Working from home: Does it work for you?

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Posted by Alicia Waltenberger on Feb 8, 2017 6:54:00 AM
I’m lucky I have the flexibility of working remotely from a quiet and well-lit home office occasionally. But many of my coworkers hate telecommuting—preferring the social interactions and daily routine of the traditional corporate environment.
I have two offices: One at my company headquarters, the other at the end of a cul-de-sac, flooded with natural light. The latter is part of the home my husband and I designed from scratch. Furnished with a bookcase lined with legal resources, plus a desk and chair carefully selected to provide maximum comfort, my office also boasts the obligatory printer and other office essentials.
It’s a place I occasionally retreat to with the hope of reaching a healthier work/life balance.
The traditional workweek is an outdated concept for many. A 2015 Gallup poll reported that 37% of American workers have worked from home at some point; in 1995, it was just 9%.1 Technological advances obviously have a lot to do with that, but working from home also helps employees combat the rising costs of commuting. Conversely, telecommuting may also save employers some of the costs associated with renting and maintaining office space. Employers can save in other ways, too; I’ve heard of employees negotiating a part-time telecommuting schedule in lieu of a raise.
This can be a win-win for a company not in a position to offer pay increases, and an employee looking to eliminate her commute. Working from home, even on a part-time basis, can also help reduce the need for expensive takeout lunches and dress-to-impress office clothes.

Does working from home make you more, or less, productive?

According to the Gallup work and education poll, employees who work remotely, at least some of the time, are slightly more engaged in their jobs than employees who don’t have that luxury. And a more engaged workforce leads to better productivity, profitability and customer engagement.1
However, working from home isn’t for everyone. A lot of my coworkers have tried it and found they couldn’t focus as well as they could in a corporate environment. They would procrastinate, eat too much, or get distracted by the TV. They were, in fact, less productive. In truth, getting work done without a boss around requires a certain amount of self-discipline. For me, the opposite is true, as I tend to work longer hours from my comfy home office, making me too productive, if anything. There is a need for a strict spatial divide between work and home, and striking the right balance is an important part of working from a home office.

My top tips for telecommuters:

  • If you use your home for business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home, such as dues, supplies, certain telephone expenses, equipment, insurance and depreciation of your home. This applies to all types of homes, to renters and homeowners alike. There are certain requirements that must be met in order to claim an income tax home office deduction; a tax professional can help you to better understand if you meet these requirements.
  • If you have a spare bedroom, consider converting it into an office. Arrange the furniture and layout in a way that creates an optimal working environment for you—something the modern office worker isn’t always blessed with. For instance, unlike my fluorescent-lit corporate office, which lacks windows, my home office is flooded with natural light.
  • If you don’t quite have the space for an office at home, make sure you are at least in a quiet environment, with no background noise (like a TV turned on low, “for company”). Set up a proper chair and desk to work from even if it turns out to be your kitchen counter. Consider spending some of the day standing up while working on your laptop.
  • Structure your day so that your home life doesn’t bleed into your work life. This means setting up small rituals to help put you into a working frame of mind. That might mean dressing in a comfortable shirt or blouse rather than your robe (especially if you take part in video conference calls!). The key thing to avoid is letting your office area spill out and engulf the rest of your home. The worst-case (and sadly not unheard-of) scenario is perching on the end of your bed with a laptop cradled on your lap.
  • Make sure you are available to your boss or clients during work hours, via instant messaging.
  • If you start craving human interaction even before those lunchtime hunger pangs strike, make sure that you’re remotely connected to your coworkers via platforms such as Skype for business, or perhaps work from a coffee shop, where you’re surrounded by people doing the very same thing as you. In a corporate office there are so many natural interruptions that force us to step away from the screen. As a telecommuter, find other ways to break up your workday. Schedule coffee breaks or lunch with friends who work or live around the corner from you.
     
Of course, there are many jobs that simply cannot be done remotely, especially in the medical and educational fields, but if you happen to work in a job that does give you the option, give it a try. It could transform you into a happier, more engaged worker—and save you some time and money as well.

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1 “In U.S., Telecommuting for Work Climbs to 37%,” Gallup.com, August 2015
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