Once upon a time, I looked out of my office window and dreamed about a time when I would have the freedom and flexibility that comes with telecommuting.
Telecommuting always seemed like a good choice for me. I never thrived in a traditional office environment. I didn’t like working with people looking over my shoulder, or amid the noise and hubbub of a shared work space. Working from a quiet home office felt like the more productive choice. And it was. Except there were a lot of fits and starts in the beginning.
The first couple of years telecommuting were an adventure, and I don’t mean that in the best possible way. Working from home wasn’t at all what I pictured in my mind. If you’re thinking of telecommuting – whether as an employee for a 9 – 5 brand, or as a freelancer – a reality check is in order, because working remotely might not be what you think it is.
Before you make the commitment to a full or partial telecommute, consider the following:
1.”Telecommute” and “Flexible” are two different things
Don’t mistake the ability to work at home with the ability to make your own hours, as these are two entirely different entities. If you’re working remotely or as part of a distributed team for a full time job, you have to be available the hours your team and co-workers are available. If theirs is a 9 to 5 job, your hours are likely 9 to 5 as well.
If you freelance or act as an independent contractor your hours are flexible, but many clients expect you to be available to them during business hours. As they have families and social lives, they might not find your working at 10:00 p.m. to be convenient. Moreover, you have to work within deadlines and receive a project request first thing in the morning that has to be completed before the end of the day.
Telecommuting can be very flexible but only if the people you work with agree to flexibility. Don’t think everyone will appreciate your making your own hours or working at your own pace -when others have to rely on you it’s easier said than done.
2. What will you do with the kids?
As a work at home mom I learned two universal truths:
- Truth #1: Kids don’t sleep when you want them to sleep, nor do they sleep all day.
- Truth #2: Kids will not keep it down simply because Mom works at home.
Working at home with kids playing quietly in the background is a myth. You might be the proud parent of the most well- behaved kids ever, but the second you pick up the phone or get on Skype your perfect little angels can and will have a meltdown or need something RIGHT NOW! Hopefully it’s not the norm, but if you’re a work at home parent, count on some kid drama now and then.
Something else: if you have to travel for your job, childcare isn’t always as simple as calling Grandma or having Dad stay at home. Not everyone is available at a convenient time. One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s easier for people who work outside the home to travel because they already have childcare in place. There are times when you have to turn down business opportunities because there’s no one to care for your kids.
3. “Work/life balance” isn’t as easy as it sounds
If you’re not careful, the lines between work and home will blur. When you don’t leave the office at the end of the day, the office can stay with you. Many telecommuters claim they work longer hours because their computers always beckon. Moreover, clients and co-workers feel they can call during off hours because they know you work from home.
If you feel like working long hours simply because you’re home, your family might not understand. Plus, unless you have someone covering for you, you’ll have to break focus from your work duties to handle home duties, The Crisis of the Day, and more. Setting strict boundaries with the hours you work helps immensely, but you have to be the type of person who is disciplined enough not to cross boundaries back and forth
4. You still have to work
A common mistake made by many telecommuters is to do things during the day that aren’t work, so they have lighter loads in the evenings or on weekends. We’re all guilty of running to the supermarket when there are no lines, running a vacuum, doing laundry, and handling errands, during a time when most people are working. But here’s the thing: We still have to get work done. So is the trade off worth working nights or weekends to meet deadlines? Be careful trading one job for another – the person who pays you still expects you to get all your work done, no matter how convenient it is for you to avoid grocery lines.
5. You don’t get snow days and will work when sick
Snow days? What are snow days?
When you work from home you don’t get to take some of those rare “act of nature” days off. If the train isn’t running or two feet of snow fell overnight, you still have to work. And chances are you’ll continue to work if you have a cold or minor illness. Because when you telecommute, if you can sit up and move your fingers, you can work without having to worry about infecting the whole office.
6. Everything in your home is a distraction
Good luck staying away from the fridge. Or the television. Or the book you can’t put down. Or your friends. Or your garden. Or your car. Unless you have the ability to lock down and focus on nothing but work you can and will be distracted.
7. If you’re home, you must be available
Your husband will call and ask you to run an errand or pick something up from the store. Your friends will call to see if you’re up for lunch or a glass of wine. The school will look to you to volunteer. Your parents will call during the day because, after all, you are home. When you’re home other people see that as having time to spare, even when you don’t. Telecommuting isn’t only an adjustment for you, it’s also an adjustment for everyone you know.
8. You’ll have to learn to say “no.” A lot.
Working from home doesn’t mean you have to stay locked up. By all means, make lunch time plans or take an exercise break. But if you’re not careful you’ll be doing so many things for so many people, work becomes secondary. Your friends will understand if you have to work, and your family will learn to adapt as well.
9. You need your own stuff
When I first began telecommuting I learned I couldn’t get up if I didn’t want to lose my place at the family computer. If I left my desk to use the restroom or give the sauce pot a stir, someone would be sitting down in front of the screen in a matter of seconds. It’s kind of frustrating and testament to how others don’t always look at you as someone who works because you’re doing it at home. It’s worth the investment for you to have separate equipment from the family.
10. Think about other places you can work
It can be lonely or isolating when you work at home. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a list of places you can go to for a change of scenery or just to be about other places. Libraries, coffee shops, restaurants with WiFi and co-working spaces can all help you to break up the day and stave off boredom and loneliness.
Telecommuting is an adjustment
Whether you’re freelancing or working as part of a distributed team, working from home isn’t always easy. However, like any lifestyle change you’ll adjust. Set up good habits from the beginning, and make sure there are boundaries in place so no one (you included) crosses the line.
Do you telecommute? What are some of the unexpected challenges you encouter(ed)?
Looking for telecommuting jobs?