Today, more and more people are opting to telework—to work from home. Whether you are an independent contractor with your own business, a freelancer, or a regular nine-to-five employee, the option to work from home is more prevalent than ever, and more and more people are taking advantage of this opportunity.
Teleworking offers many advantages, like more flexibility, no commute, no dress code, and more time with the family. Sounds like a win-win, right? Well, yes and no. There are plusses and pitfalls to working from home, but you can easily structure your teleworking to be productive and meaningful.
The pros of working from home
Many of the benefits to working from home are “fun.” You can work in your pajamas, your dog can sit in your lap, you can go without a shower, you can listen to whatever music you want. Other benefits are very real, in terms of the bottom line. For example, your commute is however long it takes to get to your computer, so you save time, money and the stress of having to get to the office every day. There are also no unwanted interruptions from office mates or office drama to distract you. This offers more potential for increased focus, concentration, and productivity.
For the employer, the benefits are many, as well. Increasingly, many people want to telework, so this is a great perk to offer your employees and a great recruitment tool. Working from home can increase employee satisfaction and morale, and both of those can contribute to increased productivity. The employer’s overhead also goes down, which adds up to a substantial savings. Teleworking can be a win-win for both employer and employee.
If you’re a freelancer or consultant you’re on your own here, but if you are a company employee, your firm may provide assistance or equipment for your home office. Don’t expect much, though. Teleworking is still new enough that most companies don’t provide assistance, but you can always ask. You never know. Your company may be willing to offset the cost of or even provide a smart phone, a phone line, a computer or other necessities for your home office, so you can be as productive as possible and communicate effectively. Just ask them what they are willing to provide.
The cons of working from home
There is a downside to working from home. Remember that the workplace is s social organization, and when you work from home that social fabric is missing. Person-to-person interaction is gone. You can feel disconnected. This can hurt you emotionally, especially if you are social person, but it can also hurt teamwork and workplace relationships, both of which are crucial to getting things done. You may also miss out on the political “game” of the office, which is actually a crucial component of networking.
Conversely, even if you like to be separate and out of the mix, you can feel as if they don’t trust you, especially if they ask you to attend meetings, check in, or call to check up on your work. And if you are not a self-motivated person or if you need a lot of instruction or supervision, working from home may not be right for you.
Setting yourself up for success
If you do choose to work from home, it is imperative that you set yourself up for success. Many people think working from home would be heaven. In reality, lots of people flail when they telework because they are distracted by their homes. They forget that working from home has to emphasis the work, not the home.
In order to be successful, you have to take it seriously and set clear boundaries in your home. Whether you are a consultant, a freelancer, or a full-time employee, if you are going to work from home successfully, it all boils down to self-motivation and self-control. You’ve got to be able to set boundaries, minimize distractions, and focus on the work. Here’s how:
First, carve out a home office. You need to have a dedicated space for your work. The living room couch won’t cut it. You have to take teleworking seriously, and this is best achieved if you take your workspace seriously. You need a place to work without distraction, a place that is recognized by your family as your workspace and a place where you can keep your work materials safe and separate from your home life.
Second, create boundaries, not just with a clearly defined workspace but also with your family and friends. Establish a protocol, make clear when you are working and when you can and can’t be disturbed.
Third, equip yourself properly and professionally. Get a computer just for you and your work. Get the proper supplies. And get a dedicated phone line for your work. You can’t be taken seriously if your husband answers the phone in his usual charming way, or your son doesn’t take proper messages, or your daughter rushes you to get off because she is waiting for a call, or if your answering machine features the cute-only-to-you voice of your five-year-old. If you are going to work from home or have a home business, you have to prepare yourself and behave in a professional manner. And this means a separate line for work calls.
Fourth, reduce distractions. You have to be able to ignore the laundry, the dishes, Mad Men Season Five, running errands, and other household distractions. And, just like at the office, don’t constantly answer personal phone calls, e-mails, or surf the Internet while working. But don’t be foolish about it either; set aside time every hour to do so. Just remember, working from home is more about the working than the home.
Fifth, establish the parameters of your working hours. If you are with a company find out when they want you to be available and stick to that. They will establish with you some guidelines. If you are freelance, you can obviously establish your own hours, but you have to decide what those will be. Will you take clients calls 24/7? Is lunchtime blocked out? When will you start? When do clients want you to check in? Working from home can be a slippery slop to all access, all the time, so think about what you or your company wants, and set your schedule. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have set hours. Just decide what those will be.
Sixth, continue to network. Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, one of the most important things to do in business is to network. And those who work from home are already cut off from the workplace, so you have to make an extra effort to get out there and network.
These days, lots of networking can be done on-line, through sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and others. But you should still maintain an active physical presence. Nothing beats face-to-face interactions, and you should always look for ways to do so. If you work for a company, make sure you go to the office at least once a week. Attend meetings, lunches, social gatherings and other opportunities. You have to combine the electronic world with the physical world in order to keep your network healthy and growing.
If you are a freelancer or a consultant, find ways to network. Go to parties, lunches, seminars and programs. Join clubs and professional organizations. You have to combine the electronic world with the physical world in order to keep your network healthy and growing.
Working at home can be productive, rewarding, convenient and cost-effective. The key is to set yourself up for success and remember to focus on the work.