Do you need to work in an office to be productive?

This past week, Yahoo! let their employees know that they are ending their work from home policy and that everyone will now be required to work in the office.  The announcement sparked a firestorm as many news sources ran interviews and commentary criticizing the decision.  Personally, I have my doubts that they can maintain this strategy long-term, but it may yield the necessary results they need in the short-term.  

Instead of worrying about what Yahoo! is doing, I would instead suggest that people ask themselves, “Can I be productive working from home?”  With the many advances in technology, more companies are allowing their employees to work from home than ever before.  A 2011 study found that working remotely increased 73% from 2005 to 2011.  Multiple studies have concluded that those working from home are as productive or more productive than their in-office co-workers.

If you are considering asking your employer for this option, or searching for a career that allows this, here are three characteristics I’ve noticed in those who are the most successful at working from home.

1. Self-discipline.  This is important no matter where you work, but absolutely critical if you work from home.  Showing that you can be highly productive with this arrangement helps demonstrate your integrity to your employer and builds trust with your co-workers.

2. Defined workspace.  This could be slightly less important if you live by yourself, but if you share your living space with friends or family, then it is essential.  I suggest having your own area, preferably enclosed with a door, and establish boundaries with those you live with.

3. A plan for collaborating with others, including face-to-face.  The point here is to not use the working from home option to become a hermit as it is critical to be able to work with others.  Phone, e-mail, and instant messaging are all great tools, but face-to-face time with co-workers and clients is still an important ingredient for collaboration and relationship building.  Skype can be a good alternative if distance prohibits getting together regularly, but make every effort to still get together.

Working from home is not for everyone, and some jobs simply can’t be performed in a home setting.  But trends continue to move in that direction, especially as more and more people become independents as contractors or self-employed.  Many of these people enjoy the balance more between work and life.  Fewer commuters helps the environment.  The need for less office space is a great savings to employers.

But if you still prefer to drive into an office everyday, don’t panic.  Yahoo! just might be hiring!

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