Working from home seems ideal. No need to get dressed and polished for the day, no commute, and no distracting coworkers to face—what’s not to like? But working remotely isn’t as easy as it looks.
The undisputed champion of small talk topics revolves around one question: What do you do for a living? I tell people I’m a writer and that, although I’m technically a freelancer, I have a steady gig with Grammarly. (That insight sometimes evokes the exclamation “Oh em gee! I love Grammarly!” Satisfying.) Inevitably, I’m asked whether “freelancer” means I get to work from home. I do. I’ve been working from home for about twenty years.
Tell people you work from home, and the following conversation almost always ensues:
Person: Aaah, you’re so lucky!
Me: Yeah. It’s pretty cool.
Person: I mean, you can just get out of bed and work in your pajamas.
Me: Well, it’s a little more complicated than that . . .
There’s been a shift toward remote work in recent years. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 50 percent of the U.S. workforce holds a job that allows them to work from home at least part of the time, and approximately 20 to 25 percent of the workforce telecommutes frequently. Everyone seems to want to ditch the commute and the need for a business casual wardrobe and instead work from the relative peace and comfort of their own space.
Top three work-from-home problems and their solutions
I was telecommuting long before telecommuting was cool. I can’t imagine ever having to work outside my home again. And yet, there are some definite challenges that every remote worker faces. Here are my top three, along with some helpful ideas for tackling them.
1 Lack of discipline
Allow me to speculate that you’re not as disciplined as you think you are. (And if you already know you’re undisciplined, allow me to speculate that you’re even more undisciplined than you concede.) I speak from experience. The siren call of household chores, playtime with your kids or pets, and naps are the least of your concerns.
The most dangerous distraction sits before you at your desk. Social media, YouTube, and the rest of the Internet are just a tab away. Online games lurk there, too. (And, if you’re of the gamer persuasion, you already know that the game icon on your desktop, or the console in the living room, poses a serious threat to your productivity.) Unless you find ways to minimize distractions, they’ll monopolize your work day before you can say “Whoa! Where did the time go?”
Learn good time management skills. You can’t stick to a schedule unless you have one, so schedule your time in blocks.
The key is to make your time blocks manageable. If you book yourself for four solid hours of work without a break, you’ll find your mind wandering and your productivity tanking. The Pomodoro Technique, for instance, promotes scheduling twenty-five-minute blocks of work time followed by brief breaks.
Whatever you do on your breaks, I recommend leaving your desk. Stretch, breathe, grab coffee or tea, use the bathroom (thanks coffee or tea), or take the dog for a quick walk. Your body and brain will thank you. Too much sitting can sap your creativity and ability to think clearly. Grabbing ten minutes to do some yoga or go for a quick walk will clear your head and make you more productive.
2 Feeling out of the loop
If you’re freelancing for multiple clients, this may not apply to you. But if you’re one of the many telecommuters who work remotely for a single employer, staying connected to your team at the office may prove challenging.
There’s nothing like prepping your really cool project ideas only to hear the project was scrapped or has shifted directions, and that you were not only not informed of the change but also not involved in making it. In addition to leaving you feeling like you’ve wasted time, it serves as a reminder that being out-of-sight sometimes means being out-of-mind.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of technology at your fingertips to make communicating with your colleagues easier. Stay active on company chat platforms like Slack. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you feel ill-informed. Be persistent and go after the information you need in order to do your job. Never use “I wasn’t in the loop” as an excuse.
Be your own advocate. Ask to be included in meetings via video conference so you’ll have better insight into projects. If you can’t attend a meeting, ask a colleague for a quick debriefing by phone. You’ll feel more connected and tuned in.
Don’t make yourself difficult to get in touch with, either. If you’re required to be available during working hours, then consider yourself on the clock and answer promptly when your coworkers message or email you. If you’re accessible, your coworkers will be more likely to include you.
3 Going stir crazy
It’s already difficult to make friends as an adult. It’s doubly difficult when you don’t go to an office and connect with your coworkers. There are no daily break room chats, there’s no bonding over sports scores, and no getting the recipe for that awesome veggie dip Dave brought to the last office luncheon. You’re on a solo mission, and yeah, it can get lonely.
Working from home sounds great until you consider how isolated it can make you feel. Staying connected with your colleagues in the ways I described can certainly help, but it’s still no substitute for face-to-face interaction with people. You’ll have to make some extra effort to avoid becoming a creepy recluse.
Make time for the friends you already have. Don’t turn down social invitations because you’re tempted to work—get your work done on schedule so that you can keep your evenings and weekends free. You need the downtime just as much as someone who reports to an office does.
Find activities outside work that you can join. A few years back, I found myself becoming a work-obsessed hermit. I realized that, despite my tendency toward introversion, I needed to get myself out amongst people if I was going to be a happy and well-rounded. I love to sing, so I joined a community choir. I’ve since made some great friends, and rehearsals give me a reason to look forward to Mondays.
Working from home can be wonderful. Right now, I’m sitting at my desk with a fresh cup of coffee to my left, a sleeping dog to my right, and a ukulele behind me. As soon as I send this article off to my editor, I’ll finish the coffee, strum the uke for a few minutes, and then walk the dog. It works for me because I’ve learned how to make it work. Here’s to making it work for you!