When to break the rules while telecommuting

Telecommuting isn’t just about working at home, it’s also about making different choices in the way you spend your time. A rapidly growing approach to the 9-to-5 office grind, telecommuting offers a spectrum of flexible work alternatives that allow employees to realize increased productivity while enjoying a better quality of life. The drawbacks of driving your car back and forth to the office each day have been noted by countless researchers and agencies. In addition to these now-familiar disadvantages, Slate recently reported that couples are 40 percent likelier to divorce when one partner’s commute exceeds 45 minutes!

On the upside, telecommuters continue to champion the numerous advantages of working at home, as in these findings from a 2011 survey:

  • 25 percent of telecommuters report decreased stress levels
  • 86 percent feel they are more productive
  • 73 percent say they eat healthier
  • Over 80 percent have achieved a better work-life balance

By skipping the daily commute, employees can gain 2-3 weeks’ worth of free time per year, get more things done and enjoy a healthier, more fulfilling life.

While an improved work-life balance and the other benefits of working from home represent a significant gain over commuting to and from the office day after day, there are other ways you can keep both your work and your network energized and fulfilled. Distinct advantages to teleworking are mobility and flexibility, and just recently, Fast Company published an article that explores non-traditional work environments and their advantages. If you’ve developed a telecommuting practice but aren’t feeling the “life” in your work-life balance, maybe it’s time to break a few rules.

When you’re feeling isolated, coworking spaces and coffee houses create a networking hub

With your contact to the outside world limited to the technology on hand, it’s easy to feel isolated while telecommuting. Video conferencing is the next-best thing to in-person meetings, but sometimes it’s simply good for you to meet new people and build your professional network. Coworking spaces are shared work environments where individuals from diverse fields, interests and backgrounds gather to do their work within a lively, dynamic setting of professionals and entrepreneurs. Coworking spaces afford social-professional interactions and support, attracting teleworkers who know the value of getting out and meeting people while still working independently. As a telecommuter—and especially if you are a freelancer—coworking spaces will put you in the company of energetic, like-minded others who can help you crowdsource opinions and ideas and provide feedback on your work.

Whether it’s brainstorming for fresh ideas or troubleshooting problems, immersing ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings and crowds can provide unique insights, provide novel opportunities and induce new growth.  Similar to coworking spaces, coffee shops are often hubs of young professionals, and the casual atmosphere of coffee shops can yield a creative experience that’s hard to replace. While the appeal for traditional office workers may be that the environment is less distracting than their cubes, telecommuters are often attracted to the hustle-bustle and spirited change of pace. As noted in the Fast Company article, “coffee shops are a welcome experience of human interaction, but on your terms.”

TIP: While you shouldn’t sign any coworking contracts until you fall in love with the space and culture, daily rates are usually cheap enough to get you out of your PJs for the day.

If you’ve got writer’s (or coder’s, or manager’s) block, work alternate hours

There are simply times when it feels pretty close to impossible to do work. This feeling can be dangerous if you’re telecommuting. Studies consistently demonstrate that employees are more productive while telecommuting, but understanding your cycles of productivity and how to maximize both efficiency and creativity requires a different level of awareness. Some people are morning people. Some people are night people. And some people evolve from one to the other over time. Experiment with the hours you perform certain tasks – especially the most challenging and/or most creative – and evaluate your performance. You just might be surprised.

TIP: Regardless of what time you hit your stride, tackle the most difficult one first.

When you’re feeling cabin fever, relocate your home office

If you don’t want to spend the money or time on a coworking space and are too distracted by the noise and activity of coffee shops, try busting out of your rut while remaining at home. If you work at the kitchen table and find yourself stumped on a particular problem, bring your laptop outside and work on your back porch or deck. See what it feels like to work in the sunshine. If you do decide to work in a space different from your designated home office, be sure to monitor your productivity carefully.

TIP: Location, location, location. Setting up a satellite office on the couch with the TV remote nearby is only asking for distraction.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, turn off your email

Email is a constant barrage, a flow through the day. You may monitor email closely with swift reaction times or you might prefer to wait on most communications unless they’re urgent. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed or are facing looming deadlines, the first rule to break is a temporary hiatus from your email. The distraction impairs focus and stirs a baseline sense of urgency without the consistent payoff of importance. Understanding that it’s different for everyone, see what makes you slightly uncomfortable without feeling irresponsible. Some might not last five minutes, but for others, a half-hour can allow breathing room and focus without compromising communications.

TIP: Give yourself space from technology for a few minutes and see what that feels like.

When you want to scream/resign/send “that” email, take a time out

Telecommuters are no different from any other workers in their frustrations. But the opportunities to go blow off steam and take a few moments to release frustration are rich and generate significant stress relief. A quick walk or short workout is right at a telecommuter’s fingertips and all that is needed is a 30-minute break between meetings.

TIP: Find ways to nurture yourself throughout the day that energize and bolster your spirits. If you’re having an especially tough day, be sure to remember that there’s no commute at the end.  

The Telework Research Network shows a steady, impressive 73% growth among overall employee teleworkers between 2005 and 2011, and this trend is here to stay. Strive to continually improve your telecommuting practice and increase its staying power by creating opportunities for success, breaking a few of your own rules occasionally and exploring new paths to success.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user mdayns


About Lea G.

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