There probably isn’t a soul in the workforce who hasn’t dreamed of the possibility of a comfy work-at-home arrangement. Today I want to play devil’s advocate on this topic. There are so many incredible benefits to work-at-home, but it’s important to understand the limitations as well. Not to be scared off by them, but to be prepared.
Work-at-home is an underrated arrangement too. In my experience, work-at-home is something of an incubator for starting your own business. I know that was the case for me. I worked at home for eight years in mortgage sales before launching this blog. Many of the skills that you acquire with work-at-home enable you to transition over to self-employment.
I think that may be a subtle reason why employers are reluctant allow more workers to work from home.
My Own Adventures in Work-at-Home
I’ve spent a good deal of my life working from home and strongly recommend it as a preferred workstyle. I’ve also become quite familiar with both the advantages and the downsides of work-at-home. For years I worked from home as a mortgage loan originator. It was a natural advantage because it provided the ability to concentrate all of my efforts on serving my customers.
It also forced me to learn to work independently and to identify and utilize outside resources that could enable me to do that more fully.
I became comfortable with the proverbial “chief cook and bottle washer” aspect of work-at-home. I was eventually able to translate those skills to subsequent businesses, including recruiting, blogging and freelance blog writing.
One element of work-at-home that I know to be absolutely critical above all others: your contribution MUST add tangible value to your employer’s business.
Working at home isn’t about us nearly as much as it’s about our employers. The critical connection is: what can I do FOR the employer through a work-at-home arrangement.
Never forget this if you’re already doing work-at-home. Even moreso if you’re trying to pitch the idea to a cynical employer.
The Challenges of Work-at-Home
Before thinking that a work-at-home arrangement is an idyllic situation, it will help to consider some of the limitations.
Here are the issues I’ve identified over the years:
Isolation. The very people who can be so irritating at work are the same ones we rely on for camaraderie and commiseration. With work-at-home you’re working alone. This can be tougher to manage than you might think, especially if you have a high social drive.
Time management. When we go off to the office or shop there are proscribed routines and workflows. With work-at-home, there is no structure. You have to create one immediately. There are distractions at the office, but there are even more at home. Staying on schedule can be daily grind.
Work-at-home requires more discipline than working in an office or shop. A certain amount of discipline is imposed on us as a result of working in an organized environment. With work-at-home, you must establish priorities. You must create daily, weekly and monthly “to-do” lists. They must prioritize the most important tasks.
Your job, your fault. When you work-at-home, you lose the “benefit” of being able to blame others if a job isn’t done, or isn’t done correctly. I’m just sayin’.
No boss or staff to rely on in a crisis. Even with all of the marvelous technology that exists today, there’s no better feeling than having others around to rely on when a crisis hits. Sure, there’s always email or phone. But it’s a cosmic reality that people tend NOT to be at their computer or phone when we need them most. You won’t be able to call a staff meeting to bounce ideas. You become a “staff of one”.
The Biggest Work-at-Home Challenge of All – Creating Workable Boundaries
This one rates a discussion all its own. A lack of boundaries between work and family/personal life can sink a work-at-home arrangement. Some people simply can’t create and respect this line.
This is the work-at-home paradox: Part of the reason you want to work-at-home is to achieve a better balance between work and family/personal time. But if you aren’t careful, family/personal involvement can very well sabotage the arrangement.
Many years ago, I worked for a CPA who had her office and staff in the basement of her house. While it may have worked well for her, it was one distraction after another for the rest of us.
Her young kids often scampered down the stairs on one of their not so infrequent trips to the office to see mom. Mom was, of course, delighted to have her kids close by. But it was a real concentration-killer for the staff. Imagine being up to your eyeballs in tax returns during tax season and having someone else’s kids running loose in the office?
I lasted only one tax season in that office. My nerves could stand no more.
Boundaries have to be set and strictly maintained in order to avoid losing control. You can’t tell your boss or your client that you didn’t get an assignment in on time because you had to help your child with her science project.
Even though you’re working at home, work must always come first.
Getting Yourself Prepared for Work-at-Home
I’m not pointing out these challenges to keep you from working from home. However, the reality of each has to be acknowledged and prepared for.
There are different requirements for work-at-home, and not all will apply to all types of jobs. Some are skills, some are physical requirements. Some will be unique to telecommuters who work for others, some are for home-based businesses.
Necessary General Skills
You may not need all of these skills, but the more you have, the better suited you are for work-at-home:
- Personal initiative. No boss, coworkers, agenda or work flow means that you’ll need to be a self-starter in the truest sense.
- Multi-tasking skills. Whatever needs to be done will be up to you. There will generally be no staff to hand assignments off to. You’ll need to become an expert in juggling multiple situations flawlessly.
- People skills. In an office, you can often hide from clients and customers. At home, you may be a direct contact. Also, since you’ll be out of the main line of supervisory sight, you may need to be better at articulating what you’re doing, what you’ve accomplished and what you need in the way of resources or support.
- Organizational skills. Prioritizing will be a priority! You’ll have to learn what’s most important and focus on accomplishing those tasks first, foremost and always.
- Basic computer skills. In an office, you may be able to rely on the expertise of your boss, coworkers or IT staff. But since work-at-home is heavily computer based, you’ll need to be comfortable with the primary software systems your company uses. You’ll even have some ability to maintain the hardware, since it will often be your own.
- Previous experience. Work-at-home is generally not an arrangement for entry level workers. Before an employer will turn an employee loose to work-at-home he or she will need demonstrated competence for the job that needs to be done.
Required Skills for Work-at-Home for Self-Employment
If you plan to run your own business from home, you’ll need a few more skills to make it work.
Sales-ability. Most home-based businesses (and even jobs) are sales related. Your chances of success are considerably greater if you have a proven track record in sales in some capacity. That’s true even if it isn’t directly related to the product or service you’re selling.
Marketing skills. These are a must for the self-employed. Marketing skills will reduce reliance on pure selling. The better you are at marketing, the more successful you’ll be in your business.
Self-reliance. If you’re self-employed, there’s no boss, and usually no coworkers to fall back on. You’ll have to be a born problem solver. That doesn’t mean that you need to be able to anticipate and short-circuit every problem. But you should know where to find the resources to deal with the issues that come up. That can be online resources and people networks. (Big hint: learn your way around the web early – it’ll become your best friend.)
Creating the Right Work-at-Home Environment
You’ll need to do a good bit of prepping before you even start a work-at-home arrangement.
Have a dedicated and private workspace. Since separation of work and personal lives is a necessity, you’ll need a dedicated office space to conduct your work in. A private space where you can go to and not be disturbed by family members is highly recommended. This is part of that all-important boundaries issue.
Get the necessary equipment. There may be equipment specific to your job or business that you’ll need to have. But common equipment includes:
- A high-speed internet connection
- A computer with common office suite software (Microsoft Office, at a minimum)
- A dedicated phone line with professional quality voice mail
- A good quality printer/copier/fax machine
- Any office furnishings that will enable you to do your job with the greatest efficiency
Still another work-at-home must-have is a list of reliable business contacts. Don’t go into work-at-home alone! None of us knows everything, so if you’re working from home you’ll need a list of people to contact when you need help, support or additional resources.
The list can include various people in your company (including other home-based employees) or any outside vendors who might help you accomplish your mission. You’ll need to become an expert at locating and coordinating people- and system-resources from diverse places. If you’re self-employed, you’ll need close contact with others in the same business, or related ones.
Concluding Thoughts About Work-at-Home
Never be casual about a work-at-home arrangement! It isn’t as simple as moving what it is you do each day at work to your home office. A certain combination of experience, skills and abilities can be the difference between a permanent arrangement, and one that flames out after just a few months.
To all those who want to start their own business, work-at-home could be the perfect launching pad. You may not be thinking of starting your own business – or maybe you have. But as I said at the beginning, work-at-home is an excellent place to practice running your own business.
If nothing else, you’ll be learning to work successfully outside the physical realm of an employer’s organization. That’s important from a psychological standpoint as well as a tangible one.
Do you work-at-home? Or did you become self-employed after having a work-at-home job? What advice could you give to someone who wants to transition to work-at-home, and especially how to convince an employer to allow it?