As I’ve mentioned, I work from home. Someone recently asked me how I make it work, and I’ve been thinking about it since. I’d say the challenge really isn’t getting work done — that part’s probably easier when you have some space — it’s becoming (or remaining) a part of an organization when you’re not on site.
Besides just having an awareness of the vision for the company from a business standpoint, it’s important to be a part of a team. What you miss when you’re working from home isn’t work — it’s hearing what people did over the weekend, or ordering lunch, or any of the other hundred mundane things that happen during the course of the day. It’s the trivia that begins a friendship, and work is more fun when you’re working with friends.
I think it helps to call instead of sending an email. Or to let a conference call start a few minutes late if there’s something people want to chat about before getting down to business. To really listen to what’s usually just time filler. You have to start somewhere. (For what it’s worth, I think this is equally important with clients.)
When you’re working remotely, it’s also absolutely critical to be available and accountable to teammates and clients. The first time a colleague tries to reach you and can’t, or expects something from you and doesn’t get it, your work ethic (and your whereabouts!) are called into question. IM has been a great tool for me. I think it’s the digital equivalent of someone poking their head around the corner to ask a question. (Which means, just in my opinion, that having an “busy” status is like having a closed door — to be used sparingly but to be respected.)
Of course, there’s no substitute for face-to-face. I go to Chicago about once a quarter, but I’d prefer to go more often. A visit, particularly one where there’s a little bit of downtime built in just to catch up, can really help keep lines of communication open and help build the relationships that make work, work. And it just feels good to connect with the people who you’re spending so much virtual time with.
We know that working from home isn’t for everyone. But I think it can work very well for the right person in the right job. And it’s not rocket science, just attention to detail and a willingness to go out of your way to make it work.