Working from home isn’t for everyone. Consider the pros and cons.
Working from home can be a dream come true for many. If you are not prepared for all that working from home entails, however, you may discover it’s more like a bad dream, if not a nightmare. In either case, it pays to know the pros and cons. Having worked from home for many years, I would like to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Is Working From Home Right for You?
There are three very important things to consider that will help you determine if working from home is right for you: personality, career goals, and family.
A good place to start in determining whether working at home is right for you is reviewing the characteristics of a successful remote worker. Remote workers must be disciplined, focused, and organized. They need top-notch time management skills and must be able to handle hours or even days of solitude.
If you are a gregarious, outgoing, never-met-a-stranger-you-didn’t-like type of person, you may find it difficult to work alone at home. If you are an introvert, you may find working at home more comfortable. However, you may find the inherent isolation exacerbates social anxieties, and you may lose the social skills you do have.
Being an extrovert doesn’t mean you can’t successfully work at home, nor does being an introvert guarantee that you can, but it’s important to be honest about your character traits and how they can affect your ability to work alone. I happen to be an introvert by nature. Teaching, participating in a professional association, and public speaking keeps me from completely isolating myself, but I have colleagues who have withdrawn from life outside their homes.
What are your career goals? Do you want to advance in your career and be considered for promotions, more responsibility, and higher pay? When you work from home, you tend to be out of sight, out of mind for your employer. Working on-site is more conducive to advancement than working remotely.
Do you have an active and growing family? Working from home part time may be an appropriate option as it will allow you to spend more time with family and take the kids to games and recitals. However, you mustn’t let family obligations override your obligation to your employer. You should not expect to tend to your children, do laundry, or prepare meals (except maybe slow-cooker meals) during work hours.
Communication Requires More Effort
Staying in communication with business contacts can be difficult when working remotely. To stay visible to your coworkers, employer, and supervisor, participate during conference calls and online meetings, ask questions, make suggestions, and comment when appropriate.
Answer work emails promptly but respond to less important emails only at the beginning and end of your shift to keep communication from being a distraction. Make sure your email correspondence is professional. No texting abbreviations or acronyms. No (or minimal) emoticons. Clear communication requires correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Tone is important, too. Electronic communication lacks the visual cues of face-to-face communication — it’s easy to inadvertently choose wording that conveys the wrong tone to your recipient. There are free apps available that work with Microsoft Word, Outlook, and popular internet browsers, which can help you make sure your writing is technically correct and balanced in tone.
Email can’t replace missed opportunities to learn from coworkers or to receive help when you need it. Many companies use business messaging apps for quick, brief access to supervisors and coworkers. If the company you work for doesn’t provide this, you may want to coordinate with coworkers and explore apps that everyone can use for quick question-and-answer exchanges. If you work in a different time zone than your supervisor and coworkers, you may need to obtain a world clock or time zone app to avoid intruding on their personal time. I have a tab set on my web browser for a world clock link and have it set to show all the time zones where my colleagues work or live.
Ensure Productivity and Minimize Distractions
There are dozens of apps to help improve productivity. You may have heard about the Pomodoro time management technique, which breaks down activities into short segments, typically 25 minutes, followed by a short break. Several apps can help you employ the Pomodoro method. Apps that track how much time you spend on different activities can also be useful. I’ve found it helpful just to set my computer clock to announce the time every half hour or every hour. I don’t always hear it when I’m focused on a task, but when I do, it reminds me to assess my progress. I also set alarms on my phone to remind me to take a break, eat lunch, or prepare for an online meeting. Becoming focused on a task and forgetting these things is easy to do.
To minimize distractions, use the Do Not Disturb setting or Airplane Mode on your electronic devices. The Do Not Disturb setting allows contacts in your favorites list to get through, which can be helpful if you have children or other individuals (like your supervisor) who may need to contact you during work hours. Airplane Mode blocks all incoming calls and texts. Set your status to “busy” in apps such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, FaceTime, and Whatsapp when you don’t want to be disturbed, and turn off notifications for apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. My advice is to avoid social media apps entirely during working hours; if you access them during breaks, it can change your focus and attention.
You may have to go to extremes to avoid distractions. I was often interrupted by the doorbell ringing. By the time I got to the door, the visitor would have moved on to another house. I finally had the doorbell disconnected. Also, make sure friends and family know you have a “real” job; you may need to get quite firm with some of them.
Periodically, review and assess your productivity and address those factors that have kept you from being as productive as you could be.
Don’t Let Your Desk Job Ruin Your Health
I started working a desk job in my 30s. Before that I had worked “on my feet,” so to speak, and I was naturally active. Once I started working at a desk job, I gained eight pounds each year for five years. When you have a sedentary job, unless you have an incredible metabolism, you need to be purposely active.
I recommend getting a FitBit, Apple Watch, or even just a pedometer or a smartphone app that tracks your steps. I use the computer clock and my alarms to make sure I stand up each hour, stay hydrated, rest my eyes, stretch, walk around, and do squats, planks, or some other quick exercise to get my heart beating and my blood flowing. I’ve read several articles that suggest even three to five minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise is as effective as 30 minutes of regular daily exercise.
You can also use these mini-breaks for deep breathing, meditation, or yoga — any of which will refresh your body and your mind. When you’re not working, I suggest increasing what I call “ambient exercise.” I park as far from the door of the grocery or department store as I can, regardless of the weather. I use stairs instead of elevators. I am purposely inefficient when doing household chores — taking more steps, bending, stooping, stretching — and I watch my diet. I try to eat whole, unprocessed foods. I prep veggies and cook on weekends just like I did when I commuted to work. Depending on your age and metabolism, you need at least 30 minutes of active exercise, such as walking or interval training, at least five days a week to maintain your health.
Use Your Time Wisely
The advantages of working from home are you no longer have to dress for business and commute to work. How will you spend all the time you save? Go for a hike. Take up bird watching. Garden. Take a class. Get another certification. But don’t let being isolated become a habit or an excuse to avoid human interaction. Human-to-human interactions are necessary for balanced mental health. Stay involved in your professional association at the local and national levels, plan get-togethers with coworkers, and volunteer in your community. Expand your horizons and enjoy all the benefits of working from home.
Ellen Drake, CMT-R, is a development editor for The Coding Institute. She has a bachelor’s degree in education and has worked as a high school English teacher, an on-site and online adjunct professor for allied health sciences, a remote medical transcriptionist, and an editor and author of allied health references and textbooks.
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