5 Tips for People Who Work at Home

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Technology has made it so that many people don't have to go into the office each day and can instead work from home.

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In some cases that means a mix of in-office and at-home days while other people hold jobs where they almost never venture into an actual office. That has major pluses for the employee who save time and money commuting.

Not having to drive to work or get there via public transportation has some real benefits. It means that if your work day ends at 5:30 p.m., you're actually able to immediately transition to personal or family time. That can be a valuable benefit, but working from home also has its downsides.

Here are five things someone who works from home can do to accentuate the positive while minimizing the negatives of being an at-home worker. If you follow this advice it may not smooth out every problem, but it should protect you from the biggest pitfalls.

1. Be visible and accountable

If you work from home at a company where others go into the office each day, there will be resentment. To combat that you need to be as present as possible.

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That means that you should be readily available via whatever inter-office communications system you use. Whether that's email, Slack, or something else, respond quickly, and minimize the lag time created by someone not being able to pop by your desk.

2. Communicate availability

When I worked for a large technology company as the sole East Coast person on a West Coast team, my office was my basement. We used a Slack-like communications system that let us note our availability using essentially a stoplight system. Red meant busy, yellow meant do not disturb except for important reasons, and green meant available.

Since I was always available unless I was in a meeting with the only people who would contact me, my light was always green. That became a problem one early morning when my boss called me to discuss something he had seen on the news. He was surprised when I did not answer and wondered where I was.

When I called him back a few minutes later, I told him I had been in the bathroom, which was a floor away. He wasn't angry, but I had wasted his time by not setting my light to red or yellow communicating my lack of availability. That example may be a bit extreme, but an at-home worker should communicate when they step away from their desks using whatever system your company uses.

3. Treat work like work

If you work in an office and are going to run out to pick up your child, get a haircut, or do anything else, you tell your boss and coworkers. Do the same thing even if you work from home and your absence won't be noticed. If you step away from your desk for more than a coffee or bathroom break, clear it with the appropriate people even if you're only ducking into the next room.

4. Let family know work is work

When I worked the above-mentioned job from home, some family members assumed that my being home freed me up during the day for airport pickups, school conferences, and whatever else might come up. The reality (and my wife was supportive of this once I explained it) was that I was actually working a pretty strict shift for the first half of my day from 7 a.m. through 11 a.m.. After that time period, my west coast co-workers came on and it was not important if I worked the second four hours straight through or split them up.

It was clearly my job to communicate that proximity did not mean availability during the whole day. My situation did have some flexibility over a traditional job, but not as much as it appeared to.

5. Make personal connections

As a remote worker, it's sometimes easy to simply do your job and leave it at that. If you want to advance at the company or even just make sure your contributions are not overlooked, it's important to forge personal connections.

That's easier said than done, but it is possible. At Motley Fool, where all the writers work remotely, connecting requires a special effort. I have done it by emailing people, connecting on social media, meeting up with them when we happen to be in the same area, and taking advantage of our in-house communication through Slack.

Sometimes it's as simple as sending a note when a major milestone occurs or even just chatting about sports, movies, and whatever other interests you share. Being remote does not have to mean being removed, but you have to work at it.

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