Career Center Blog

September 12, 2012

Get out of that cow-print robe: Top 10 tips for working well from home


I hear it all the time from people I know who either work from home or want to: "It's so great to be able to just roll out of bed and go right to work in your pajamas."

Um, no, it's not.

Don't get me wrong, the actual working from home part of it (the flexibility, the ability to organize my work space exactly how I need it, the lack of chaotic distractions) is great.

The pajamas, not so much. I actually avoid them most of the time in favor of actual clothes, the kind that real employees wear.

One of the keys to being a successful work-at-home employee (either self-employed or working for a company) is to put provisions in place which remind you that you are, in fact, an employee (even if you are your own employee).

Based on the latest American Community Survey data (2010 numbers released in September 2011), just over 2.5 percent of the U.S. employee workforce (3 million people, not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers) considers home their primary place of work. These numbers will be updated next month, and I expect to see a steady figure or even a rise in the number of workers utilizing this flex option.

Add to this the number of people working from home who are self-employed, and you have a good chunk of the workforce.

There's a fine balance to the freedoms that flex arrangements afford. Successfully managing a work-from-home gig requires planning, discipline and organization. My top 10 tips:

1. Create a separate space. First, my shameful confession: I often work on my laptop from my bed, my slipped-disc back slouched alarmingly to one side while my neck cranes toward the perilously perched machine. But I also have a formal office (two, actually), which I use when I can talk myself into it, and which are always available. A separate space allows for a door that closes to distractions, a place to safely keep work materials, and a professional vibe.

2. Declare your home space as home. This means no work junk (or in my case, stacks of cloth diapers for sale or piles of papers) strewn across the house. Declaring your living space off-limits to work means that there will be a relaxing place to go when it's time to unplug and unwind.

3. Create a schedule, and stick to it. It's OK if your schedule is totally customized and super flex. It's even OK if it's different every day. But a set schedule will keep you on task and make you feel good about how you're managing your time.

4. No personal tasks during work time. Sure, the beauty of working from home is the flexibility to run out for some toilet paper. Just keep the volleying (work life to personal life) to a minimum. This will help you stay focused and get your work done sooner.

5. Get professional voice mail and use it. Answering the phone when you're trying to stay on task is too intrusive. You'll get back to them.

6. Take breaks. It's amazing how compulsively focused on work I can be for someone who has the flexibility to just get up and go grab a banana from the kitchen. Take time to recharge and to eat, and make use of the comforts of home in a structured way.

7. Don't go back to work when you're done. Decide when it's clock-out time, and then maintain your boundaries.

8. Talk about yourself as a professional. You would not believe the number of people who believe that working from home is somehow a "slacker" option and makes you a lesser employee. Don't say about yourself, "I do such-and-such job, but it's from home." No buts. Your time is just as important as that of an office worker's.

9. Get with people. Schedule regular meetings, lunches and periods of time when you take your work to a café or public work space. Being alone all the time can become isolating. Regular interaction reminds you that you are part of a larger working world and staves off boredom.

10. Get dressed. It's hard to take yourself seriously in a cow-print robe. Sure, the occasional sloppiness is fine - heck, it's your due as a telecommuter - but get showered, groomed and dressed on most days so that you feel like the productive, successful professional that you are.

Natalie Singer is a freelance writer and the founder and owner of Punkernoodle Baby, a Seattle-based cloth-diaper shop and ecommerce site. Email her at

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I was caught by your great title! Yes, I, too, always get dressed before starting work at home. I'm a writer, a novelist, and I've learned all these lessons over the years--but I need to remind myself of them just the same. Great piece, Natalie!

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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