigue or lack of energy. We suggest having a cup of coffee or eating a proven brain-healthy snack like a boiled egg, blueberries, nuts, an avocado or kale chips. Exercise also sparks the brain. Taking a brisk stroll around the block, standing and stretching or even clearing a cluttered desk are better for concentration than sitting still all day.
Refusing to take short breaks is counterproductive.
Keeping It Healthy
“I’ve gained 13 pounds since I started telecommuting two months ago. Any tips for staying out of the pantry?”
One would think that healthy eating went hand in hand with working at home, but that’s rarely the case. People either snack too much or look up at 2 p.m. and realise that, without coworkers to remind them of lunchtime, they haven’t eaten a bite all day. We urge people to get rid of sugary, high-calorie, processed snacks that have no nutritional value. We suggest spending time over the weekend planning and shopping for a week’s worth of healthy lunches.
Also, eating meals and snacks at the same time every day tells the body when it should be hungry and reduces cravings between snacks. The use of alcohol should be limited on nights that precede workdays. A hangover at home is just as detrimental to productivity as a hangover at the office.
“At first I felt isolated, but I’ve gotten used to being alone. In fact, I rather like it.”
Isolating oneself from society can cause a number of negative side effects that may go unnoticed until the damage is already done. It’s imperative for at-home workers to stay engaged with friends, family and colleagues. Employees should stop by the office now and then, meet friends for happy hour or invite coworkers over for a night of Netflix.
Ensuring that at-home workers are happy and productive makes good business sense.