26 July 2012

How to make the most of working at home

There are a lot of advantages to working from home, but when people don't set rules on when and where they work, things can go awry.


There are a lot of advantages to working from home, but when people don't set rules on when and where they work, things can go awry.

Working from home is appealing to a lot of people because it means saving the time it takes to commute to an office not to mention the expense of a driving or taking public transportation.

Before making arrangements to work from home, however, people should make sure they have certain basics, including a room to work in and a good desk chair. They also should follow a few simple tricks to keep themselves from wasting time.

Life coaches and other counsellors who assist freelancers in managing their time say loss of motivation is the most obvious problem affecting people who work from home. They say people can quickly lose their motivation if they don't stick to the rules they set out for themselves.

"You have to ask how you can discipline yourself," said Ariane Wahl, who runs a coaching agency in Germany. A fixed structure for the day can help people who are undisciplined and lacking motivation. "It helps to create core hours in which to work, have a fixed midday break and set deadline," Wahl said.

Setting boundaries

Gudela Grote, professor of labour and psychology at the polytechnic university in Zurich, considers the biggest danger for people who work from home is the blending of private space and work space.

"The setting of boundaries doesn't happen on its own any longer. You have to actively set them," she said. "That happens through the way you dress, through the definition of work time and place and through the time set aside for breaks."

A separate room is the best solution for defining a workspace in the home. It means the door can be closed behind you, said Wahl, a member of the German association for education and career counselling.

Wahl also said people shouldn't try to save money when setting up their office. "You must invest in a comfortable office chair. The room needs the character of a workspace. It sounds banal, but it is terribly important."

It not only makes a difference for the freelancer to have a small office in the home, it also is important for their partner and family.

"You have to be able to break away from the family," said Wahl. "When the door closes it not only gives you the feeling that this is where I work. The family also knows they are not allowed to disturb you."

Clear communication

Not everyone has a room available to convert to a home office. If that is the case, clear communication with one's partner and family members becomes all the more important. Even when you have to sit at a desk in the middle of the living room, the rest of the family must consider it work, said Esther Kimmel, a career coach in Berlin. For work that requires a high level of concentration, Wahl recommends using the time when everyone is out of the house.

Discipline is not the only factor that determines how well someone gets along working from home. People who are very social need to build bridges, said Wahl. Otherwise, they could become lonesome. People who like being around others but work alone from home have to find ways to make contacts, for example in a network of people who do the same type of work.

The same goes for people who need assurance about their work before they can continue. They can exchange ideas with like-minded people in a professional organisation. People who are still affiliated with a company can take their lunch break at the company cafeteria where they can meet and chat with colleagues. It's a way to keep informed about what's going on in the office.

No matter the personality type, everyone who works from home can suffer from burnout and being overloaded. Kimmel said the danger of suffering burnout is actually greater because the boundaries are so unclear.

"Many people who work from home have the feeling that they never are able to completely switch off," Kimmel said. There are a number of little tricks that can help avoid burnout. "Finding rituals that signal the beginning and the conclusion of work can bring in some clarity. I often work at an old bureau at home and when I close it, I'm finished working."

The experts also have a tip for people who have just started working from home: At the beginning it's helpful to keep a diary. "It can be used to reflect when and how you worked best and what the conditions were," said Grote. "That's how I find a good way of working for myself."

(Sapa, July 2012)

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How to motivate people to work


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