When people find out that I work from home, I usually get one of the following responses:
“I could never work from home. I’d just play with my dog and kids all day.”
“That can’t be a real job. The only work-from-home careers are scams.”
“Don’t you get lonely since you don’t have co-workers?”
I’ve worked from home for most of my post-college adult life. Shortly after I began a promising career at a CPA firm, my husband received orders to west Texas. At the time, I was working on Capitol Hill in D.C. and really enjoying my chosen path. I was heartbroken at the thought of leaving my dream job, but I knew marrying into the military meant sacrifice.
My firm was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to work remotely, which I did for the 8 months while I was in Texas. Then we were shipped out to a base in northern California. I decided to commute an hour each way to work for a company in downtown Sacramento. That didn’t last long, and I immediately started searching for remote working opportunities.
I landed a position as an accounting manager for a San Francisco based company which also allowed me to work from home. Fast forward three years, another set of orders (this time, Georgia) and I started my own virtual accounting business based out of my home.
My experience working from home has taught me many things including discipline, time management, and efficiency. But what are the keys to thriving in a virtual work environment?
1. Create a designated workspace
Preferably, with a door that shuts. And no, your La-Z-Boy or kitchen table cannot be your designated workspace. You need an inviting home office space where you can get your head in the game and conduct business. As cute as our kids, dogs, and significant others are, we don’t want them distracting us from our loyal clients.
2. Set aside ‘core’ office hours
It’s easy to spend the entire morning watching GMA when you don’t have anybody monitoring your time. If you don’t set and stick to your “core” hours, you will certainly get distracted with something more fun. Personally, my neighborhood pool looks pretty appealing right now, but I’ve designated my Wednesday hours as 7:30AM-3:30PM. If I lose track now, then I’ll never get anything done.
3. Use your calendar
When people ask how I stay on track and get so much work done, I tell them that I use my calendar religiously. From 7:30-10:30, I am networking on LinkedIn. From 10:30-12:30, I’m working on Client A’s QuickBooks file. From 12:30-1:30, I’m at a spin class. My calendar serves as my to-do list and keeps me on track. Staying on track is important because you don’t always have someone telling you what to do. If you aren’t disciplined, the whole day might pass without getting any real work done.
4. Put your smartphone in another room
When you’re working on a big project or something that needs your full concentration, ditch your cell phone and concentrate on the task at hand. We’ve all needed a break from work to catch up with friends, play Angry Birds, or read Fox News, but when your clients depend on your full attention, you need to put down the phone. In fact, during my working hours I don’t even answer my door. Pretend you are in a real office working face to face with your clients. You wouldn’t show them the disrespect of distraction would you?
5. Get dressed
One of the many luxuries of working from home is that you are no longer required to wear a business suit. However, you should at least put on something other than your pajamas. A bonus would be to apply some fresh makeup and brush your hair. For me, putting on jeans, a sweater, and some eyeliner means I’m presentable enough in the event of a live video chat. It also means I’m ready to start my day.
6. Leave the house every day
I don’t care where you go. Go to the gym, walk your dog, go to the store. Whatever you do, just make sure you leave the house at least once a day. Going stir-crazy is a very real thing. When I forget to leave the house for several days, I tend to feel lonely and depressed. You don’t get those human interactions you did when you worked in an office. You need those interactions to feel, well, human.
7. Make friends with people besides your partner
While our significant other is the foundation of our support system, it is important to make contact with other people. When you work from home, you don’t have the built-in social network that comes with working in a row of cubicles filled with twenty-somethings. You don’t have happy hours to attend or co-workers to vent with. You need to join a book club or social group.
8. Set up regular client and team meetings
Again with the human interaction & leaving the house. If you’re lucky enough to live close to your other remote co-workers or clients, take advantage and set up in-person meetings and luncheons. Your clients appreciate the face to face and knowing who is behind some of their most important business processes.
When you work remotely, you can never “call it a day” and “go home.” Your co-workers, managers, and clients all know that you are within 15 feet of your office and are able to work at any given time. Therefore, it is incredibly difficult to create a good work-life balance. By disconnecting, even if just for the two hours in between dinner and your kids’ bedtime, it helps you reconnect with your family. Turn off the email notifications, turn off your pings. Enjoy time recharging with your family.
Working from home can be very rewarding and provide flexibility that is unavailable in a traditional office job. It can also be extremely difficult, distracting, and draining. Some days you may feel like you can’t concentrate enough the simplest of tasks. Are you fortunate enough to work from home? What are your tips for thriving in a remote work environment?
This article has been edited and condensed.
Brooke Cline, a first generation blogger and finance ninja, owns and operates a full service accounting and bookkeeping firm, Emergent Advisory LLC. She has spent the last six years in the accounting and finance world, providing services to government entities, real estate empires, and Silicon Valley startups. She is passionate about helping businesses grow from the ground up. She and her husband live in Georgia with their Wheaten terrier, Lucy. Connect with @starr_cline on Twitter.