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Put Your Pants On

...and other practical pointers for those who work from home.

By: Stephen Ekstrom | President & Founder of Fire Starter Brands LLC

My first experience working from home was nearly ten years ago and it was born out of necessity.  I'd shared a very small office with a colleague and we were constantly butting heads.  It was tough.  I suggested to the boss that the only way we could achieve some sort of harmony in the office was if we each took a couple days to work from home every week.

My apartment was a 10 minute walk from the office and I was determined to make it work.  With a cell phone, desktop computer and internet access, I set out to make the most of a difficult situation.  

Within a few short weeks, my productivity was up, I was less stressed and our team was getting along much better.  

Since I started Fire Starter Brands in 2010, we've been a work-from-home company.  Each of our team members functions with a laptop, wifi, headset and a handful of cloud or web-based tools.

I've learned that working from home is not easy for most people.  It takes a certain level of discipline, focus and support to pull it off. Here are some of the most important lessons I've learned.

Minimize Distractions...

Working from home is not the same as taking a sick day when you periodically check your email during commercials while waiting to see if Maury's envelope says, "You are not the father."  There are countless distractions at home that you need to get out of the way so that you can focus.

  • No kids. They're great to have and spoil, but if you wouldn't bring them to the office, you should have them in your work place at home. 
  • Most people don't understand that working from home means that you're actually working.  Be sure to tell others your schedule.
  • Get away from the kitchen table. Try to find a space that you can dedicate to work and try not to confuse that space with home too much.  Ex: keep the pile of household bills off your work desk.
  • Keep a neat, clean work space.  Studies show that those who keep clutter to a minimum are often more productive.  
  • If you need to face the wall - do it.  Don't give yourself opportunities to find distractions.

Build Routines...

Routines are the secret to making working from home a great long-term solution and not just an occasional perk.

  • Get up, take a shower, shave, brush your teeth, get dressed and go to work... down the hall. 
  • Put pants on!  Seriously - you'll notice an incredible difference in your productivity, focus & activity levels when you dress for work each day.  You're far more likely to get pulled into daytime television or gardening when you're dressed for one of those activities instead of the office.
  • Close the door. If you can, find a designated space that you can use as an office.  Use that door as your time card - close it when you're done and open it in the morning.  It'll be a huge relief to not see your work at dinner time and to put it all behind you at the end of a busy day.
  • Set goals for productivity.  Start each day with a task list.
  • Schedule activities around your work schedule. Being home all the time can make you stir crazy.  Be sure to plan activities that will get you out of the house - yoga, dog walks, dinner with friends or family, etc.

Don't Get Trapped...

It's easy to start working from home, wake up one day and realize that you haven't been out of your house in a week.  Here are a few tips.

  • Take a lunch break. Go outside or to a nearby park to enjoy your lunch.
  • Use your mid-day break to accomplish home activities.  My favorite would be to go to the farmers market so that I'd have fresh produce for dinner later.
  • Be sure to talk with your colleagues - on the phone, Skype, instant messenger. This will help you feel connected with other people and less isolated.
  • Participate in conference calls.  Use those as opportunities to demonstrate that you're engaged in the team process even if you're alone at home.

Some of our favorite tools...

Skype for business.  We use if for our phone & video conference needs.  We've also found it helpful when you need help with a project and can share your screen with others.  Compared to traditional phone lines, it's also a huge cost savings.

Ring Central.  Similar to Skype, RingCentral also offers virtual fax & directories so that you can work without lots of machines on your desk.

SelfControl.  Not just the personal kind, but the app. If you're using a Mac, download and install SelfControl.  You identify the websites that are most distracting to you and set a timer so that you cannot access those sites until the timer is done.