The number of Americans working from home has jumped 41 percent since 1999, and that trend toward telecommuting or running a home-based business should continue to grow as technology continues to evolve.
While the work-from-home lifestyle brings some significant perks, it's not without challenges. You may not deal with the daily commute or rush-hour traffic, but there's a new set of struggles that are unique to the home office. Here's a breakdown of the top four pitfalls associated with working from home and how to overcome them.
1. You Can't Stay Focused
It’s not easy to stay focused in the face of countless distractions, from the television to the dirty dishes waiting in the kitchen. And when you’re brand new to working at home, the first danger is that it’s hard to feel like you’re working, simply because you don’t associate your home environment with being at work.
Solution: Some people are expert multitaskers, gracefully alternating between work and household tasks or other distractions throughout the day. However, if you find your work productivity is suffering, you’ll need to come up with a more formal structure for your day. After all, you wouldn’t iron your clothes during the day if you were back at the office.
In an ideal case, you should create a dedicated area as your office (preferably with a door, so you can shut out unwanted distractions). At the very least, carve out a corner of a room just for work, so going there signals your brain that it’s time to get serious. If you find yourself stuck from time to time, try changing your environment by working at the café for an hour or taking a short walk outside. A change in scenery can bring you fresh focus.
2. You Lose Boundaries
When you’re working at a traditional office job, everyone seems to understand your work schedule. You don’t get many personal calls during the day. You’re not expected to handle all the daily errands. However, all those boundaries go out the window when you’re working from home.
Solution: This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of the flexibility that comes with working from home. But you should think about how easy it is to have time ripped from your workday. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean your job is any less real than your office counterparts. The key here is to respect your own time and your schedule—because no one else will respect your boundaries if you don’t respect them first.
3. You Work Too Much
What’s the stereotype of working from home? Sleeping in, working in pajamas and easing through the day. However, the reality is usually far from that. People who work from home often work longer days simply because there’s no separation between work and home. When you’re working from home, you don’t pack up your computer; you don’t drive away from the office. Without a natural stopping point, the day gets longer and it’s harder to put work aside.
Solution: With most jobs, there’s always going to be more work to do. This means you need to self-regulate and be disciplined about setting a boundary between your work and personal life. This doesn’t have to be every night. However, if you’re serious about working from home for the long haul, you have to make the lifestyle sustainable. And that means you’ll need time away from the computer and stress of work.
4. You Feel Isolated
The solitude of working from home means fewer distractions and pesky office politics, but the physical separation from colleagues brings an inevitable sense of isolation. Everyone needs social interaction (albeit at varying levels), and working remotely limits your opportunities to connect with others. Many people don’t realize just how much they miss the day-to-day social interaction of the office until it’s gone.
Solution: When you’re working from home, you’ll need to manufacture those social interactions. For example:
- Make a point to schedule lunch or breakfast get-togethers.
- Use social networks such as Facebook or Twitter as your virtual "water cooler" during the day.
- When possible, use real-time communications like phone calls, Skype or chat instead of email.
- Get involved with local networking groups or meetups.
- Spend some time working in shared office spaces. Websites including LiquidSpace, ShareDesk, Deskwanted and WorkSnug can help you find a co-working space in major cities, and the shared office trend is catching on in smaller towns as well.
This is an exciting time, as technology is giving people more freedom to carve out their own work-styles and career paths. Don’t let these pitfalls deter you. If you want to strike out on your own as an independent worker or just telecommute from home a few days a week, go for it. Just be mindful that there are unique challenges associated with working from home, ones you probably never would have thought about while in the office.
What are some of the things you do to make the work-from-home lifestyle work for you? Let us know in the comments.
Photo: Marcus Yam/The Washington Post/Getty Images