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With winter on its way in, taking advantage of your company's telework opportunity might sound appealing -- but snow days aren't the only thing keeping people at home during the workweek. Telecommuting opportunities are available at increasing rates to employees in the U.S., and they're taking advantage of the option more than ever as well.
As of September 2015, more than 3.7 million employees work from home at least half the time, according to Global Workplace Analytics, a firm that helps organizations incorporate new workplace strategies. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, says the number of telework opportunities has risen as employers look to reduce the amount of space they rent or own because it's largely underused in off-hours and other, work-related events that take them out of the office.
"People are not at their desks, they've already left the building. And so why do we have all this space?" Lister says. "What they're doing is recreating their spaces to make them places for collaboration, and people are working in second, third, fourth places for concentration."
Those alternate locations Lister refers to include coffee shops and public libraries, for instance, but she notes that as much as 80 percent of employees who work outside the office choose to work from home rather than any other location. So what happens when your space for evening and weekend relaxation transforms into your workspace?
Don Farinelli, president of Farinelli Construction Inc. in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, creates many home offices in custom-built houses, and also renovates existing houses. He notes that as more people use home offices for regular work, their design has evolved to meet increased functional needs.
"The notion of a home office from 20 years ago was just as you pictured, probably: a desk in the middle of a room with a chair, and maybe some bookcases behind it," Farinelli says. "I guess the rules have kind of changed -- and this would apply across the board for aspects of the home, not just the office -- people want what they want ... they're customizing it to what they need."
For Jenny Taylor, who switched from a corporate office job to running a virtual franchise out of her home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, three years ago, the transition took some time to get used to.
"I had a lot of built-in boundaries I didn't really think about," Taylor says of her previous corporate job, which included an office and assistant to help limit distractions and manage time. At home, she had to establish limits with her husband and daughter to ensure she got work done.
"We set aside definite business hours and some rules that go along with those business hours," Taylor says. Guidelines include not walking into the office to chat, interrupting her on the phone and avoiding other interactions that often happen at home.
Follow a few guidelines to make your home a successful place for work and play.
Relaxation may happen more with a change of scenery. It's far too easy when you work from home to find yourself doing work at all hours of the day. "One of the biggest problems people who work at home have is it's just there with them 24/7. I'm one of them," Lister says.
A regular ritual to signify the end of the day and start of the evening can be helpful. Lister gives the example of one teleworker she knows who would drive his car around the block to symbolize coming home from work.
For Greg Holste, normal relaxation hours easily morphed into working hours when he teleworked as a technical consultant for a software company. "Watching TV in the evenings would usually mean I'm still on my work laptop doing something work-related," he says.
To help separate work and off-hours, Holste, who is now a full-time student and MBA candidate at Carnegie Mellon University, says he would take opportunities to leave the house when he could -- "usually a walk in the morning and errands in the afternoon."
Jennifer Donovan opened a social media consulting firm about three years ago, and has since worked out of her home in San Francisco. She is able to balance her work and relaxation by prioritizing anything she may receive during her usual downtime in the evening or on weekends.
"There's a balance between responding because I can and responding when it's important. If a client needs something right away, I get to work immediately. But if it's just a meeting invite, the response can probably wait until morning," she says.
A special space for your office helps. The neglected space by the stairs often becomes the de facto office space, but with a lot of foot traffic from others at home throughout the day, it might not be the best place to be productive. Your work space should also be separate from places not intended for work. The dining room table might be a big enough spot to spread out papers, for example, but it might not be the best place if you find yourself working through dinner because those papers are there when you sit down.
Spare bedrooms or quiet corners that are seldom used can make for a convenient place to set up your workstation, but be sure there's enough light and air circulation to be comfortable all day.
Donovan and Taylor have both found success with their home offices because they're relatively secluded from the rest of their home and free from distractions. If she ever moves, Donovan says a separate space for working would be "critical" in a new home.
Farinelli says a common quality in home offices he creates is the ability of the space to become both secluded and social based on the time of day and work being done. "Most people don't want to be tucked away in a corner. ... Everybody still wants to be connected to the family in some way. It's private when they need it to be, and it's not when they don't need it to be," he says.
It needs to fit your habits and function for you. Everyone works differently, and the great thing about a home office is you can personalize it so you're as productive and happy as possible. Farinelli says his company has been incorporating a larger number of "standing-height countertops" in home offices, which coincides with commercial office trends of standing desks and an employee's desire to change position throughout the day.
Donovan's home office is in the front of her home, which looks out onto a popular street for tourists in San Francisco. "[I like to] open the blinds and hear chatter on the street," she says. With comfortable furniture and musical instruments in the room, Donovan says she's made the work space welcoming -- her partner often comes home and plays the guitar in the room while he waits for her to finish the workday.
But being able to create a space that maximizes your productivity may not happen right away.
Taylor says she started working in her family's furnished home office at the front of the house but quickly found it wasn't the right fit. "We always had a nice home office, but I would describe it as a staged home office ... It looked nice, but it wasn't very functional," she says.
With distractions abound -- she could hear people walking around the house and the TV in the other room -- Taylor and her family decided to convert a shed in the backyard into a workspace, which provides detachment from the distractions inside the house. "It's off the beaten path, so I'm out of sight, out of mind," she says, "but I have all the benefits of being right here at home."