3 Pitfalls You Encounter When Working from Home (And How to Beat Them)
I’ve talked about the benefits of working from home, and yes, they are all true. I wasn’t sugarcoating anything or trying to gild the lily. However, in the interest of fairness, there are still some drawbacks of working from home that need to be addressed. As someone who personally works from home, I’ve had first-hand experience in both the pleasures and perils of this work arrangement. And while some of these perils might be disputable, if you’re considering making the switch to a home office, there are some pitfalls you should be prepared for.
Now, this isn’t meant to be a complete backtrack on my part for the opinions I shared in my previous article. Like I said, I’m currently working from home and I love doing what I do from where I’m doing it. I have no intention of changing. However, I do want to create a full picture. I want to let you all know that working from home is more than just simply getting up at the crack of noon and taking business meetings in your underwear.
1. Balancing Work Time with Family Time
One of the more lauded factoids about working from home is that you are able to spend more time with friends and family. However, I purposely did not bring that up in my previous article about the benefits of working from home, because for me, one of the biggest demands on my work time is family.
And I’m not alone. A 2012 study conducted by Regus, a world-renowned purveyor of shared workspaces, found that over the course of 24,000 interviews with businesspeople of all stripes throughout the globe, 59% of interviewees cited children or family interrupting workflow as one of the biggest problems with working from home. It’s nothing against kids and it’s certainly nothing against our spouses (let’s avoid the dog house) and whoever else we might live with, but it does speak to a larger problem with working from home and productivity.
If you’ve worked from an office your whole life, the people you live with get used to that absence. But when you decide to begin working from home, you’re suddenly present all the time now, no matter if your head’s there or not. And for kids, that’s all that matters. They don’t care if you’re working — you are home! They’re still kids, and if you’re there, chances are they’re going to need you before you’re done doing whatever it is you’re doing, deadlines be damned.
And if it’s family members, it’s a whole different beast. For some millennials who can’t afford to move out or are taking care of their parents and/or grandparents in a mutual living arrangement, getting used to working from home might be a generational problem as well. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve had to explain multiple times exactly what it is I do to my relatives, and even then I can still tell that it’s a bit over their heads — and that can lead to some unwanted interruptions while working. If they don’t know what you do, how can they know if you’re not busy? To them, it just looks like you’re on the computer again.
How to Deal:
As with working from home and having kids, it all comes down to time and patience. You need to be able to explain the boundaries you need to accomplish the tasks you have been given. But obviously, that’s a bit harder to do with, say, a toddler.
Now, most of the time, simply communicating with your family and children can help with this. Setting up a schedule and keeping yourself faithful to it can give you and your family some much-needed boundaries so you can all enjoy the best of both worlds. If you’re needing something to help you get that set up in the first place, check out a scheduling app like Week Plan, which allows you to plan out your entire day in blocks to maximize your effectiveness. Having a plan is never a bad thing, and scheduling your time is always a good way to ensure you’re getting steady practice at your profession.
Yet for those of us who live alone, or live with a roommate who does commute elsewhere for work, they might run into the exact opposite problem.
2. Spending Too Much Time by Yourself
Thanks to the internet, we live in an increasingly shrinking world. But the main problem is that while this shrinkage is occurring, we also seem to be isolating ourselves from actual human contact rather than connecting via more than just a screen. Not to get too poetic here, but we’re crafting smaller and smaller glass cages for us to look out of, but never leave. This phenomenon has been documented and discussed dozens of times by academics and regurgitated hundreds of times by the Blogosphere. The abstract of this study by Eric J. Moody published in CyberPsychology & Behavior says it the best:
Low levels of social and emotional loneliness were both associated with high degrees of face-to-face networks of friends, while high levels of Internet use were associated with low levels of social loneliness and high levels of emotional loneliness. This supports recent research that has found that the Internet can decrease social well-being, even though it is often used as a communication tool.
When you’re writing from home, the internet is your workhorse. You’re sourcing articles, you’re sending emails, you’re fact-checking and sometimes even writing, all using that lovely internet connection you have. Even then, it’s so easy to let your job and your responsibilities get the better of your free time. Sometimes we live away from family and friends, which drives us further into the Internet to derive some form of connection. However, no matter where we are or what we do to make our living on the Internet, we need to be able to take time for ourselves to be with others. And yes, that could be through the internet.
How to Deal:
Slack is a great app for online productivity, but it’s also a great place to have co-workers talk with each other as the day goes on. It provides a water cooler in cyberspace for people to chat not just about the job, but about anything. The most recent Game of Thrones episode, a funny story they found on the internet, some great deals they found on a video game. Whatever it may be, it’s a way to increase remote camaraderie and job perception.
However, the solution doesn’t have to include a Wi-Fi connection. Online companies like Zapier and Convince and Convert like to hold team retreats either annually or semi-annually to sit down and talk about where the company is going, what they’re doing, and most importantly, just connect as human beings. So while it seems like loneliness can be a hurdle, more often than not it’s one of the easiest problems to fix when working remotely: just reach out. We all want to connect.
Sometimes, though, even when we’ve got our schedule figured out and our social needs met, something else can rear its ugly head.
3. Staying Focused
The second-biggest problem in the Regus study I referenced earlier was “difficulty concentrating on work issues,” and it’s a valid point to bring up. Once you’re actually ready to get to work, one of the biggest bugbears you can come across is your own wandering mind. And if you’re doing your work in a web browser, then hitting up some random fact or email is as easy as opening a new tab. I’m pretty sure I did two or three off-topic web searches just because I could while writing this article. I maybe even played a video game or two. Point is, actually focusing on your work can definitely be a challenge when working on a machine that has been increasingly designed to offer you far more entertainment than it offers productivity solutions.
But if we’re being honest with ourselves, this isn’t just a work-from-home issue. In an office setting, you’ve still got the same problem, it’s just now you have a boss that can get into your business at varying levels of intensity depending on the clinginess of the boss in question. And if you’re working in an open office, then it’s a matter of keeping up appearances for all who might walk by you. Gotta make sure you’re looking busy because you don’t want people to think you’re lazy!
How to Deal:
The most tried and true method of keeping your focus is to practice. If you’re steadily working, whether it’s a paid gig or just a thing you want to write in your free time, you learn to tune things out or develop methods to keep yourself focused, and most importantly, productive.
One very popular way of having your cake and eating it too is known as the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a pretty simple method: you work in 25-minute intervals called Pomodoros (named after the tomato-shaped timer that inventor Francesco Cirillo used when coming up with it) aimed at accomplishing a certain task, then you take a brief 5-10 minute break before returning to another Pomodoro. Every four Pomodoros you take a longer, 15-30 minute break. Those who use it love it, saying it helps increase focus over short periods while also helping to avoid burnout.
As someone who tends to work in marathon sessions when I can fit them in, I think I might benefit from it. While I have yet to turn in an assignment late, my time management skills do leave something to be desired. However, I know full well that I could only try the Pomodoro Technique now that I work from home. In some of my other office jobs, having a manager inevitably come up to me during one of the many mini-breaks I’d be taking would be a one-way ticket to a talking-to somewhere down the line. And while I could try to explain it away, there’s no guarantee they’d let me keep doing it. Many times, looking busy is more valuable to an employer than actually being busy.
There are other things to worry about when working from home, just like there are things to worry about when working in an office. But the most important point to remember is that yes, there are solutions to these problems and yes, they are all manageable. If you love what you do enough, you can find a way to keep yourself happy and productive. Being a stay-at-home freelancer is a challenge, yes, but its rewards are definitely worth it.
Let’s face it — getting up at the crack of noon and doing eight hours worth of work in four feels pretty darn good. We owe it to ourselves to figure out how we can keep doing it.
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