September 6, 2014

Benefits of Working From Home (and Why it Sucks Sometimes)

A few days ago I posted an article about the lessons I learned while working for someone else. I received really good feedback so I decided to follow that article with one about the lessons I learned from working for myself from home.

Whether you are a freelancer, telecommuter, or entrepreneur being able to work from home was probably one of the reasons you choose this path.

There are many upsides to working from home. And some downsides as well. Let's first talk about some of the benefits of working from home:

1. You set your own hours. Are you an early riser or a night owl? You decide whether you hit the ground running at 6am or sleep in until 10. There are times when I am awake before my alarm goes off. I am up, showered, and sitting with my coffee at my desk before the alarm braces for the usual snooze button whack. These days I usually clear my to do list by noon and have the rest of the day to brainstorm, get ahead on tasks, prospect for new clients, or simply goof off. Other times I can't sleep and decide rather than tossing and turning in my bed to walk to my office so I can get a jump on my day. Again, I am usually through my daily tasks by noon, although in these cases I usually nap afterwards.

2. You set the Dress Code. Come to work in a tee shirt, shorts, and flip flops. Or your pajamas. Or  jeans and sneakers. Or nothing at all. (word of advice, if you are working naked make sure your blinds are drawn and the shades are down) When I worked in Corporate America everyday was a shirt and tie day. Eventually most companies adopted a casual Friday policy, but even then tee shirts, jeans, and sneakers were either discouraged or outrightly forbidden. As I type this, I'm barefoot and wearing  clam diggers.

3. Pets are allowed. Sure there are some small businesses, or mom and pop shops that have an office cat or dog, but it's usually the bosses and not very friendly. Meanwhile, your Fluffy or Fido has to wait at home for you. Sometimes crated. One of the unintentional benefits I discovered was how much I enjoy being around my animals. I have seven cats. Yes, you read that right, seven. As I work everyday they meander in and out of the office, jump into my lap and demand attention, or just fall asleep in the kitty bed next to the printer. And I love it. At any time I could take a break to play, or pet them. They keep me sane. After a particularly challenging client I can use some feline therapy and they are happy to oblige.

4. You are there when emergencies happen. Everyone knows, shit happens. Life is wonderful in it's unexpectedness. No matter how well you plan, things will go awry. Basements will flood, children will get into fights at school, and pets will get loose from the yard. The good news is you will always be available when these issues arise. You can be Johnny on the spot and call the plumber, drive to the school, and canvas the neighborhood with MISSING flyers.

5. Your surroundings are comfortable. Yes, your manager will encourage you to bring in and decorate your cubicle with pictures of your kids or pets, maybe even a potted plant. But you can't go all out and truly personalize your workspace. You must remember, its a business environment. When you work at home, you can decorate your office anyway you see fit and load the desktop picture you want. I currently have a stone dragon gargoyle on my desk, lithographs of Van Gogh and Monet on my walls, and a 1986 New York Mets Pennant sitting pinned to my cork board. The really cool thing is if I don't feel like sitting at my desk in my office, I can plop down and stretch out on my couch to work. And blast my music!

As with everything there is good and bad and working from home brings it's own unique set of challenges.

1. Staying motivated. One of the earliest challenges I needed to overcome was staying motivated. My bed was so warm and so close. I thought a little TV watching isn't going to ruin my productivity and found out a little for me was several hours. If you decide to work from home you will benefit from setting a regular work schedule. It doesn't matter if that schedule is in the morning, afternoon, evening, or late night. As long as you block out time for work and stick to the schedule.

2. "Drop ins" This one is a real challenge. When friends, family, and neighbors discover you are working from home they will invite themselves over for coffee, or to chat. They will ask you if you could watch their child or their pet for "just a little bit" while they run some errands. They will call on the phone to chat or gossip. You must be able to set boundaries. Let them know that you are not socializing at home but conducting business and you need to be free from distractions. If you want to socialize with them you can schedule a half hour coffee break in the afternoon and invite them over or block out a time once a week for a long leisurely lunch.

3. Overworking. I know this sounds like the antithesis of why people choose to work at home, but it is a very serious issue. When you are passionate about something, and as an entrepreneur you are passionate about your work choice, you tend to lose track of time. There are days I am up and at my desk at 6am and don't stop until 9 or 10 at night. Even then, as I watch TV I am constantly doodling notes, brainstorming, sending emails, and posting to Twitter and Facebook. "I'm not really working," I tell myself. "One tweet doesn't take more than a coupe of seconds." The danger is that we lose our boundaries between work and life. The reason most people start working from home is Work/Life balance. If you are not careful your passions will cause Work to slowly creep in and take over Life. Make sure to set a work schedule and stick to it. When it's quitting time put the mouse down and walk away. Have a separate email address and, if possible, a separate phone number for your work. When it's the end of your day, unplug. Don't answer the work phone. Don't check the work email.

4. Feeling isolated from the rest of the world. Many people decide to work from home because they do not want to deal with distractions. They do not want to deal with office politics and water cooler conversations. The flip side to that is you are spending a good portion of everyday alone and in your home office. You are being deprived of a basic human need. Social interaction. Make a point to go out for lunch everyday. It doesn't matter if you go to Mickey D's or grab some Chinese. The important thing is to take a walk in the sunshine and to talk to people. Schedule lunch dates with friends to catch up and talk. Set a time and check in on Facebook to catch up with others. Use it as your virtual water cooler. Join a social group. Use and join groups that interest you. Do not join groups just for networking and prospecting. Join a group to meet likeminded people with the same interests as you do. Finally, look for cooperative workspaces in your city and spend one or two days working around other people.

5. Handling personal stuff during business hours. This is similar to number three and it's opposite. It is very easy to want to try and combine your personal life with your business life. You can go and do a load of laundry. After all the washing machine is just downstairs or in the next room. You can schedule an appointment for the cable guy to come in and upgrade your boxes. You can do this and still get work done. This is why you decided to work from home, isn't it? Sadly, it's not that simple. In the same way you need to turn off the "work gene" at quitting time, you need to set boundaries and not concentrate on "personal stuff" during business hours. Think about it, does your boss like it when you take time off for personal errands? No. Why? Because it takes time away from being productive for the company. When you work from home YOU are the company. It's YOUR business and you must be fully present in order to get the best results. Set work schedules and boundaries and stick to them.

Working from home can be exciting and a professionally rewarding experience. I have found it freeing and exciting as I continue to use my passions and drive to build a business that helps others improve their quality of life. Still, it does have it's challenges. Forewarned is forearmed. Being aware of the both the benefits and the challenges of working from home will allow you to decide if working from home is the right choice for you.

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