Staying on Task: Working Remotely or Remotely Working?
Keeping one's nose to the grindstone at the home office is a job in itself. In this column, Edgell assesses her own efforts and seeks advice from a work-from-home professional.
Whether you call it working from home or telecommuting, the movement toward setting up shop somewhere other than a traditional office or storefront is catching on.
My aunt in Florida is a paralegal who also sells Mary Kay and has a virtual jewelry business. My neighbor deals rare books and documents online. I recently met a public relations professional who also teaches an online class for a local university. There are legions of people running eBay auctions for a living; doing medical billing; providing consulting services in a variety of industries; you name it.
The U.S. Census Bureau (American Community Survey 2005-2009) shows that four percent of the labor force works from home at least part of the time; more than 5.5 million people. That's up about ten million since 2005. Since July 2010, I am one of those people. (I provide editorial and operational oversight for twelve Patch sites here in Greater St. Louis).
My personal stats (per week) show that "working from home" doesn't always means I am actually at home:
- Hours in the home office (my spare bedroom): 20 to 25
- Hours spent meeting with staff in the field (including travel time): 10 to 15
- Hours working solo at a cafe, coffee shop or other remote location: 10 to 15
Needless to say, working efficiently somewhere other than a traditional office requires a high level or organization and self-discipline. It's a level I continue to strive for; still -- as the saying goes -- "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41)
In other words, I know what to do to stay on task, but sometimes I fall short:
- Goal: Work only at my desk my home office. Reality: I often work at my dining room table or sit on the sofa so that I can be with the television or radio as I work.
- Goal: Change into real clothes upon waking. Reality: If I am not actually going anywhere that day, I have been know to work in sweats and a t-shirt.
- Goal: Do only one thing at a time. In other words: Work or eat. Work or talk on the phone. Work or do laundry. Reality: Multi-tasking is my middle name.
- Goal: Get fresh air and exercise. Reality: Actually, I am doing fairly well on this one. I live near Kaldi's, Schnucks, Saint Louis Bread Company, Walgreens and other businesses. I walk to my errands as often as possible. I also recently joined the Center of Clayton, where I try make use of the swimming pool at least once a week.
One of the most efficient and productive home-based folks I know in this area is Shera Dalin. She's a freelance journalist (including a Patch contributor), author and ghostwriter. Dalin and her husband also run their own company, CarisMedia, which provides communication services for businesses in Greater St. Louis.
In the not-very-time-honored tradition of the email interview, I asked Dalin to share some of her tips and insights.
Edgell: What is one "must-have" tool for people who work from a home or remote office? (Other than a computer or smart phone).
Dalin: Other than the Internet, the must have tool for me is my library card. Believe it or not, I need to be able to access newspaper databases older than 60 days and my library provides that free of charge online. All I need is the member number from my library card and I get to look at newspaper clips from decades ago and not just my local paper. This is a real lifesaver for the work that I do.
Edgell: What's the best approach to setting up a daily schedule?
Dalin: I can't live without my Franklin Covey planner. I schedule in my workouts, all my meetings, to-do lists, etc. Online reminders are helpful for recurring events like blog posting. But if I schedule whatever I need to do into my day, it has a much higher probability of getting done.
Edgell: Carving out a space to work may be a challenge for people with families. Any ideas to find a regular workspace?
Dalin: Years ago when I began working from home I bought a small desk, filing cabinet and large basket that acts as storage and a side table. Those fit nicely into a corner of my basement family room and that's my work space. I don't always work there. With a laptop, I move around from place to place in the house as fits my mood. But it really helps to have one place where I can keep all my files, papers and necessary office toys. (The trick is keeping my child away from the office toys.)
Edgell: How can a person who works solo stay connected to real people for networking and exchanging information about their profession?
Dalin: I was asked to join the board of my local professional trade group and I gladly did so. I'm guaranteed the opportunity to stay connected with my colleagues and find out what's going on within their segments of the profession just by attending meetings and other events my group holds. They are vital to my feeling connected and knowledgable about issues in my field. It also helps stave off the loneliness of working from home. I also attend business networking meetings with non-industry groups, schedule regular lunches and dinners with colleagues and make time to chat with former co-workers and fellow freelancers so that I don't become isolated.
Edgell: Is there anything you wish you'd know BEFORE you embarked on building your own business? Can you describe the early days of CarisMedia in terms of finding work and establishing yourself?
Dalin: I don't think I made too many mistakes starting out because I'd read so much about being an entrepreneur and a home-based business owner. One critical element to my success was using the connections I already had before I quit my day job. I sent an email to nearly everyone in my contact database announcing my plans to become self-employed. I should have been more descriptive about the type of clients and projects I wanted to do in that email. That might have encouraged even more contacts to become clients in the early days, although I was blessed to have quite a few of those as well. One huge factor in my early success was finding people who believed in me and my skills and were my champions, spreading the word about my business and referring clients my way. It made all the difference in the world.