Dec 28, 2012

    Home offices need sideshows nixed

    The New York Times

    TECHNOLOGICAL advancements have seen to it that employees can work anywhere, besides the office. But they also raise issues of productivity and work-life balance.

    Here is a look at some of the issues that come into play when an employee is working from home.

    You have been working from home and find that it's hard to stay focused and productive. Could it be that you simply don't work well outside a corporate office?

    Not necessarily. We often assume that people are more productive when they work in an office rather than at home, but that's not always the case.

    We are less productive when we're distracted, and that can happen anywhere, says Mr Jason Henham, managing director of Slate Consulting, a management-consulting firm in Melbourne, Australia.

    "In the office, lack of productivity is masked by things like meetings, interruptions and socialising," Mr Henham says.

    The key to productivity - whether in a corporate office or at the kitchen table - is a clear understanding of the results that you're trying to achieve each day, he says.

    How should you organise your home workspace to encourage efficiency and productivity?

    Rather than sitting with your laptop at the kitchen table, create a dedicated space for work that isn't in a high-traffic area and that has easy access to electrical outlets, good lighting, Wi-Fi and, if possible, a door, says Ms Angie Mattson, owner of Your Organized Guide, a time-management and organisation firm in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    "That gives you a separate space for working and sets a tone that says: 'Work happens here'."

    She also recommends setting down rules with one's spouse, children or roommates about when you shouldn't be interrupted.

    Ms Janet Bernstein, owner of Janet Bernstein Organizers in Philadelphia suggests keeping your workspace organised. "If your workspace is cluttered, your mind is cluttered," she says.

    Will you be less productive if you work in your pyjamas?

    Showering and dressing up to start your day will often prompt a work mindset, just as if you were preparing to go to a corporate office, Ms Bernstein says.

    "Don't work in your pyjamas or sweats," she says, adding that if you are too comfortable and relaxed with regard to your outfit, your attitude will be the same.

    Are there any time-management strategies especially useful for working from home?

    It's helpful to establish the kind of accountability found in traditional offices. Tell your manager - or a friend or colleague who agrees to act as your accountability partner - what you intend to achieve that day or week.

    Mr Henham says: "Couch this in terms of results you will achieve, rather than tasks performed, so you have flexibility around how you get your work completed."

    Check in daily or weekly to discuss what you've accomplished.

    It's easy to become distracted at home, when there aren't others around who are also working. How can you redirect your focus?

    Eliminate as many distractions as you can - say, by turning off e-mail for long periods.

    The television set and the refrigerator, for example, should be off-limits during your workday, Mr David Smith, a managing director at consulting firm Accenture in Hartford, says.

    Ms Bernstein suggests building in breaks for things like snacking, checking Facebook, a walk, a lunch out or coffee. Use music to rest, refocus and stay motivated.

    But, Ms Mattson says, no amount of productivity coaching will help people buckle down if they don't like the work they do.

    "If you like what you do and are eager to do it, it's much easier to stay focused," she says.