Ah, the appeal of working from home. That delicious dream of “working wherever, wearing whatever, playing whenever.” Is it something you’re considering? Maybe your commute is too long, or perhaps your company is moving their headquarters to another state and you’d rather telecommute than move. Or maybe you want to start your own home-based business. Whatever the reason, working from home certainly has plenty of benefits. You can save time and money on the commute, get certain tax breaks, and perhaps best of all – you can avoid that pesky coworker whose feet smell like sardines. (That’s definitely a win.)
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 8 million Americans worked from home in 2017. Ask any one of them if they like it, and they’ll probably tell you that working from home is a fantastic experience…but it also has its challenges. And as a result, it’s not the right choice for everybody.
Is it the right choice for you? Maybe. Maybe not. Here are five things you need to know about yourself to help you decide.
- Can you be disciplined? Everybody knows you can’t show up to work smelly and half dressed, day after day after day, and still hold onto a job (unless, for some wacky reason, those are the actual requirements for your job). In a normal world, that stinky irresponsibility will get you demoted or maybe even fired.
Ah, but when you work at home…who’ll ever know? You can skip the shower and just hit that snooze button as many times as you want. When it’s time for work, you can roll out of bed in your PJs, don a stylish bonnet to cover your bed head, and bam! You’re ready to Skype that oh-so-dull Monday morning budget meeting. Nobody will ever know you’re only wearing one sock and that you smell like month-old cheese. You just went from snoring-in-bed to bored-out-of-your-hat-topped-head in one minute flat. You’re living the life! And morning hygiene routines are for dummies!
Doesn’t that sound fantastic?
Maybe. But so does a consistent paycheck. And if you’re not disciplined enough to maintain a rigid work routine on your own – even a pre-work routine, like getting clean and dressed – then you might not be the kind of person who can flourish in a work-from-home environment. Perhaps you need a supervisor or the structure of the 8-to-5 workplace to keep you motivated and focused.
Self-discipline is hard. And if it’s not one of your stronger personality traits now – when you’re working in an office – then it certainly will not magically appear when you start working from home. You can always improve your self-discipline (and good news: the benefits will seep into all areas of your life, not just work).
Discipline comes from good habits. So write down the daily habits you want to adopt, and do them. For example, one daily habit might be to get up a 6:30 and do yoga before work. Every day. That habit needs to be executed consistently for at least two months (that’s how long experts say it takes a habit to become automatic). Once you’ve built the discipline to maintain that habit, then you’re on a good track. Just be sure you build the discipline before you start working from home.
- Can you put work aside? When you work from home, Wednesday can start to look an awful lot like Saturday. Remember that “play whenever” concept from earlier? There’s a flip side. When you work from home, it’s very easy to be sucked into a “work whenever” trap. That’s because your normal work/home boundaries disappear. Everything you do is from that same environment – your home. You pay bills, write a proposal, eat lunch, manage a team dispute, unclog the toilet, and load the dishwasher – all under the same roof. Before long, it all starts to blur. And unless you can set work aside when you’re supposed to – evenings and weekends – then you just might find yourself working more days and longer hours from home than you ever did at the office.
A suggestion: make sure you can establish a home office that’s solely used for your job. Don’t let the kids use it for homework, and don’t fold your laundry there. Use it to work, period. By clearly delineating a physical space for work, you establish a mental boundary between work and everything else.
A note of caution. Sometimes you end up hating the thing you used to love most. So while flexibility is great, if you’re not careful, it could be the very thing that ends up making you feel imprisoned and unhappy. So before you decide to work from home, make sure you can set and maintain healthy work/life boundaries.
- Will you miss people? Truth be told, maybe coworkers and colleagues are one of the primary reasons you want to start working from home. You can’t stand them. And you want away from them, like yesterday.
Even if you don’t like people, people are necessary. Like it or not, they’re a big part of who you are and how you work. That boy in the cubicle next door, the one with all the pictures of cats in Christmas sweaters? He’s part of your work dynamic. Sue in marketing, who brings smelly tuna sandwiches for lunch every day? She’s part of your work dynamic. Without them – believe it or not – you might get lonely.
Working from home can become very isolating. So while you think, now, that you won’t miss people, you will. Good news: you can prevent it. Have regular lunch dates with other people who work from home. Join a business club or association, and let it take you out of the house a few times a month. And be sure to keep an active social life outside of work. Get together with friends at least weekly.
When you become your best company, your creativity, inspiration, and motivation can go stale pretty quickly. Other people feed your brain. So to answer the question, will you miss people? Yes. Yes, you will. If you choose to work from home, be sure to figure out ways to be around people – professionally and personally – every week.
- Can you control distractions? Or are you one of those “if I had a dollar for every time I got distracted, I’d oh look at that sweet kitty, here, kitty-kitty” kinds of people?
Yes, it’s that easy. Distractions are everywhere. Social media. Television. Candy Crusher. Naps. Distractions will destroy your best intentions, and can gobble up your day in the blink of an eye.
But here’s the thing. Some distraction is a good thing. According to research, taking a 10-15 minute break from work can make you more refreshed, focused, and productive. The key is in controlling your distractions, rather than letting them control you.
For example, if you have children, roommates, or a spouse at home while you work, you’ll have to train them on when it’s okay to interrupt your work. Emergencies? Sure. But what’s an emergency? The house on fire, yes. Twelve dead ladybugs in the windowsill, well, that’s a sad spectacle but it’s definitely not an emergency.
Some tips for controlling distractions:
- Turn off your phone. If you can’t do that, at least silence it and put it on a table a few feet away. After all, out of sight is out of mind.
- Set a schedule and stick to it. That includes scheduling time for short breaks in the morning, for lunch, and in the afternoon. You can let these occur naturally (like when your saucer-eyed puppy brings you his favorite throw toy), or you can engineer them (15 minutes at 10:00 to take a brisk walk around the neighborhood).
- Turn off your Internet. If your work requires you to be online, then at the very least log out of your social media accounts. All it takes to derail your entire morning is one pop-up notification about half-price tickets to Vegas.
- Do you want to advance? As mentioned earlier, out of sight is out of mind. So when you’re not at the office every day, showing your attractive mug to the world, then people may tend to forget about you. Even if you’re doing stellar work – better than ever before – you’re not physically present and thus, you’re not top of mind.
Think about it: your boss doesn’t pass you in the hall. You don’t bump into coworkers in the break room. You’re not around for those casual, everyday conversations about projects, progress, work, and goals. And so you start to slide out of the loop. At home, you’ll always be employee of the month. But at the office, do they even remember who you are?
Whoa there. That’s not what you want, is it? Working from home shouldn’t be a reason to get passed over for promotions and important projects. So you’ll need to work smarter to make sure you’re “seen” in other way.
A few tips:
- Stay connected with your colleagues and coworkers. Yea, those same ones that bugged you so much when you worked at the office. They’re important.
- Become more productive. Ramp up your contributions, so people remember how valuable you are.
- Take on a special project, like mentoring a new employee or organizing a retirement party. It’ll give you extra reasons to be noticed, and to communicate with a broader, more varied group of coworkers.
- Communicate often and well. Email is good; your voice is better. Some of the things that make you so great – your nutty sense of humor, or your kind and caring heart – those things don’t always come across in emails. So find reasons to talk on the phone. Join conference calls a few minutes early to chat, and call in to ask questions about the new health benefits, rather than email.
Working from home isn’t for everyone. While the benefits are amazing – flexibility, autonomy, financial savings – there are also a handful of pitfalls you’ll want to avoid. Before making your big decision, do your research. Talk to people, burn through the Internet, and maybe even give it a one-week trial run. And if it doesn’t go as planned, understand that it doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t do it…it just means you need to figure some things out before you do it for good.
Something to consider while making your decision…The CareerFitter work personality career test is a valuable tool for gaining insights into how you like to work, discover jobs that fit you best, your strengths at work, and the occupational factors – like environment – that are more likely to make you happy and successful in your career. So before you decide to work at home, try CareerFitter. At $11.90, it’s a small price to pay for a future of greater job satisfaction.