Should You Work From Home?

It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly a sweet gig if you can handle it.

“13:09? I should probably eat something soon.” — You, daily. Probably.

The allure of working from home is powerful. The flexible schedule, custom hours and comforts of home are hard to turn down. Plus you can ditch that commute and the costs of renting an office. For many, it’s an ideal situation that fosters productive creativity and job satisfaction.

I’ve worked from the little IKEA desk in my bedroom since 2009. In that time I’ve identified what separates a successful home office from a regrettable experience. Before taking the plunge and working from home, you must:

  1. Decide if your job can be performed from home successfully
  2. Understand the pros
  3. Understand (and solve) the cons
  4. Consider the less obvious but equally important aspects
  5. Let’s start at the very beginning

Many jobs can’t be done remotely. No one wants to visit an at-home dental hygienist for example. Your preliminary work involves answering several questions:

  1. What are the tools or equipment I’ll need?
  2. What are the physical space requirements?
  3. Do I need to communicate with others (collaborations, clients, coworkers, contractors, etc) regularly and if so, how will that be handled?
  4. What will I do if an unforeseen circumstance — internet/electricity is out, housemates are home sick/noisy construction crew sets up show right outside my window — prohibits a productive work day?
  5. How will a home office affect my relationships with those I live with?

Still keen to make it work? Great. Now let’s consider the fun part: the perks and pros of working from home.

PERKS AND PROS

The perks and pros of working from home are obvious and rightly so. You’ll find many desirable benefits while working from home, starting with the daily commute.

No more commute

According to a 2015 report (PDF) from the Texas Transportation Institute, which is part of Texas A&M University, American spend about 42 hours commuting per year. What would you do with an extra work week per year? Additionally, there are both environmental and wear-and-tear benefits to taking your car off the road.

The convenience factor

If a quick errand needs to be run or a child must be delivered to or from an activity, you’re ready to go. This is often much easier than hiring a sitter or working out a complex arrangement with family and/or friends.

Invest in a good machine. You’ll need it.

Reduced costs

For most, working from home is less expensive than renting office space. By eliminating costs like rent, janitorial services and utilities, you’ll realize a savings right away. Depending on where you live, there may be tax benefits to having a dedicated home office space.

Other obvious pros include simply being in the comfort of your own home, the freedom to arrange/decorate your work space however you like, setting your own hours and the opportunity to spend more time with family.

Of course, it’s not all fuzzy slippers and Netflix binges. Here are the cons to be aware of.

The cons…and solutions

Work creep

The most insidious pitfall of working from home is “work creep,” or the tendency of work to bleed into your free time. When your office is mere steps from where you spend your leisure time, the temptation to “quickly check one thing” or wrap-up a nearly complete project can be awful. Likewise, it’s common to feel like you’re neglecting your family, housemates or loved ones while you’re working, and guilty that your avoiding work when you’re with them.

The solution here is to define and adhere to a consistent schedule. Set office hours and do not waver. Find the time of day or night that you’re most productive and define that block of time for work only. When you’ve concluded that final hour, step away. Work is done for the day.

I also recommend writing down tomorrow’s most important tasks at the end of your work day and leaving that list in a patently obvious place. I put an 3x5 index card right next to my keyboard. That way I won’t waste time deciding on what to do in the morning.

Interruptions

Work on your straight-arm and juke skills. You’re gonna need them if you have kids at home.

Interruptions are another consideration. Kids, pets and even well-intentioned adults can interfere when you’re “in the zone,” and research shows that it can take an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task.

To ease this costly frustration, clearly define a work area and set boundaries. A dedicated room is great, but really any area of the house — even a small table in the corner — can be effective once you let others know that you’re working during the hours we defined previously and that, unless someone is on fire, you’re not to be disturbed. Visual cues like headphones or a closed door can further reinforce the message: I’m working, please do not disturb.

Lastly, we must consider communication with collaborators. You must remain accessible to co-workers, clients and contractors during work hours. The solution here is to clearly define the mode of communication that will work for both parties. Perhaps email is best for a given client, while another likes the immediacy of a service like Slack or even the detailed project history of Basecamp. Identify a tool that will work for all involved and stick with it.

The social aspect

Finally, many people who transition from an office environment to a home office miss the daily social interactions with coworkers. A Slack conversation is one thing, but the five minutes of banter before a meeting kicks off can be fun and often productive. If you’re the social type, plan a day at the office on a schedule that satisfies that need, be it weekly, monthly or what-have-you.

Alternatively, use a service like Meetup.com or a local small business organization to find opportunities to find like-minded home workers and schedule a get-together.

When addressing the cons, consider ways to mitigate the negatives.

Other important, but oft-overlooked considerations

Take the opportunity to step away from your desk and give your mind a chance to wander productively.

In his book The Necessity of Strangers, Alan Gregerman addresses the notion that creativity suffers in the absence of face-to-face collaboration:

“[If employees] don’t have enough fresh ideas to collaborate around, they kind of miss the point. Our companies need to encourage us to regularly get off our butts and explore the world around us…We’re not as likely to get those new ideas if we simply hang out at the office or work from home.”

Gregerman often brings his teams to museums, the zoo and public markets, among other non work-related locations. His employees often begin an outing confused but return impressed and renewed by the experience.

Embrace opportunity to hang out with friends and colleagues.

As a home worker, you have the same opportunity. When I’m stuck on a project or want time to think, I’ll wander my back yard, take the dog for a walk or drive to the corner store. You know how your best ideas pop up while you’re in the shower? Now you’re free to elicit a “shower idea” at almost any time.

Working from home is awesome if you do it right and are smart about it. First, recognize if your job can be performed from home. Next, know the pros and cons and consider solutions for the pitfalls. Lastly, take the steps that will help ensure success, like defining work hours, adhering to a routine and discussing your plan with housemates. With this done, you’re well on you way to a successful and rewarding setup.


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