Working at Home: Myths, Truths and Advice
By Melissa Conroy
If you are sick of commuting to work every day, considering a new career change or toying with the idea of your own business, working at home can be a very attractive option. TeleworkResearchNetwork.com says more than 3 million telecommuting Americans list their home as their primary workplace. To that number, add all the self-employed workers counted by the US Bureau of Labor — 15.3 percent of the US population in 2009. All together, there are millions of folks who can wake up on a bone-freezing, snowy Monday and simply shuffle down the hall to start their workday.
When someone mentions “working from home,” it often conjures up an image of a pajama-clad person happily pecking out emails with a big mug of coffee in hand. However, the realities can be far less cozy. There are both positive and negative features of this style of working and before you start setting up an office in your spare bedroom, it is wise to consider these factors.
First, let’s take a look at some of the great aspects about making home your primary workplace:
Flexibility: If you do your best work at 10 p.m. and an 8 a.m. start time is sheer torture, working from home lets you arrange your schedule to best suit your needs.
Cost savings: At one point, I was spending up to 90 minutes and two to three tanks of gas a week commuting to my full-time job. Now that I work at home, I have those 90 minutes to spend as I please and I fill up maybe once a week. Also, if you work at home you tend to spend less on convenience food, professional clothing and eating out.
Lack of personnel conflict: Any office will have a certain amount of drama, politics and unpleasantness to wade through. Keep your office in your home, and you will bypass most of it.
Time management: Most office jobs inherently have busywork and downtime built into them. When you work from home, you can often be more effective with your time
However, don’t throw away your business suits quite yet. Here are some of the lesser-known drawbacks to working at home.
Unending work day: When your office is three feet from your bedroom, you can very easily find yourself checking your email at 7 a.m. and not shutting down for the day until 11:35 p.m. It is very hard to separate your career from your personal life when your job literally shares living space with you.
Increased demands: If you work at home, people often assume that you have the freedom to do as you please and you can easily find yourself besieged with requests, favors and demands from friends and family during normal work hours.
Distraction: Working from home is often hailed as the solution for mothers of young children, but trying to write a report or finish a conference call when little ones are running around is quite a challenge. Most homes are full of chores that need to be done, and it is a great temptation to knock off work for the afternoon so you can clean the kitchen or repaint the fence. Working at home means taking on extra discipline and not become distracted by other responsibilities.
Isolation: It can be lonely being by yourself all day, and you can find yourself missing the comradery of the office. After days of working out of your home office, you might start feeling a little house-bound. Weekends often lose their meaning when spending all day at home is what you do Monday through Friday.
Sloppiness: If you are not careful, you may end up schlepping around your house with greasy hair and wearing an old bathrobe decorated with cheese puff dust and ranch dressing stains. Social niceties such as eating at consistent times, dressing properly, grooming, wearing shoes and sitting up straight often go out the window when you work at home.
Weight concerns: At home, most of what you need is only a few steps away, so you can easily find yourself quite sedentary and gaining weight as a consequence.
When you consider all the options, working at home may be a good career path for you, whether it be switching to telecommuting three times a week or starting your own business in your basement. As you prepare for work at home, here are a few suggestions to keep you on task.
Set a schedule: Have a set time for when you wake up, start working, take breaks, etc. Staying on a schedule keeps you focused and motivated. Working at home can be a disaster if you are not disciplined and organized, so stay on task.
Guard your work time: Just because you can work in the evening doesn’t mean you automatically have to give up your afternoon work session to take a neighbor to the doctor or babysit your grandchild. You have work to do, so don’t let people take advantage of your flexibility.
Stand when you can: At least a couple hours a day, I put my laptop on my kitchen counter and work while standing to keep myself from sitting all day long. Try to keep moving throughout the day to prevent stiffness and potential weight gain.
Power down: You simply must have an actual “quitting time” for your own sake. Close the shop down at a reasonable time: Turn off your computer, close your office door and step away from your work. Also, take at least one day off per week; working seven days a week will only contribute to burnout.
Working from home can give you the flexibility you are looking for, allow you to finally act on that business plan you have been dreaming of for years or rid yourself of a long and boring commute. While not everyone is best-suited to making home their workplace, you may find that working this way is a beneficial and life-changing step.