This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on July 23, 2015.
Telecommuting has exploded in recent years alongside technological advances and globalization. As the digital and economic landscapes have changed, so have our workplaces.
Both employers and employees want more work flexibility and mobility, and the technology exists to meet these demands. Accordingly, growing numbers of companies are offering employees the option to telecommute. Working remotely is replacing the traditional experience of commuting to a brick-and-mortar office and working in a cubicle. Between 2005 and 2012, telecommuting grew 79 percent, and it is only expected to increase in the future.
If you are a telecommuter, you may find that working from home is not exactly a walk in the park. Let’s face it – it is way too easy to blur the boundaries between work and home, and to do things that distract you from your work. You will be tempted to run personal errands or stream Netflix. By the time you are done, half your workday is gone.
Telecommuting can seriously cut your productivity, but it doesn’t have to. Here are several tips to turn your telecommute into your most productive work day.
1. Stick to a routine.
Maintain the same schedule at home as you do when you are in the office. This is helpful for a number of reasons. Since you are on the same timetable as your coworkers, you can ask and answer questions in a timely fashion. Another benefit is that you adhere to a normal routine. It is enticing to sleep in and start the workday late. But that might also mean working through dinner and even past midnight. Sticking to a reasonable work schedule will ensure both peak productivity and a healthy work-life balance.
2. Have a designated office space.
Identify a place in your home where you work best without distractions. Designate that space as your office, and nothing else. Of course, it is not enough to simply pick a desk, open your laptop and get to work. One of the most important things is that you create an atmosphere conducive to working. Make sure to have a clutter-free environment to maximize your organization and productivity. Have folders to store files and keep an inventory. This way you save time (and money!) looking for things. A tidy office space also helps you look professional during video conference calls.
3. Adjust your environment.
Take advantage of working alone by changing your surroundings to fit your needs. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Researchsuggests that hot temperatures lead to declines in economic productivity. To avoid a sluggish work day, set your thermostat to a temperature that is most comfortable for you. Other researchers have found that playing nature sounds in the background improves employees’ moods and work efficiency. Add nature sounds to your playlist to optimize your ability to concentrate on your job.
4. Get a standing desk.
Standing while working can improve your mood as well as your physical health. You can see psychological and physiological improvements from being on your feet for as little as one hour a day. Get a standing desk to boost your mood and concentration as you answer emails and write reports. However, if you don’t feel like shelling out hundreds of dollars for a standing desk, you can build your own for just over $20.
5. Get more sleep.
Use the commuting time you save from working at home to get more shut eye. Lack of sleep is linked to lower work productivity, with fatigue-related performance decline estimated to cost nearly $2,000 a year per employee. When your brain doesn’t sleep, you are more prone to anger, slur your speech and make risky decisions. These are not the kinds of behaviors you want to exhibit during work. So, have a good night’s rest to keep you alert throughout the day and ready to tackle any challenge.
6. Eat lunch.
While at home, it is easy to snack all day without having a proper meal. If you are grazing on chips and candy, you are not getting the nutrition you need to maintain steady energy levels and mental clarity. Make sure to set aside time to eat a well-rounded lunch that will help you beat the afternoon slump. And don’t eat your lunch at your desk. Take your lunch elsewhere to give yourself a mental break and reduce fatigue.
7. Take breaks.
Last but not least, do not forget to pause what you are doing, step away from your desk and relax for a few minutes. According to a survey conducted by The Energy Project and the Harvard Business Review of mostly white-collar employees across diverse industries, employees reported more positive work outcomes if they take regular breaks. Compared to employees who take no breaks or just one break, those who rest and relax every 90 minutes were more likely to report a higher level of focus and well-being, as well as a greater capacity for creative thinking.
Instead of sitting at your desk during breaks, take a two-minute walk to improve your health. Use rest breaks to re-energize and get your creative juices flowing!
Over the last 10 years, I’ve telecommuted on-and-off. Though I have always had an office away from home, I generally accomplish more when I skip my commute and get to work in my own private, personal space.