The Right Stuff — Are You Cutout to Work From Home?

So, you want to work from home?  It’s a lovely image isn’t it?  Roll out of bed without an alarm.  Leisurely brew a pot of coffee and eat your breakfast.  Still in pajamas and robe, wander down to your home office and get to work.  After a few hours of work, take a break and shower.  Finally get into daytime clothes.  Work a few more hours before knocking off.  And you’re home, no commute in rush hour traffic.

It’s a wonderful dream, but are you cutout to work from home?  I spent two years telecommuting as a health insurance claims adjuster (most boring job ever, by the way) and while working from home I not only maintained one of the highest productivity levels within our department, even when compared to coworkers who worked in our main office, but I also kept up a 100% accuracy rating.  How did I manage this?

Well, some people will say that working from home can help minimize the distractions sometimes found in the workplace, like friendly chatter with coworkers.  I was also subject to less interruption from a ringing phone as the company’s customer service department fielded most of my calls and interoffice communication was largely routed through email.  But anyone who thinks there are less distractions at home is nuts.

I have two big, goofy dogs that think if I’m home, it must be petting time!  One parked herself on the dog bed under my desk and demanded regular attention.  The other wandered into my office every half hour for a good dose of ear rubs and chest scratches.  Then I had the stupid idea to put a television with cable in my office.  Even the History Channel is more interesting that health insurance claims.  Have you ever seen Cities of the Underworld?  Totally fascinating.  Then there are the chores.  My laundry is sitting there in heaps and the dishes are piled in the sink.  I’m home, so shouldn’t I take a few minutes and clean up those messes.  Then there’s your family or other loved ones who share your living space.  Who wouldn’t rather play with the kids or hang out rather than work?

To succeed in working from home, you need to be able to compartmentalize your work life and your home life.  Work time is work time.  Hang a “Do not disturb” sign on your office door if necessary.  But if it’s easy to be distracted by your pets and house chores, the opposite is tragically true as well.  Your office is right there.  That report is due tomorrow.  You’ll just sit down and work on it for a few minutes.  Yes, you’ve already put in your eight hours for the day but….

Self-discipline and the ability to compartmentalize are vital if you want to do well working from home.  If you’ve worked in a job with little direct supervision and excelled, you probably already possess these traits in spades and you’re one step ahead in possessing the characteristics you need to succeed in working from home.

A need for socialization also plays a big role in determining if you’ll do well working from home.  The relationships we form with coworkers can provide much of the social interaction we need as human beings.  We are a social species.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t live in such huge clusters.  Of course, some of us need more interactions than others.  I tend to be on the lower end of that scale myself but while working from home, I found myself missing the interaction work provided.  Even worse, I lived about an hour from town and all my friends and family.  When considering working from home, think about how this choice will affect you socially.  Are most of your friends also your coworkers?  Will you miss your daily interactions?  If so, consider making the transition to work from home a part time gig.  A few days a week in the office can provide needed social interactions.  Or if you’re close enough, drop by for the weekly staff meeting.  If you’re still set on working full time from home, make sure your social network is strong and provides you with plenty of socialization outside of work.  Or an alternative is to consider a career from home that provides interaction via phone or video conferencing.

So, you have the self-discipline to ignore those distractions at home that might draw you away from work while at the same time, the discipline to self-motivate while not spending all your time in the desk chair in your home office.  Now, you’ve determined your social life is robust enough to keep you from talking to the walls from the sheer lack of human interaction while working from home.  You’re ready to go, right?  Maybe.

Take a look at your home.  Is there a place you can dedicate to your home office?  It doesn’t have to be a separate room.  Even a small corner desk where you can set up shop may work just fine.  I like to work from my laptop with my feet up in my recliner.  But I also try to work paperless.  If your job requires manuals, files and papers, consider a small desk or a separate office space.  A defined space will also help you get in the right mindset to focus on work and ignore distractions.

Some of this might seem daunting.  Maybe you don’t have the space for a home office or you know you’ll miss the social interaction at work.  But it’s all something you can deal with.  Everyone just needs a system to deal with the things that might distract him or her the most.  Sit down and make a list of Pros and Cons (I love lists!  Yes, I am a Type A Personality.  Why do you ask?).  Maybe you have a spare room but it’s already set aside as a guest room.  Can you add a desk in an unused corner?

If you feel you’ll greatly miss the social interactions of the workplace, make a point to schedule regular time to meet friends.  I had a standing lunch appointment with a friend every week when I worked for the insurance company.  Invite the family over for dinner once a week.  Go out for drinks with your coworkers once a month.  Anything that gets you out of the house!

Self-discipline and focus are the hardest to fake.  Dealing with these issues can be an ongoing process.  Learn what distracts you most easily and eliminate the source (bye bye television in the office) or learn to moderate its influence.

So, you think you’ve got a handle on what it takes to work from home?  Well, hold your horses.  This is just what it takes to get started.  There are other challenges you might face working from home and I’ll address those in my next blog.  So head back here soon for more hints and tips on what it takes to work from home.

H. Lounsbury

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