Harvard Business Review

How to Work from Home More Effectively

The days when working from home conjured an image of a slacker in pajamas are rapidly disappearing.

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Technological advances and employers looking to lower costs have resulted in more people working outside an office than ever before.

Technological advances and employers looking to lower costs have resulted in more people working outside an office than ever before. By one estimate, telecommuting increased in the U.S. by 80% between 2005 and 2012. “The obvious benefits for workers include flexibility, autonomy and the comfort of working in your own space,” says Ned Hallowell, author of the forthcoming “Driven to Distraction at Work.” And done well, working from home can mean a marked increase in output. A Stanford University study last year found that the productivity of employees who worked from home was 13% higher than their office-bound colleagues. People often feel they make more progress when working from home, says Steven Kramer, a psychologist and author of “The Progress Principle,” and “of all the things that can boost people’s work life, the single most important is simply making progress on meaningful work.”

A Stanford University study last year found that the productivity of employees who worked from home was 13% higher than their office-bound colleagues

Carolyn O'hara

Here is how to work from home effectively.

- Maintain a regular schedule. Start the day as you would if you worked in an office: Get up early, get dressed and try to avoid online distractions once you sit down to work. Whether you just started working at home or you’ve been doing it for months or years, take a few weeks to determine the best rhythm for your day. Then set realistic expectations for what you can accomplish on a daily basis.

- Set clear boundaries. When you work at home, it’s easy to let your work life blur into your home life. “Unless you are careful to maintain boundaries, you may start to feel you’re always at work and lose a place to come home to,” Hallowell says. That’s why it’s important to keep the two distinct. One way to do that is to set aside a separate space in your home for work. You also want to make sure your friends and loved ones understand that even though you are at home, you are off limits during your scheduled work hours.

- Take regular breaks. It may be tempting to work flat out, especially if you’re trying to prove that you’re productive at home. But it’s vital to “take regular 'brain breaks,'” says Hallowell. And these restorative breaks needn’t take any particular form. “It can be as simple as staring out the window or reading the newspaper,” says Hallowell, anything to give your brain an opportunity to briefly recuperate.

- Stay connected. Prolonged isolation can lead to weakened productivity and motivation. So if you don’t have a job that requires face-time with others on a daily basis, you need to put in the extra effort to stay connected. Make a point of scheduling regular coffees and meetings with colleagues, clients and work peers. Get involved with professional organizations. And use online networking sites like LinkedIn to maintain connections with far-flung contacts.

- Celebrate your wins. When you’re working on your own at home, staying motivated can be difficult, especially when distractions - Facebook, that pile of laundry, the closet that needs organizing - abound. One smart way to maintain momentum is to spend a moment or two acknowledging what you have been able to accomplish that day, rather than fixating on what you still need to do. “Take some time at the end of the day to attend to the things that you got done instead of the things you didn’t get done,” says Kramer.

© 2014 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp.

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