Inc. Magazine lives in New York City. I live in the Boston suburbs. So for three years I’ve been working out of my home office with nothing to look at but the Ozark-esque compound across the road and nothing to listen to but squirrels striking the back porch when they miss the bird feeders. It gets lonely at times. My house lacks both a water cooler and peers to engage in conversation around one. I miss the random hallway conversations that unexpectedly ignite ideas or forge alliances. When I know my colleagues are staying late to close an issue, I work late too, out of solidarity. The managing editor offers to order in dinner and sends out a link to the menu. I mentally place my order.
On the whole though, working at home has been a satisfying experience. I’ve managed to remain productive, and the stress reduction from not commuting has probably added a year to my life. So, as my New York colleagues embark on their telecommuting experiment, I offer them—and others new to working from home—eight lessons for thriving away from the mother ship.
1. Language is important. Tell people you “work out of my home office” or that you “work from home.” Never say, “I work at home.” That suggests you create window treatments freelance in your spare time. “Home office” sounds more professional when you’re giving someone your phone number for work. Also, if friends and relatives believe you are less than seriously employed they will start adding you to their lists of People Who Can Easily Host a Last-Minute Book-Club Meeting or Pick Up My Child After School.
2. Some people like to dress for work, even though they never set foot outside their houses. Others like to lounge around in sweats or pajamas. It’s a matter of personal choice. But if you prefer the latter, change clothes at least once at night and once in the morning. Casual is fine. Crusty isn’t.
3. Talk to someone from the office at least once a day. Long silences are nervous-making. After three days I start to feel like a kid at camp: worried that in my absence the rest of the family has moved away without telling me. Managers are best because they know when there’s reason to panic. Their calm becomes your calm. (I find Dan Ferrara, Inc.’s deputy editor, the most soothing person to talk to. A conversation with him is like half an hour sitting in the Lotus Position.)