I have worked from home for many years, for several companies. Lately, I've been thinking about how it is different than working on site.
I need computers because I do 'web work' (I won't bore you with the specifics). Most people that work from home will need a computer to communicate.
So I am posting a list ...
You are your own IT department
- When something breaks, you need to solve the problem. That doesn't mean you have to fix it, but you may need to take it to a shop. While it is at the shop, you'll need another computer to work.
- You must address issues like virus protection and firewalls to protect your computer and any you connect to.
- You should have some sort of backup strategy, whether it is submitting your code to a version control system or other server so that if your computer melts during the night, your work is not lost.
- Match your machines to your requirements. I used to do all my work on remote servers, all I needed was PuTTY (http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/) and any computer. Those days are gone, now I need computers that can run the full LAMP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LAMP_%28software_bundle%29) stack. Intel i5 and i7 based machines work well. Buy good stuff, a big monitor will often allow you to work faster. A nice keyboard and mouse may protect you from wrist pain.
- Don't let other people use your work computer if you can help it.
- Be careful where you go on the Internet and what you click on. You can lose a lot of time cleaning up after a virus.
- A UPS (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uninterruptible_power_supply) can give you enough time to gracefully shut down your computer if power is lost while you're working. This can protect your computer from both hardware and software problems.
- You need to choose an ISP and set up some sort of network. Be sure to secure it to avoid abuse (http://www.staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online/keep-a-clean-machine/securing-your-home-network).
- Have some sort of power outage plan, whether it is to stop working, go to a library or cafe, use mobile broadband or a generator. Where I live, power can be out for days.
You're still working, even though you're home
- Minimize distractions. For some people, that means having an office with a door. Figure out how to make it easier to focus on your work. If you have small children, try to find someone to care for them while you are working.
- Get dressed. Yes, you can work in your pajamas, but if you get dressed you are one step closer to the traditional work environment where you are ready to interact with other people.
- Take a little time to eat and eat properly. Nuts are good, fruit is good.
- If you find you are lonely, get a cat (unless you're allergic). Cats are good work-from-home companions because they sleep most of the time, they're quiet, and they don't require a lot of attention when they do wake up.
- If friends call, you need to send them away during working hours. You're working.
- If your day is interrupted, extend it until you did all the hours. On the flip side, if you worked extra hours and need a few hours to take care of an errand or appointment, it's okay. As long as the total is within the bounds of your agreement with your employer.
- Email and instant messages should be boring. The reason is that it is difficult to 'read between the lines' in emails - subtle jokes that would be hilarious in a conversation may be read as nasty comments in an email. Try to write clearly and concisely, with the single objective of communicating and abandon all hope of making it entertaining. Send funny emails to your friends, or better yet, call them!
- No one looks good on a webcam, so try to look your best before the camera comes on. Wash your face, brush your teeth, comb your hair, wear a clean shirt.
- Don't get distracted during meetings and try to work unless you are willing to confess when you get caught that you weren't paying attention. Pay attention. Even the most boring meeting is better if you are sitting at home. You can instant message with coworkers to try to stay focused and collaborate.
- Respond promptly and appropriately. To everything.
- Be aware of status icons. If you will be away from the computer, set the icon to away and provide a note to let people know when you'll be back.
- Use tools like screen casts, screenshots and other visual aids to help people understand issues.
- If you are in a distributed organization, be aware that you may be awake and working long before your teammates. Make sure you have work to do and you understand enough to complete the tasks during times when you are working 'alone'.
- Expect that some days, you will have to adapt to the other timezones - meetings may be scheduled at inconvenient times.
- Set your preferences on calendars to ensure the times displayed are yours.
- Most jobs have some amount of dead time. Just because you're at home doesn't mean you don't have to work, even if you have nothing to do. If you are being paid, you owe your employer the courtesy of using the time for their benefit.
- Good stuff to do during dead time includes learning, researching, tidying up (for example adding comments to code) and documentation.
- Tell your supervisor if you need more work. They can't see you're idle and you don't want them to discover it after you did nothing for two days.
- Participate in forums like http://quora.com, http://stackoverflow.com and product specific ones to learn and share.
Other than work
- If you're lonely during the day working from home, you will need to find friends or activities. http://www.meetup.com/ is an easy way to find interesting events and gatherings.
- When you're done working, turn off the computer. You will be a better worker if you take some time to rest.
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