Monday, October 10, 2011

Five pitfalls to avoid when working from home

For the past two years, I haven't had much opportunities to work from home as I have been very busy with my experiments in the lab. I do have the habit to squeeze in some hours during the weekend, but only recently I've worked a full office day from home (either on purpose, or because I had to be at home for some maintenance works/expected mail/...).

Working from home has the incredible advantage that no one can come in and disturb you, but at the same time it might feel harder to work from home.

Here are typical pitfalls for working from home, and how to avoid them.

1. Not getting into work-mode

You might feel tempted to clean up the kitchen, put another load of laundry into the washer... Quickly, before you are "really" going to get started. And then you go and browse the interwebs... And before you know, it's time for lunch already. Even though I don't have a designated work area at home (I can use my desk, my computer desk, the living room or the balcony to work from), I do need to switch my brain into work-mode and ignore all other distraction at home before I really can get started.

2. Not setting boundaries

When you're already at home, it's harder to decide when it's time to call it quits for today and go home. I find it helpful to define my task for the day, and just be satisfied if I can finish it by the time I would typically leave my office. Admittedly, I find this one quite difficult.

3. Isolation

This one is more a challenge for students working from distance and/or working part-time on their PhD. Not being in your research group and having the regular chitchat with fellow PhD students can make you feel isolated, as described here.

4. Losing focus

The downside of having a day of quiet peace, is that it might be too quiet - which makes it tempting to doze off or let your thoughts wander unlimitedly. I've tried to solve this by changing my work-space in the house (giving me some variety) and by setting regular breaks (which is hard when it's so peaceful and quiet that you can get completely absorbed in material and forget about the world around you).

5. Missing tools

It might be out of your hands to solve this pitfall. I, for example, cannot remote control my office computer from home because of an incompatibility in the operating systems. However, when I plan to work from home, I check and double-check to see if I have all necessary data, papers and documents with me to carry out the task at hand.

Which pitfalls have you come across when working from home and how did you solve them?

5 comments:

  1. Good tips, for sure. This is such a hard thing for me. When I was working on my thesis last year, I thought I was going to go crazy by myself in the apartment for days and days on end!

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  2. Thanks! I vaguely remember how it was to write my master's thesis, and how the time spent in my appartment looked like an endless vacuum of isolation to me...

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  3. Tip for number 5: see if you can use Dropbox or something similar. I even put articles into my dropbox folder to view on my smartphone. It is available for most known platforms and a real lifesaver (especially on days when the institute is closed.)

    Although I do not know whether Delft lets you install your own software (The RUG does.)

    (And use this link http://db.tt/vFvzIA0 for an extra 250MB for you, and for me.)

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  4. If there are cons, there are also pros to working at home. One advantage in setting up your work base at home is flexibility. You can handle your schedule and do some changes as you please. And it is also cost-effective for some since they can save on transportation costs because they don’t have to leave their residence unless necessary.

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  5. Agreed - plus it can help to concentrate and enjoy the silence that you can't find in a busy office environment

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