No boss looking over your shoulder. No idle chitchat with well-intentioned colleagues, sucking away minutes or even hours of productivity every week. The kitchen and the bathroom are always clean (or at least cleaner), the chairs are always comfy, and you can listen to whatever music you want—or even the sweet sound of silence. If you’re one of the roughly 43 percent of Americans who say they spend some or all of their time working from home, you know how glorious it can be.
But just because you’re not dealing with gridlocked commutes and communal kitchen turf wars doesn’t mean working from home is any easier than going to an office. Distractions are as near as the tv remote. The lack of in-person oversight, so welcome at first, can quickly morph into a sense of lacking any oversight at all. Where once you had a day full of meetings, and you hoped to squeeze in some actual work between them, you now have an open day with hours to fill. (And you still have meetings, only now they require a dial-in and a conference code.) Problems that you once solved with a quick, in-person conversation now take a phone call, an email or a Slack. (Sometimes all three.) Sitting alone all day, you might even start to miss the daily drama of who took the labeled leftovers in the red container.
But there are ways to power through. Whether you’re a self-employed freelancer, a contractor, a consultant, or just a person whose skills are so valuable your company will let you work from Mars if need be, these are the skills you need to work from home and not just survive, but thrive.
Rethink the “home” part
A coffee shop could be your home. A hotel lobby could be your home. Your friend’s house could be your home. In our experience, you can avoid falling into an uninspired routine—or worse, falling into the temptations we’ll get into below—simply by moving around a bit, just to make it interesting. This also ensures you don’t “accidentally” binge-watch Law and Order when you’re supposed to be finishing up a project.
Jenna, 36, the sole proprietor of a consumer insights firm, initially thought that a co-working space was a waste of money, but decided to sign up for one near her house. “It’s been invaluable to my productivity. I only “go to work” three times a week, but feel like I can really power through projects there, and then my days at my house are more low-key. Another benefit: Jenna has even gained clients from other members of the co-working space.
We get it. You woke up in your PJs, and there’s really no reason you can’t work in your PJs, too. But the next thing you know, you’ll be embracing “comfy” as a lifestyle, instead of just an occasional choice, and soon shaving and even showering could fall by the wayside. Getting dressed sends a subtle signal to yourself that you’re still an adult, and you still have work to do. A recent study showed that wearing a suit literally changed the way people think. You don’t need to go full suit and tie every AM, but at least keep your knees covered. (In our experience, this also means you can celebrate the end of your workday by changing back into some more relaxed clothes, establishing a boundary between work and home life that can quickly blur when your house is doubling as your office.)
Know your bad habits
We all have them, and acceptance is the first step toward breaking them. If you’re tempted to lose yourself in daytime TV, work somewhere without a TV. If you’re prone to cruising social media (or other, less savory websites), consider working in a place where your browsing habits are a little less private. If you figure no one will notice if you catch up on some sleep, maybe don’t work from your bed or your couch. In a perfect world, you’d have a home workspace free of these temptations. This world is not perfect though, so figure out a way to at least carve out a section of your dinner table that’s only used for work.
Because you’re at home, you might be tempted to do some laundry. Or wash the dishes. Or clean the kitchen, the living room, and the bathrooms. Even if you’re not personally tempted, your roommate or partner might be tempted to ask you to do any or all of these things. They’re reasonable requests, to be clear, but if you’re not comfortable saying no, it won’t be long before that’s all you’re doing. Again, a dedicated workspace—or getting on a first-name basis with your favorite barista—will help.
On the flip side, once “regular” work hours are over, resist the urge to hop on your laptop or phone to check “one last thing,” unless it’s an emergency — and make sure your coworkers are very clear about the times you are and aren’t on the clock.
And resist the urge to think you can do double-duty and watch the kids as you take on a conference call. No parent has ever successfully worked from home and watched their child at the same time. Okay, maybe someone has. But we’ve yet to meet that person.
It’s easy to lock in on your work and forget to do things like eat lunch or go to the bathroom. (Seriously.) And because you no longer commute, it’s also easy to literally spend an entire day inside your house. Take 10 minutes if you can just to walk around the block, listen to a podcast, or actually go out to get lunch with another work-from-home friend. If you need to justify the moments away from your computer, remember you probably spent more time hearing your IT guy talk about his NCAA bracket at your last office job. “I found a neighbor in my building who also works from home,” says Jen, 30, a software tester. “She and I meet for ‘coffee breaks’ a few times a week, and having a conversation with another human really clears my head and makes me motivated to finish work on a high note when I get home.”
Meet your coworkers IRL
If your office is in town, swing by for some face time every once in a while. (We find it helps to stack meetings when you go in, too.) If you’re truly remote, talk with your manager about quarterly trips to the mothership. And if you’re a freelance/contractor type, schedule a few in-person meetings as well. Not only is it good for your career, it’s good for your mental mindset. Even in our digital world, you’ll still need to impress people in person if you want to keep growing in your career. You want to keep that blade sharp, and spending every day alone will let that blade rust.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you’re working from a cubicle or an easy chair: As long as you’re responsible, accountable, and capable—and don’t show up for work in your pajamas—you’re gonna do great.