Every parent dreams of flex hours and the perfect work-life balance. If you decide that a working from home is the way to make this dream come true for you, you’ll need the right tools and mindset to be successful.
The best work from home job can be a holy grail of work-life balance—the ability to stay in the career you love, completely control your work hours, and still receive the same salary. But working from home can have its complications. You need the right setup, the tech tools to stay efficient, and if you have a little one at home, the child care or strict routine to give yourself the time to get work done. Maybe it’s all easier said than done, but we’re here to help you navigate the transition from office to home-office so you really can have it all.
A home office. Whether it’s a spare room above the garage or a little nook right off the kitchen, you’ll need a space where you’ll have space and privacy necessary to work. If you have a designated office space, you’ll be less likely to seek distraction in household chores, like emptying the dishwasher you’re staring at when working from the kitchen table, and when you’re off the clock, you’ll leave the room and really be done with work for the day. Plus, if you regularly meet with clients or have Skype meetings with your boss, you’ll need a polished and professional-looking space.
Child care. If you think that you can say sayonara to your babysitter now that you have a work from home job, think again. Now more than ever you’ll need a nanny (or four) to watch little ones during work hours. Why? With you now being home, it may be very difficult for your kids to understand the concept that you’re working and shouldn’t be disturbed. To avoid being bombarded with incessant Goldfish cracker requests, it’s best to have a person who can take care of your kids—or better yet, take them outside to play.
The right equipment. You’ll need to outfit your home office with the proper tools to get the job done as efficiently as possible. Your computer, like the rest of your office equipment—should be in fairly good condition. Depending on the type of work that you do, you may need a separate phone/fax line. But whether you’re a botanist or a bookkeeper, high-speed Internet is a must. If you’re working in a basement or back room of the house, invest in a WiFi booster or extender to fill those Internet dead zones. Get one that has family tools built in, like Google’s WiFi booster, Google WiFi ($129; store.google.com), which connects to your existing modem and forms a web of WiFi around the house using one to three small devices that can be placed in any room and act as WiFi range extenders. You can create a separate password to access Internet on your work devices so your family and guests don’t accidentally tap into your working docs, and set a schedule for your kid’s devices so they automatically disconnect from the internet at bedtime.
Organization. Without a micromanaging boss breathing down your neck, you can keep your home office as neat (or as sloppy) as you’d like. However, when you work from home, the only way you can stay focused—and sane— is by being highly organized. Keep business receipts in an accordion folder or digitally organized in an app like ShoeBoxed, so they’re easy to find when it’s time to file your expenses. At the end of each week, sort through your overflowing email inbox, since your co-workers aren’t there to check in on that email they sent the other day. Try a program like Unroll.me to filter out promotional emails to a daily digest. Also, make sure that you stay on top of both your office space and your actual work to keep your workflow organized.
Excellent communication skills. Working in an office with your colleagues meant crystal clear clarifications whenever you had a question about a client. Now your communication consists of a flurry of back-and-forth emails. But don’t read between the lines; if you don’t understand something, reach out and ask. And in lieu of face-to-face contact, you’ll also need to be proactive in keeping your boss abreast of what you’re working on. Staying in touch with your company when you telecommute is important, so your boss can “see” that you are actually working… when you’re working from your home office.
Dedication. Without being in an actual office, you might lose sight of the bigger picture, which is performing at your best for the betterment of your company. Try to tackle your work with the ultimate goal of trying to be a vital asset to your organization, and producing the quality of work that you can be proud of. You can attempt this by setting daily goals for yourself and accomplishing them. Most of all, dedication will come from being grateful for a flex schedule that allows you to pick up your sick child from school—at 10:00 a.m.—and have her back home and in bed 15 minutes later.
Focus. By far, focus is one of the hardest skills to master when you work from home. After all, if you work for a few minutes and then wander into the kitchen to grab some grapes, only to sit at the computer and surf through your friend’s latest vacay photos on Facebook for forty minutes, you won’t get much work done. Try to train yourself to sit down at your desk and start working without any distractions from your kids — or more importantly, yourself.
A can-do attitude. When you worked in an office and your computer crashed, you called IT. Now, when your computer displays the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) or your Internet stops working for no apparent reason, you’ll need to problem-solve — and quickly. Try figuring out solutions on your own, and when all else fails, YouTube has some of the most amazing how-to videos that can get you through virtually any quandary. As you brave each new battle, you’ll build strength and confidence in knowing that you can truly do it all.
Knowledge of your field. Just because you’ve been in your career for years doesn’t mean that you’ve learned all there is to know in your field. Staying ahead of the competition is crucial when you telecommute, so be sure to register for free webinars in your industry or even take a class or two. See if your company can reimburse you for the cost of continuing education. That added knowledge will help to make you a valuable asset to your organization.
Structure. Sure, one of the biggest perks of telecommuting is that you can work at 2:00 a.m. if you want to. But working erratic hours, especially with children at home, is going to make you feel scattered, exhausted, and can cause your workload to suffer. So be sure to try to maintain a consistent, uninterrupted schedule during hours you’ll need to be able to be reached by your team or clients. That way you’ll take advantage of the fact that by working from home, you’ll accomplish far more than you ever dreamed—and all on your own schedule.