How to be productive when you work from home

March 12, 2019

Whether you freelance, run a small business, or work for an organization that supports telecommuting, it’s important to stay productive when you work from home.

That said, there’s not a one-size-fits all solution for ultimate work-from-home productivity. The nature of your work and your personal work style will dictate how to best remain focused to get things done around the house.

We spoke with Al Gorriaran, DBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, core faculty for the School of Business at Capella University, to find out how professionals can maximize their productivity when working from home. His research and personal experience have identified three key areas to focus on.

Make your work environment work for you

Instead of figuring out the best desk to put in your home office, first ask yourself: Do I even need a home office? You might; you might not. It all depends on your personal preferences. Do you work best with lots of stimulation, or do you need sequestered silence? Maybe something in between?

Dr. Gorriaran uses himself and his wife as an example. He prefers to keep a “traveling” home office with lots of background noise. His laptop moves with him throughout the house. Sometimes he interacts with family in the kitchen while his wife cooks. Sometimes he’s on the couch. Sometimes the TV, YouTube, or an audiobook is playing in the background.

His wife, on the other hand, has a dedicated home office with a door that closes. She prefers the quiet alone time to focus and get things done.

Decide what your best work environment is and then cater your equipment and office to meet those needs. Some things to ask yourself:

  • “Do I like working at a desk or at the couch? Do I like standing or sitting?” You might need to get a laptop tray to work from the couch or a desk that converts to various heights.
  • “Do I like using a mouse or an ergonomic keyboard when I’m on the computer? Is my laptop touchpad all I need?” If you need special equipment, working from the couch may not be the most accommodating place to work.
  • “Do I like background noise or music when I work?” Decide if you want a speaker or TV near your home workstation.
  • “Do I like talking with others during my workday, or do I need uninterrupted alone time?” If you need quiet alone time, it might be best to work in a separate room with a door you can close when others are home.

Find ways to interact with peers and team members

Staying connected to coworkers is essential to being an engaged, productive worker. Unless your work is 100% your life’s passion, most people will lose interest in a job without at least one or two personal connections. Just think of how many times you hear people saying things like, “I won’t miss the job, but I’ll miss the people,” after moving on to another opportunity.

When you work from home, you may not get many opportunities for in-person interaction with your coworkers, boss, or employees. Luckily, in today’s tech-saturated world, there are plenty of virtual ways to stay in touch.

Ways to engage with others include:

  • Phone calls – Instead of shooting off another email, consider picking up the phone to discuss the project with your coworker or boss. For complex matters with lots of elements, a quick chat is often more productive and takes less time than going back-and-forth over email.
  • Instant messages – Need a quick answer to a simple question? Use a message app to ask a coworker. It’s also a great way to just say “hi” when you need a little brain break.
  • Video conferences – Team meetings and project planning can often benefit from seeing each other. You can connect names to faces for people you’ve never met in person and can see when someone has a point to make but is waiting for an opportunity to speak.
  • In-person meetings – Don’t underestimate the impact of occasionally going into the office, if that’s an option for you.

If you don’t have coworkers or a team (as a freelancer or small business owner), consider setting up monthly lunch dates or coffee breaks with peers in your industry. The comradery can help energize you after being holed up in your home office and may serve as a stress release while you’re working on a big project. The personal connection can help you be more productive when you get back to work.

Make sure everyone knows and respects your schedule

The beauty of working from home is that oftentimes, you can pick your own schedule. That said, you need to make sure your family and coworkers are aware of your working and non-working hours.

Whether you work best while sipping your morning coffee, prefer to sleep in and let the productivity kick in after lunch, or do your best work while burning the midnight oil, it won’t matter if you’re constantly being interrupted by the kids during your working hours or pinged by coworkers when you’re not on the clock yet.

If you can share an online schedule with coworkers, make it clear when you’re working and when you’re not. Talk with your boss and coworkers about your schedule and see if they have any concerns. Make adjustments as needed and stick to your schedule.

The same goes for your family at home. Make sure your partner, kids, or roommates understand when you’re working. Get their buy-in. Post your schedule in a common space. Close your office door when you’re working or be clear that just because you’re on the couch in the living room, that doesn’t mean you can play a board game or wash the dishes right now. Working hours are working hours, and everyone needs to respect that.

On the flip side, make sure you’re “off the clock” when you should be. Put the laptop away after you’re done with work for the day. One of the main benefits of working from home is that you save time on commuting and can spend more time with the family. Take advantage of that! The work will still be there tomorrow.

Want more tips about being productive when working from home? Capella University students and alumni enjoy free, lifetime access to the Capella Career Center for career planning and advice.

Meet the expert
Al Gorriaran, DBA SHRM-SCP, SPHR

Dr. Gorriaran is a lead faculty member in the human resources department at Capella. He is a retired Army human resources officer and former HR officer in the Foreign Service with 27 years of work in human resources, workplace learning, and recruiting. He holds a DBA in HRM from Nova Southeastern University, an MBA from Webster University, an MPA from Troy University and an MISM from Keller Graduate School. Dr. Gorriaran has had work published in International Academy of Business and Public Administration Disciplines.

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