Since September 2008, I have enjoyed the incomparable luxury of working from home. I probably don’t have to make a list of the pros for you. If you are currently thinking about working from home, all of the perks you can imagine are there: a five-second commute (roll out of bed, walk to computer); doing work in pajamas; stretching out luxuriously in the La-Z-Boy with a laptop as cold winds blow outside. Needing to toss in a load of laundry or make a lunchtime run to the post office is no longer a big deal. Me personally, I buy gas maybe twice a month tops, and I have plenty of time to work on my master’s degree or attend evening exercise classes or seminars. For my teleworking colleagues with children, that extra time is especially invaluable.
So, uh, what is the negative side? IS there a negative side? The answer to that, my friends, is YES. There aren’t a ton of cons, but they are there, and they’re much different from what you encounter at a desk job.
With teleworking becoming more and more popular as the population swells, transportation woes worsen, and the H1N1 virus rears its ugly head, I thought this would be a timely thing for me to address. Let me tell you about the brand new set of negatives you’re likely to face – and how to come out on top of them.
- Your friends think you don’t work a “real” job.
This is a minor problem that can quickly become a major one, especially if you’ve got lots of friends with flexible work schedules of their own who love to hang out with you (and that’s awesome, when you yourself aren’t busy). You may suddenly hear a lot of requests for two-hour-long lunches, rides to places 45 minutes away, or extensively long chats on the phone. While you can probably spare a run to Subway for lunch or a ride to the Metro station around the corner, things that really take away from your job or distract you should be nipped in the bud immediately. Don’t ever give the impression that you sit at home doing nothing all day (ahem … even if you do). Talk about your job as though it’s a real job. If someone thinks you can accompany them on a shopping spree or talk for an hour in the middle of the day, just respond as you would if you were working away from home: “Sorry, dude, I gotta work. Want to go later?” Good friends will understand. For those that don’t – don’t pick up the phone, and call them back after you’re done for the day.
- You have a tendency to be distracted very easily.
Ask yourself: How do you work best? I personally cannot work at my best anymore when I a) do not have enough light, b) have too MUCH light blaring right in my face, c) feel overheated, d) have to listen to loud noises such as construction right outside or loudmouthed people shouting back and forth in the hall, e) have to sit in complete dead quiet, f) feel like I’ve been cooped up indoors too long, g) have something talking at me, to me, or around me, and h) do not have proper seating either curled up in my recliner with the laptop adjusted just-so, OR at the dining room table with the chair just right and the laptop right at eye level.
Um, so how DO I manage? Well, I took the first day or so to figure out how to set myself up. Where did I want my personal office? How much light or heat was there? Was there too much noise in the building? How would I handle it if my phone or Internet suddenly went out? Figure out the answers to these questions early on and nix distractions before they ruin your drive!
- You just don’t know HOW to work at home.
Hear me now, believe me later: you need to address this prior to working from home full-time. Remember, above all, that deadlines are still deadlines, and you will still be held accountable for what you do or don’t get done in your designated 8-hour time frame each day. Regardless, there are some people out there who simply cannot focus without a structured office environment and peers to keep them from spending all day on Facebook. If you think this might be you, you should do a few “test runs” before you attempt to begin teleworking full time. Ask to try working at home a couple of days on your own first; if your employer has already suggested you work at home or is at least open to the idea, then they will probably happily oblige and will be pleased with your honesty.
If, on the other hand, you are considering a brand new job that is specifically work-at-home position – you need to know your capability to do the job before you apply for it. Be honest with yourself: Could you really do your job completely unsupervised, when you’re literally surrounded by things you’d rather be doing, and no one to tell you that you can’t? (Are you REALLY going to avoid watching TV or surfing the ‘net all day?) Are you disciplined enough to get a job done on your own with zero direction or supervision – especially a job you may not particularly like? What usually happens when you have to do a chore for someone else – say, when your spouse asks you to mow the lawn, or you need to spend an afternoon putting together a new bookcase? If the answers to these questions don’t sound good, look for another job. Most employers who hire for work-at-home positions do so for a good reason – usually, lack of office space – and they are not going to be very pleased with you if you suddenly tell them you just can’t do the work unless you’re in the office. In this economy, that isn’t something to fool with.
- You still have to come in the office sometimes – and you’re no longer used to it.
Working at home will spoil you. You will eventually forget what it’s like to get up super early, put on a suit, and then battle traffic each morning. But if you think you won’t ever have to do these things again, you’re wrong. Unless the office happens to be on the other side of the country, you can expect to be asked to drive in each week for status meetings. (You may be allowed to dial in.) You might be expected to drop everything to head out to a seminar or session that’s almost an hour away. You may be asked to come in for a meeting that winds up being even shorter than your commute!
The key is to never be unprepared. Feel free to do your work in your pajamas, but make sure you always have a spotless suit hanging in your closet, with accoutrements close by. Don’t put off taking a shower, figuring you can just wash your hair later. Keep your briefcase or laptop bag ready so that all you have to do is stuff your computer in there and go. Make sure your important items like keys, badge, cash, etc. are in a spot where it’s easy to just grab them on your way out. (Try the Doorganizer, $18, at www.fredflare.com.) Never put off doing important work – you don’t want to suddenly find that you now have no time to do it because you have to go give an important presentation instead. And most of all – don’t whine about having to come in or develop a bad attitude. At best, it guarantees a bad day at the office. At worst, your boss will notice and start to think of you differently.
- You don’t feel like a true part of the team. You feel left out when you do come to work or hang out with the team.
Assuming you aren’t working from Oregon for an office in Virginia, this is easy to handle. Make a point to attend after-work happy hours and get to know everyone in the room. Don’t shy away from friending coworkers on Facebook. Find a club of interest that is sponsored by your workplace. (Try Toastmasters!) Don’t be afraid to email your colleagues for help or advice with a professional issue. If you have regular weekly or monthly meetings, make sure you show up and chat up your coworkers beforehand. Call in to every meeting that you can’t attend personally. Even consider (yikes) coming in to the office on days you don’t have to just to be seen. Facetime counts more than you think it does.
Even better: Spearhead an initiative that will really help your office and bring people together. Check out a great charity or other cause that you can all do volunteer work with. Set up a trip to a local baseball or football game, karaoke bar, or silly outing on a slow weeknight. Offer to edit and publish a newsletter for the team and solicit contributions from everyone.
Overall, don’t get nervous if you feel like you aren’t instantly “one of the gang.” You’re really there to get a job done, but being on pleasant, easygoing terms with everyone is invaluable.
- You find it hard to get ahead. You’re the last one assigned important or “stand-out” tasks.
Kill two birds with one stone using the above tips to make yourself more visible. But just as you want your coworkers to see more of you, you also want them to see what you are capable of. If you find yourself with downtime, use it to explore new creative avenues related to your job. For example, one time I was asked to edit a demo script draft that someone else had written. As I was doing the editing, I realized there were several other scripts our team could create that might be useful. I called my boss to tell her the editing was done and then suggested the new scripts. She was intrigued by the idea and we discussed it for some time. While I don’t know when we might actually go forth with the idea – more pressing matters have taken precedence – it showed her I was using my head! When you send work back to your own superior or other office-mates, take the time to suggest additional avenues or new ideas that you have. If you have a particular area of expertise, ask if you can present to your coworkers on the topic.