The evidence is ample now that working from home is a big productivity boost. The biggest downside--isolation and loneliness--is manageable and employers are rapidly at least experimenting with a mix of remote and in-office time.
In 2017, 43 percent of Americans were working at least partially remotely. (And no, critics and paranoids, they weren't remotely working--they were working remotely.) Gallup research indicates that the option of working from home is now a major determinant of whether or not an employee will take a job.
So the time for working from home has come, but how to make the most of that time? It's a job skill like any other that requires development.
I've been working from home for 18 months, having left my corporate job for entrepreneurship, so I've got something to share--from experience, research, and interviews with others who do this successfully. Here are the seven keys to success:
1. Start from a place of gratitude.
It might surprise you that I'm starting here: I believe that the ability to work from home is a gift. Your employer doesn't have to grant it--even if the option is no longer optional for companies wanting to remain competitive.
The flexibility associated with working from home is intoxicating and you should be thankful for it. Fully taking advantage of that flexibility--to fit in exercise or pick up your kids from school--while remaining thankful means doing everything you can to make it work for everyone involved.
When you start feeling entitled to this privilege, you start resenting the time you must be in the office. That's poisonous.
2. Take full advantage of "found time."
Working from home offers the obvious huge benefit of saving commuting time, meeting time, interruption time, and unproductive, randomly spent time. So have a plan to use this found time to the maximum.
The key is to be organized, disciplined, and to maintain a routine. I still get up at roughly the same time as when I worked in an office, work until about the same time, and adhere to a schedule.
Monday through Thursday is for creating or delivering things that directly generate revenue. Friday is for maintenance work like phone calls, billing, follow-ups, and so on.
3. Take full advantage of "focus time."
Much of the massive productivity gain from working at home comes not just from found time but from the quality of that time. The key is to take advantage of your natural work rhythms to capitalize on the bank of uninterrupted time you'll now have.
For example, my best thinking happens early morning. After breakfast, I dive into my hardest tasks requiring maximum thought.
I use the Pomodoro technique. I set a timer for long stretches of "cranking time" followed by five-minute breaks. Research from the US Army and the Federal Aviation Administration supports this approach with the FAA reporting dramatic improvement in pilot focus (kind of important).
4. Set boundaries.
Just like you should leave what happens at the office at the office, so should you separate your home office from your home. Otherwise, the lines blur, work hours creep up, and balance gets out of whack.
Create separate workspaces at home. If space is constrained at least set time-based boundaries and be intentional about avoiding work hour creep. Working at home with children can be quite challenging, so experts recommend explaining to your kids exactly why you need "time in the home office" to help minimize distractions.
5. Tie a tether to HQ.
Working from home doesn't mean out of sight or out of mind. Ensure clear rules are established that define the scope and expectations of working from home.
Check-ins with the boss might be required on certain things. At a minimum check in to let your boss know/see how well working from home is working.
The idea isn't to bastardize the powerful autonomy and trust inherent in working from home. It's to put simple checks in place that make everyone involved feel comfortable.
6. Ditch the guilt.
You might feel guilty working from home, or worry that you're not valued as highly as your coworkers in the office. Simply put, don't question your worth.
Soon, all the most valued employees will be the ones who can work most effectively remotely. And you can stay top of mind for others by, for example, being the first person in their inbox in the morning (prioritizing responses to their email requests).
7. Find connection points.
Intentionally dedicate 10 percent of your work time to human connection. Schedule periodic lunches with co-workers, face-to-face client meetings, and community involvement. If you can rope other people into your plans, do it every time.
The net is that working from home can really work with the right approach.