Imagine waking up five minutes to 9 am, still in PJs, grabbing that steaming cup of homemade coffee, and settling down in a comfy office chair to work. There’s evidence this is becoming more common: One study estimates 45 percent of America’s workforce has a job suitable for part-time or full-time telecommuting (the fancy term for working somewhere other than the office).
Research suggests employees who spend time working outside the office are more satisfied with their jobs and even argue less with family members . But working outside the office isn’t always easy – it means learning how to manage time and balance work and home-life tasks like laundry, and child care  .
Homeward Bound–The Need-to-Know
More than 13 million Americans telecommute at least part of the work week, according to the lastest census data. And the number of companies that allow employees to work from Starbucks or their friend’s couch has increased at least 25 percent over the last few years. Today’s telecommuters work in a range of fields from public relations specialists and writers to graphic designers or nurses who give patients advice over the phone.
The potential benefits of working outside the office range from less time on a sweaty subway to more motivation to get stuff done. For one thing, a 2.4-second trip from the kitchen to the living-room workstation can save people time, energy, and money on commuting to the office. In some cases, telecommuting can also increase employees’ job satisfaction, improve work performance, and reduce stress . That’s possibly because telecommuters feel more independent, free to take a break and look at images of cute puppies whenever . And one study found telecommuters experienced less conflict with family members the more time they spent working from home . (No more having to sneak to the stairwell to answer calls from that special someone.)
Perhaps surprisingly, working outside the office may also increase productivity. The boss can’t check to make sure telecommuters are actually working, and not just taking a nap, so employees may try to prove themselves by submitting a finished project at the end of the day and staying extra on top of email. But not everyone is ready to jump out of the desk chair and onto the couch.
Cabin Fever–Your Action Plan
Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side of the cubicle. Even part-time telecommuting can cause tension between coworkers: One study found in-office employees thought they were treated unfairly when other employees got to work from home, while telecommuters felt just the opposite . Plus, working from a house where the laundry machine’s overflowing and dinner’s burning in the oven may also mean family obligations distract us from professional responsibilities .
Before abandoning the office, consider whether telecommuting is right for you. It takes strong self-discipline and motivation to produce results on the job when there’s no one else around. Here are some general guidelines to follow when working outside (or inside) the office:
- Designate a workspace when staying at home. Use that area for work and only work. (When on the couch, commence reality-TV-watching!)
- Set a schedule. Let family and friends know you won’t be able to answer the phone or pick up groceries during work hours.
- Keep it professional. It’s hard to take someone seriously when the dog is barking in the background of a conference call—time to put Sparky outside!
- Work with a buddy. Having a coworker nearby can make sure you both stay on track.
- Switch up your location. If sitting at home, bring the laptop to a café; the new scenery might motivate you to get more done. (Just don’t spill coffee on the computer.)
- Check email and social network updates at set times, no matter how distracting that Facebook notification may be.
- Take a break! One study suggests frequent short breaks from heavy computer use can actually boost productivity. Stand up and stretch or try a mid-day workout.
- Don’t forget to go out and actually interact with people. Working alone all day and night isn’t healthy for anyone, so save time for socializing!
- Bring water, but not food, to the work desk. Most of us know from personal experience that it’s easy to get caught up in work and eat an entire bag of Pirate’s Booty. Stick with just the water bottle.
- Make sure health is a priority. Don’t use working at home as an excuse to slack on sleep or exercise. Good health is especially important since one study found people suffering from certain health issues tended to be less productive than healthy people .