A lot is written about the things you don’t miss when you telecommute — the cube farm, having to wear a suit, the politics, and so on. But, believe it or not, working in an office delivers a few benefits, too, and I’m not just talking about free stationery. The good news is, once you know what you’re missing, you can find ways to enjoy those same benefits while working remotely.
1. Watercooler Chit-Chat
Though it can seem like a big waste of time, chatting around the watercooler (or coffee machine, or whatever you have in your office) gives you a chance to get to know work colleagues better, and obtain the kind of unguarded opinion and advice that can really help you to navigate the unpredictable seas of team work. Of course, office chatter can also provide a valuable, low-intensity social outlet and build a sense of solidarity among colleagues.
You can get the same benefits by taking time — and the effort — to call or message colleagues, associates, clients, or peers every day. Staying in touch with people on a social level, and making sure you maintain workplace friendships, can have a huge impact on your state of mind — and the state of your work.
2. Set Starting and Finishing Times
In an office, you’re more likely to have clearly defined start and end times, as well as expectations around when you take lunch, whether you have breaks, and so on.
Most people who haven’t done it tend to think of working from home as an opportunity to slack off, but most of the web workers I know work more hours, not fewer. They start earlier and finish later. Many of us get into the bad habit of finishing only when something — perhaps a partner or after-hours commitment — gives us reason to.
For tactics to solve this problem, take a look at Simon’s post on finishing at a reasonable hour. If you find you’re starting earlier in the morning than is ideal, consider kicking off the day with some exercise or by pursuing some other interest. Whether you’re playing guitar, going for a run, or getting the kids to school, a solid morning routine will help ensure you don’t drift to your desk before dawn.
3. A Good Reason to Get Up
In an office, most of us have plenty of good reasons to get out of our chairs: perhaps we need to scan a document, answer a phone on someone else’s desk, or check some information with a colleague on the other side of the room.
At home, most of us have everything well within reach. Coupled with fewer distractions, the home office setup can leave you hunched (or slouched) at your desk for hours, which can wreak havoc with your posture. There are plenty of ways to avoid desk-bound burnout. Set a timer to alert you to get up and stretch every 45 minutes, for example. If you drink water while you work, make sure you only take a glass, so you need to get up when you want more. Try not to eat meals or snacks at your desk, either — going to the kitchen to eat provides another opportunity to stretch your legs, uncurl those fingers, and clear your head.
4. The Ability to Corner Someone In the Kitchen
When I’m in the office, I sit near the break room, which makes it very easy to corner people I need to speak to about projects — they’re bound to make a coffee or eat lunch in there at some point. When I’m at home, of course, I’m easier to ignore: they don’t need to reply to my emails or return my voice messages. Half the time, I don’t know whether they’re in the office or not.
This kind of avoidance can end up adding days to project timeframes. So if I’m really chasing someone, I usually IM a colleague to ask whether that person’s in the office. If the person I’m after doesn’t have an assistant, I’ll call them directly and leave messages on their phones. I’ll also email them to let them know why it’s so important I speak with them, and what the implications will be if I don’t speak with them soon (for example, the project may need to be rescheduled).
I’ll also start to think of other ways I might be able to gain the information I need if this contact doesn’t deliver. If all else really does fail, I’ll speak to my manager about the problem and together we’ll work out ways to solve it.
5. The Boss
No two bosses or managers are alike. But simply having your manager passing by your desk or stopping to discuss projects with you can put you on your toes. At home, it can seem like the pressure’s off — almost like you’re untouchable when you’re not on-site.
I’ve found the best way to avoid the motivation slump that can eventuate in my home office is to set myself daily goals, breaking my day up so I know what I need to achieve. This seems pretty straightforward, but I’ve found that actually scheduling all my time between 9 and 5 really does help me to stay on track.
I also maintain close contact with the team I’m working with, so they know what I’m working on, what they can expect from me, and when. The sheer fact that someone knows what I’m doing, and is expecting it at a certain time or date, helps me to focus and stay motivated when I might otherwise hit a brick wall.
These are the elements I’ve found lacking in my work-from-home lifestyle. Do you miss anything about working in an office?