Telecommuting has been suggested as a cure-all from everything from the stress of your morning commute to that high carbon footprint you want to reduce. And odds are you have a whole list of what you need to make the switchover: software packages, computer specs, technical equipment for your profession. Every productivity website has lists of the best web apps and other options for making your telecommuting easier.
But even if you’ve started shifting to working outside your employer’s office — or you’re thinking about striking out on your own — there are other things that you can have in your telecommuter’s toolbox that can make your work a little bit easier. These aren’t necessary the most obvious of tools, but they’ve made my home office run smoothly.
The Meal Plan: One of the great things about working from home is the fact that you don’t have to spend money on eating out. You don’t even need to spend the time to brown bag your lunch: you’ve got a fully functional kitchen just down the hall. But many of us forget to stock that refrigerator with anything we’d want to eat for lunch and wind out going out anyhow. Planning ahead of time what we want to eat, from lunches to snacks makes it easier to shop and can help prevent a telecommuter from getting off track by having to focus on what to eat. I keep my meal planning simple: I have an extra calendar on Google Calendar where I put down what I want to eat for the next week. I make my shopping list directly from that calendar.
The Insurance Policy: Even if you aren’t paying for your computer and other equipment, you may want to up your insurance policy. Just having more electronic equipment in your home can make you a bit of a target for theft. Having an insurance policy can make sure that you can get back to work as soon as possible. And even on the off chance that your employer covers your computer under their policy, you’ll need an insurance policy to cover your other stuff at risk for theft (television, etc.). Depending on your living situation, renter’s insurance or home owner’s insurance maybe all the protection you need.
The Outside Office: The idea of a telecommuter heading off to Starbucks to work has become almost stereotypical. The fact is, though, we’re social critters and we like working with other people around us. Coffee shops serve this purpose, as do libraries, bookshops and co-working locations. As a telecommuter, you need to find some place to work outside of your home. It doesn’t need to be a regular occurrence, but it is necessary. I can go an entire week without going outside except to get my mail — and I know some telecommuters who are much worse.
The Alarm Clock: I thought I’d managed to get rid of my alarm clock when I didn’t need to make it in to an office every morning. But if I don’t get up and get my day started, I may never make it out of bed. Telecommuting is about flexibility, but without setting your ‘hours of operation,’ you may be too flexible to get your work done. I’ve also found that my alarm clock is crucial to reminding me of times that I need to leave my office: appointments and such that I can easily forget because no one stops by my cubicle to remind me of a meeting.
The Exercise Regimen: If you work from home, you have little incentive to get up out of your chair. You can slack at your desk without anyone saying anything and, unless your laundry pile has gotten to the point where it is sentient, your computer is probably your best bet for talking to someone. You still have to make the effort, though. Take a daily walk. Do some pushups. Even exercise in your chair. There are a whole slew of health problems desk workers face, most of which can be mitigated by the occasional lap around the block.
The Business Card: I can hear you asking why you need a business card right now. After all, you work from home — who are you going to give your business card to? One of the biggest problems telecommuters face is being able to advance. Many managers think face time is a prerequisite for promotions, not to mention raises. As a telecommuter, it’s up to you to network and build up your options for advancement. And if you’re working for yourself, rather than some employer, you’ll want to market your business to make sure you’ve got work rolling in. Hand out your business cards (and other promotional materials — resumes, brochures, etc. — as needed) at your coffee shop and everywhere else you see people.
The Snack Cupboard: I fondly remember the vending machines at my last job — sodas, crackers and candy bars all calling my name. Those machines were always good when I needed a quick snack. I’ve heard that some work places even offer up free snacks and drinks, though I haven’t been lucky enough to land a cushy job like that. However, I now have my own cupboard full of snacks that I don’t need to pay a machine to dispense, which is almost as good. Stocking snacks and drinks in your home office can help you from needing distracting breaks from your work. Even better, you can stock healthier snacks and the flavors you like best.