Working From Home

Sure sounds appealing, doesn’t it? No more setting your alarm for 5:30 am. No more crushing your soul on the commute. No more co-workers or managers hanging over your shoulder. And no more sitting in your cubicle the entire day, only to escape for a measly hour lunch break. Now you can set your hours and work only when you feel like it. Freedom is finally yours!

Except it doesn’t exactly work that way.

Just ask anyone who works remotely from home: It’s not all a bowl of cherries. A report from the United Nations International Labour Organization found that, while employees are more productive when working outside of a conventional office, they are also more vulnerable to working longer hours, at a more intense work pace, prone to work-home interference, and, in some cases, at risk for greater stress.

“Many business leaders think that ‘going remote‘ is as simple as sending a worker away from the office, equipped with a laptop and a to-do list,” Laurel Farrer, founder of the Remote Work Association and CEO of Distribute Consulting, told Business Insider. “Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In fact, when the correct policies and procedures are not created to support off-site employees, terrible consequences are likely to occur.”

Overcoming the Challenges of Working from Home

1. Managing Your Schedule All by Yourself

Keeping “normal business hours” is an efficient time management tool. When the hours are set, you know exactly when you’re supposed to work and when you’re free to spend time with your family or engage in other interests. And you can make plans far in advance because you know your work schedule.

Denied that structure, many of those who work at home find themselves in big trouble. Either they sleep in, procrastinate, or figure they’ll knock it out later in the day. And when they look at the clock, they realize that the kids will soon be home from school, and they missed the opportunity to do what they had intended to do.  They’re left with the unpleasant choice of working through the evening or procrastinating further.

Avoiding Time Management Doom and Maximizing Your Day

Discipline. Establish your work days and hours and stick to them. Most of the time, this either means maintaining regular business hours or molding your schedule around your spouse and children. A conventional schedule, aside from making you more productive, also allows you to spend “downtime” with those you care about.

Eat the frog. Business consultant and coach Brian Tracy explains: “Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long. Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.” First thing, when you begin work, eat that frog.

2. Where is the Line Between Personal & Professional Life?

Alternatively, working from home erodes the clear geographic division between your work and personal space. Your home should be a place of relaxation, safety, and security where you subconsciously slip into a calm, “chilled” state of mind, leaving the stresses of the workday at the office.

Working from home blows a hole through that neat mental divider. Often people who work remotely complain that they feel like they’ve never left their job. There’s that abiding compulsion to check their email or “finish off one last thing.” When your home is your office, you haven’t left work until you disengage from all work-related communication devices.

Avoiding the Blurred Work-Life Doom

First of all, you must create a workspace, separate from the rest of your home. This could be a spare bedroom, library, den, or any other room that you can afford to convert into your home office, even if only temporarily. And don’t forget to close the doors while at work and hang up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

Next, invest in high-quality noise-canceling headphones, to block out “environmental noise”, permitting you to remain firmly entrenched in your work. The bottom line is that the clearer the boundaries you draw — both in time and space— between your work life and personal life, the better you will be able to distinguish between the two.

Set appointments on your calendar for the end of the day to get yourself out of your home office such as an “appointment” to go to the gym or go grocery shopping, or just to take a walk around the block.

And set up reminders to take breaks. In Windows, you can use Task Scheduler to set up an hourly reminder. And don’t forget to turn off notifications on your phone and computer so you’re not “dragged” back into work after hours.

3. Feeling Socially Isolated

Don’t kid yourself. Sitting at home alone all day can take its toll. Being social creatures, we need interaction with other people. When there’s no water cooler around to swap jokes, stories, and shop talk, people can get lonely. Zoom doesn’t completely replace face-to-face interaction.

“It is too easy to get into the habit of working from home all day,” says CEO of ad tech firm MonetizeMore, Kean Graham, “and then remain in your home for the remainder of that day and sometimes for subsequent days.”

Avoiding Social Isolation Doom

You need to anticipate this challenge and plan for social interaction outside of work to counteract feelings of isolation. That may mean meeting up with friends or colleagues for lunch, attending classes at the gym, or making dinner plans. Being able to interact with friends several times a week can take a lot of the bite out of working alone all day.

Build social breaks into your schedule by working a few hours and then spend an hour or so doing socializing outside of your home, such as lunching with friends, before you return to work. Even grabbing a snack while chatting with the person behind the counter can be rejuvenating.

If possible, try out co-working spaces or coffee shops to at least feel that you haven’t dropped out of society. Perhaps you’ll make new friends during these “social jaunts” — think of it as your second office.

And be more intentional about joining local groups or organizations. Find a Meetup, attend networking conferences, or take a class at the local recreation center.

The Benefits of Working at Home

Don’t focus only on the challenges. Remember that there are multiple benefits of working from home. No more annoying traffic jams. Allow those dreaded daily commutes to become just a bad memory. And you’ll save money as well. No public transport fees or gas bills, and you’ll use your car much less. You decide how to dress and have the freedom to design your work environment.

For many jobs, the schedule is flexible. That means that you can work when you feel most productive. And you are also more flexible in terms of private appointments. The combination of less commuting and flexibility in your schedule provides you with more opportunities to work out, and more quality time to be with your family as well.

The bottom line is that you have the option and wherewithal to create a healthier work/life balance. You can master the equilibrium of both time and place in your life. Granted, you may need to address the challenges enumerated above. But be assured that, when you do, you will likely see significant improvement in your quality of life.