I work from home full time, and it has improved my career for two reasons:
- I am wildly more productive.
- I am dramatically less stressed.
Both of these things make me a better employee, and allow me to focus intently on helping the company I work for succeed. So today I want to look at the reasons why working from home might be able to help you, and share some tips on how to make it work.
When I tell people I work from home, I generally get one of two reactions:
- Complete jealousy.
- A sad look of disapproval that says they think I just committed career suicide.
I have worked from home full time for close to two years, and had done so one day a week for a year prior to that. I work in online publishing, in a corporate role that has me working across 40 brands based in 6 major U.S. locations.
The Benefits of Working from Home
- Become a More Productive Employee
When you remove the distractions of a typical commute and office life – you are left with total, complete focus on getting your job done. I find that not only do I do more work, but I am able to complete my projects to the degree of quality they deserve.
Again and again people tell me that their "plate is full" at work. The implication is not just that they are trying to do too many things, but that they know they are only getting them done to the most minimal levels of acceptance.
Imagine if you could do more in terms of quantity, and do more in terms of quality – that you are living up to 100% of your potential, or at least something close to it. That is what working from home has given me. Simply put: I am a better employee and better serve my company by working from home.
- Gain Hours Each Day
When I travel into my office, I have an average commuting time of about an hour and a half door to door. Even though the train ride itself takes only 45 minutes or so, getting to the train, waiting for it, and walking to the office once I get off the train adds considerable time. If the train is late, which is not uncommon, things get stretched out even further.
When eliminating commuting time, I save at least 3 hours each day. When you count prep time in the morning and that first half hour of unwinding when I get home at night, that adds another hour or more of formerly unproductive time each day.
What’s more: the hours spent preparing for the commute and the commute itself are hours full of distractions, which takes my focus off the things that matter most during the day: helping my company become more successful.
The benefits of this time extends even further: this is 3+ hours that I can do more work, take better care of myself, focus more on my family, and become a better member of my community.
I tend to go into the office one day a week for meetings, yet I still gain about 600 hours a year by not commuting the other 4 days. That is literally an extra 25 days a year I just gained!
- Reduce Stress Levels
When you remove the distractions of commuting, of maintaining an office, of the unproductive aspects of office life – it is astounding how much it shifts your mood. I am a very positive person, and usually full of energy and passion for my work, even when commuting. Yet, I couldn’t believe how my world changed when I began working from home.
Think about a typical workday when I commute:
- Wake-up, shower, shave, iron, get dressed.
- Pack my bag for work.
- Make sure the house is left in decent condition and nothing is left on that will burn it down. (I am paranoid in this regard.)
- Walk a mile to the train.
- Wait 5-10 minutes for the train.
- Find a seat on the train (not always simple.) Sit on train for 45-50 minutes.
- Be herded with thousands of other people in Penn Station.
- Walk close to a mile to work, stopping off for a muffin.
- Unpack my bag.
- Go to the bathroom.
- Boot up my computer, say hello to those I pass, get a napkin and cup of water.
- Just for fun, let’s assume it was raining this day too.
- NOW, I get to start work.
On the flip side, you have this same scenario reversed on the commute home. Now let’s consider my day when I work from home:
- Wake up, shave, shower, get dressed.
- Boot up my computer and start working.
The difference is mind-boggling. For a morning person like me, it means that I can give my company the most attention at my most productive hours of the day, instead of wasting those hours running around, or sitting bored on a train.
- Avoid the Dilbert Moments of Office Life
I do not mean to sound negative here, because I am a very social person, love my coworkers, and appreciate how the nuances of office life can move business forward.
But let’s face it, a TV show like "The Office" and comic like Dilbert resonate with so many people for a reason: because they are true.
I go into the office one day a week for meetings, and it allows the best of both worlds. When home, I can have targeted communication with my coworkers via phone, online meetings or email. When in the office, my days are scheduled completely, ensuring that each interaction has a purpose, and is given the time it deserves.
There are many good things to office life – such as Google’s belief that small teams that work closely are the best way for projects to move forward. I can’t argue with that, but I can say each role and each company is different.
Other proponents of office life will talk about the unstructured aspects of bumping into people in the kitchen, and how it creates cross-pollination of ideas. Pixar famously designed their office to promote this.
In my experience, I have found that many of those kitchen conversations to be pleasant, but don’t do much to move the company closer to it’s goals.
Please don’t think that I don’t value the social aspects of office life. Anyone who I work with will tell you differently. I make an active effort to reach out to people from different departments and roles other than my own. I believe in cross- pollination of ideas, but am not going to rely on the same 12 second kitchen interaction with the same 6 people to move our company in the direction it needs to go.
- It’s the ‘Green‘ Thing to Do
Yes, the train still runs if I am not on it, and no, my company doesn’t unscrew a single light bulb when I am not there. But, at least I save on the electricity costs of ironing each morning!
Seriously: technology has provided us amazing communication and productivity tools, yet society still runs in inefficient ways for social reasons. I am not at all asking for a revolution – I realize working from home full time simply won’t work for plenty of folks.
But what if a company offered this option one day a week to their employees. Could they cut down on electrical costs, commuting costs, emissions, etc by 20%? Perhaps. Maybe it would just be 10%. But that’s a great start.
- More Quality Time With Family
When you remove commuting time, you not only gain more hours to work, but you gain more quality time with family. When you end your workday, you don’t have to start an exhausting commute – you can effortlessly shift focus to family life.
I have found that my personal life is in dramatically better order now that I work from home. Dishes are done, bills paid instantly, bed always made, carpet always vacuumed, and no piles of paperwork and projects I am trying to get too.
When considering the extreme demands of managing kids – the affects are even more dramatic.
- Save Money
Commuting isn’t cheap. There are hard costs like gas, tolls, or train tickets. There are soft costs like wear and tear on your car, or how often you go through an expensive pair of shoes on all those walks to the train. If you drive to work – imagine if you drove 15,000 fewer miles a year.
Food costs also add up (and I would argue, it is more difficult to eat healthy when on the move.) Coffee, bagel, sandwich, snack… it adds up quickly.
There are costs on the other end of things too, for your company, to light/heat/cool/clean your space.
I typically go into the office one day a week, yet I still manage to save thousands of dollars each year in commuting and food costs. I estimate I save around $3,000 a year in commuting and food costs.
These benefits might differ for you, based on your role, personal and professional life. But let’s say you are going to try out working from home one day a week – here are some tips to get things started.
Tips for Working From Home
- Setup a Work Area
I have heard this repeated by others who work from home – have a space in your home that is just for work. It helps keep you focused, and is a signal to your family that you are not to be disturbed.
I have a large empty desk that I use. It is always empty, and when I work, contains only my laptop. I went paperless awhile back, so that helps.
We don’t own a TV, and decorate very sparingly, so the room has no other distractions. Nothing in terms of entertainment, and no personal to-do’s to capture my attention.
I setup a large mirror in front of the desk that reflects the light from the window, which is important for me – I never liked working in a cave, even if that cave was an office on Park Avenue in New York City. Humans need sunlight, in my opinion.
The only other thing on my desk is my cell phone, which I use frequently to stay connected with those I work with across the country.
- Create a Schedule and Set Goals
Undoubtedly, working from home requires discipline and a passion for your work. There are no external cues that you are now a "role," and meant to act in only professional ways. Unlike Batman, you don’t get to change into a costume.
I create a loose schedule each week, and goals each day. I am very strict in judging how much I deliver to my company’s goal’s each week.
Likewise, it is important to take scheduled breaks, to get away from that desk during your lunch break. If you want to do personal stuff during your lunch break, do it on your personal computer, and away from your "work area."
I find I work more and work harder. I set higher standards for myself because I am paranoid about ever feeling "out of the loop."
- Stay Connected
People are afraid of "out of sight, out of mind," – that if their coworkers don’t see them working hard each day, that their jobs will be at risk. So you have to actively work to keep in sight, and there is no better way to do this than delivering on your objectives and helping the company reach their goals.
To stay a part of the office social circle, you have to become an expert communicator. Pick up the phone instead of replying to every email; make scheduled weekly or monthly visits to your office; go out to lunch with colleagues; make it a point to meet new people within your company.
I am a strong believe in teamwork, and understand how in-person meetings and events can have benefits that virtual meetings can’t. Make it a point to schedule these meetings – to meet with colleagues. But do so efficiently, scheduling them all on the same day during the week.
- Get Active
When you aren’t forced to leave the house each day, you have to be mindful of your health. Take a walk in the morning, at lunch or in the evening. Go to the gym. Eat healthy. You can even consider working from a cafe or park on occasion – people are social animals.
I remember having dinner with friends awhile back, and one of them asked with a smirk on their face: "Do you get more or less work done at home?" I could tell they felt I might just be goofing off all day. Before I could even answer, my wife cut in with this answer: "More work!" It felt good to hear that – that she saw the dedication and effort so dramatically.
I think the greatest barriers to working from home are not physical or technical barriers – but social barriers. It takes a certain level of trust between managers and their employees to begin a process like this.
I realize that working from home is not for everybody. But you might want to consider trying it out one day a week to see if it can work for you and your team. Even working from home a single day a week can have a dramatic affect on your career – helping your company meet its goals.