- Where should I be working?
- What procedures should I adopt to be most effective?
- Can I wear my pajamas while I work?
Attorneys have a variety of options for practicing law that were rare even 10 years ago. Telecommuting is one such option. Although working remotely from home sounds ideal to many, it is not without its pitfalls.
There are many websites, books, and other resources that provide guidelines for successful telecommuting. These tips largely fall into two broad categories: first, developing good work habits; and second, ensuring access to the proper technology. Both are essential to effective telecommuting.
The purpose of good telecommuting practices and habits is to avoid blurring the line between work and home. Working on a laptop in front of the television while trying to catch NFL scores and highlights, trying to call a client with fighting kids in the background, or typing an email while your cat is walking over the keyboard is not only unprofessional but also harmful for productivity.
There are many ways to avoid mixing work and personal time, but it starts with your work space. You need a dedicated work space. Clearing off the kitchen island so there’s room for your laptop won’t help you draw a line between work and leisure. Ideally, use a room you can use exclusively as a home office. If dedicating an entire room is impossible, then set aside a space, like the corner of a room, to use solely for work. Your work area should be as private as possible and have access to all the technology you need for your practice.
Dressing every morning is also a way to keep the line between work and personal time from blurring. Establish a morning routine the same as you would if you were going into the office. This includes showering and changing out of what you slept in. Suits, blouses, and ties aren’t necessary to distinguish between personal and work time, but getting out of your pajamas is.
You should also try to establish start and stop times for work. Although lawyers often go into the office early or work late if there are matters that need attention, people generally follow a routine. Some may arrive at work later in the morning and be one of the last to leave. Others are early birds who arrive first. Try to establish your work times and stick to them so that there is a start and a finish to your workday, just as there would be if you drove to an office and back home every day.
During the hours that you set for yourself to work, be disciplined and actually do your work. Don’t start on a brief and take a break to catch your favorite talk show. Limit personal calls, nonwork related computer time, and errands. Each day when you move from your personal time to your work time, decide what you intend to accomplish for the day and keep at it. Take the same sort of breaks you would if you were working in an office, like grabbing a cup of coffee or having lunch. Try not break from work to do something you would never do in an office, like the laundry, thawing something from the freezer for dinner, or taking a nap.
Telecommuting can be very isolating without coworkers to interact with. Plan a lunch out of the house, attend local bar events, or just check in with your office in order to avoid cutting yourself off from your peers. Communicating with your office regularly, whether it’s to provide a simple progress report, to discuss legal issues, or just to say hi, is important so that your coworkers know you’re working.
In addition to developing good habits to separate your work and personal life, making sure you have access to the proper technology is also essential to effective telecommuting. There are a myriad of different hardware and software options. Give serious consideration to your needs, desires, and budget before setting up a telecommuting practice.
One of the first orders of business is to decide what sort of computer you need. Mac or PC? Laptop or desktop? How much do you want to spend? What are your needs in terms of speed? Data storage? There are so many variables that this decision can become overwhelming. A good place to start is with the computers your office is using.
You need to decide what type of other equipment you need. Do you want just a black-and-white printer, or do you need color? Will you be printing enough so that spending the extra money for a laser printer is worthwhile? What about a fax machine and a scanner? These days, it is possible to purchase an all-in-one device that serves as a printer, scanner, fax machine, and copier for a few hundred dollars. Many stores offer service plans so that someone will help you set up the equipment.
Consider the type of Internet connection you want. DSL service is usually available through your telephone company; broadband through your cable provider; and in remote locations, a satellite connection might be necessary. Considerations for the type of Internet connection you choose include expense, speed, and availability.
Phone service is also an important consideration. Do you want to share a work line with your home telephone line? Or will you have two separate telephone lines to your house: one for business and one for personal use? Will you have a dedicated fax line, or will your phone and fax share the same line? The answers to these questions depend on the type of work you are doing. For example, if clients won’t be calling you directly, perhaps there’s no reason to have a separate home and business telephone line.
If you have more than one computer in your home you might set up a home computer network, which would provide access to all your files regardless of which computer you’re using. A wireless network is also a possibility so that you’re not tied to your desk. Going wireless may be a necessity if you don’t have enough room in your dedicated work space for all your equipment and need to locate a printer or scanner in another place in your home. You can create a network between home and work by either establishing a secure, private connection between your home computer and the server at work or by setting up a remote desktop through which you can connect to a specific computer at work and have access to all the files, programs, and data that the work computer has access to.
Back up your data. If you’re using a remote desktop your office backup system probably will apply to the projects you’re working on. Find out. Even if this isn’t the case, backing up data isn’t nearly the trouble it used to be. There are various different cloud computing services that allow you to store documents for a minimal fee.
These are only a few basic considerations for effective telecommuting. Investing some time and energy into exploring exactly what technology you need before starting to telecommute and creating good work habits will help you on your way to being able to work from home efficiently and productively.