As you sit firmly planted at your desk in the middle of a bustling office, dreams of working from home may dance through your head.
Who wouldn’t want to trade frantic morning rush hours and staff meetings for lounging in your pajamas all day, working from the comfort of your own couch?
But as luxurious as the work-from-home lifestyle may sound, there are some serious challenges that come with it.
In today’s electronic world, telecommuting has become more and more common. A recent study indicated that 3.7 million employees now work from home. That’s over 2.5 percent of the workforce and almost a 2 percent increase over last year.
While the brick and mortar workplace isn’t disappearing anytime soon, with numbers like that, there is a good chance you may find yourself in a work-from-home situation in the future—if you’re not already there. Whether you’ve already joined the wave of remote workers or you’re considering a shift in the future, here are five challenges to be mindful of, and tips for conquering them head-on.
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While intrinsic motivation may have been how you’ve described your drive in the past, many people describe losing the buzz that accompanies most offices as a challenge. While once fueled by the productivity and competition that comes from direct, face-to-face interaction, telecommuters must find that same drive while working solo.
The first thing I explain to inquiring minds is that, for me, the notion of rolling out of bed and marching right over to my laptop doesn’t get my mental juices flowing. Just as I did when heading into the office, I rise at a set time and prepare for my day. True, I may not have to worry about ironing my shirt, but there is something to be said about feeling professional that carries through my day. And while I could simply slip over to the fridge at my own leisure, maintaining a traditional routine helps me to feel more connected to my other virtual co-workers.
Even in the office, distractions are everywhere. Remember that certain someone who played their new-age punk at a decibel just loud enough to shatter your train of thought? While you may be alone when working from home, there are plenty of distractions that can pull your mind away from the tasks at hand. Refrain from stationing your rear in front of the television.
Studying surrounded by distractions in high school and college was common, but it rarely results in the level of concentration that you really need. Also, your plush home office may have a grand view, but don’t let the outside world become a distraction. I find that keeping my blinds closed through the morning hours helps me avoid the temptation to watch the avid dog-walkers and stroller-pushers in my neighborhood.
From the outside looking in, working from home seems to offer the maximum amount of freedom—no more commute, more privacy, more control over your schedule. Sure, these are benefits, but when you telecommute, you quickly find that the boundary between work and personal life can get blurry. To combat this, try to establish a distinct home office if space allows. Failing to do so (i.e. working off your bed, couch or kitchen table) can make you feel as if all home life is lost.
Also, don’t allow feelings of guilt to creep in. There isn’t a manager who can see you arrive and leave the office each day, so to compensate, some find they are unable to fully switch out of work mode. “I just peek at my email after dinner” and similar thoughts have a way of stretching the 8-to-5 into 8-to-midnight. Set the hours that you’ll dedicate to work and use the rest to live your life.
Unless you regularly work in a coffee shop or other public place, the only body in your workspace will be you… and that can get lonely. Peggy won’t be stopping by the cube to tell you about her weekend and Jonny won’t invite you to try the casserole he’s brought in to share with the team. That’s the reality of working from home—some people wind up feeling very isolated behind the digital curtain. Taking the notion of motivation one step further, try to hold regular lunch outings with those you work with or other telecommuters. The added face-to-face time helps to eliminate the feelings of being on your own.
Finally, no matter where you work from, there is always a risk of burnout. In a traditional office setting, your peers, and/or manager are usually quick to recognize this—we’ve all seen that look in someone’s eyes whose candle has burned a tad too long. You will have to be your own monitor of your mental and emotional health. Take breaks and set aside time to recharge. Maybe you hit the gym over lunch hour or take a walk around the block after a queue of morning meetings. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who knows how you’re really feeling, so do what it takes to remain well.
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Working from home can be challenging, but just as the Harvard Business Review notes, organizations can increase productivity by allowing virtual office spaces. If you find yourself as part of this new, growing class of workers, following these tips to avoid potential pitfalls will make the transition that much easier. So get out there and enjoy the technology that’s made all of this possible!