My work schedule often changes with the seasons. While the ability to adapt my work life to what’s going on around me is one of the main benefits of working at home, it can also be one of the most challenging things to actually DO.
So, what is it really like to work from home? Maybe you’ve been considering this type of career option or you’ve recently begun telecommuting for a company and you’re wondering what it’s really going to be like. While most folks think working from home is easy, it’s really not quite as easy as it may seem. Just as with any career choice, there are challenges involved . . . and since those challenges seem to be rearing their ugly heads lately, I thought I’d give you a peek at the 6 most common challenges that I face every single day.
- Time Management
- IT Maintenance
- Child Care
- Other People’s Agendas
- Time Zones
When you work from home, depending on the type of job that you have, the most challenging aspect may be managing your time. You remember the old adage, with great freedom comes great responsibility? Well, that’s true with working from home. Sure, you have freedom. But with that freedom comes the task of managing your time responsibly.
For the very organized person, this comes easy. For others, it’s not so simple. And for those of us in-betweeners, it comes easy at times and is a struggle at times. When you work from home, you’re no longer punching a time clock. And you may not even be reporting to anyone other than yourself. You might even handle a multitude of tasks within a certain period of time and you have to be able to prioritize and schedule your work load to ensure everything gets done. Telecommuting time management relies on being able to effectively manage yourself, finding a system that works best for you, or responsibly reporting to a system that is already set up by your employer or a client.
Fortunately, there are a lot of tools available to help work at home professionals manage their time. Online calendars, printed agendas, project management software, PDAs, time tracking tools, and even desktop calendars like the one I use (Active Desktop Calendar). Managing your time wisely requires that you be self-motivated . . . all day . . . every day.
And just when you think you’ve got things under control and you’re going to have no problem making that deadline – something happens to thwart even the best-made plans. For example, there are always IT-related glitches. So, second on my list is . . .
When you work in an office or a cubicle and something goes wrong with any hardware or software you have the option of calling in the IT man. In fact, all of the equipment that you use at the office is supported by technical staff. These can be things like computers, phones, Internet service, computer networks, and other office and office-related equipment.
Not so when you work at home! While some telecommuting positions provide hardware and software (and maintenance) from the company, many do not. Even if you’re a contract worker, chances are you’re responsible for adhering to their hardware and software guidelines. That means regular updates and maintenance for various and sundry office tools like land-line phones, computers, internet connections, laptops, cell phones, printers, and other office equipment is all up to you. When you work from home, you’ll surely encounter technical problems and when you do, where do you get the support and help you need? If your computer hard drive crashed today, would you have the funds to replace it?
I’m lucky. My hub has taken a liking to the roll of acquisitions, so when I need a new piece of hardware or software, he’s my go-to guy. He actually loves comparison shopping and is great at finding the best deal to ensure that I get the most I can get for the money. He’s also great at assembling things and has become quite handy at troubleshooting network issues, installing additional memory into a computer, and all that not-so-fun stuff that keeps me working at home. For everything else I run across that I can’t do on my own I rely on online techie friends, forms, FAQs, techie bloggers and a myriad of other online resources.
IT maintenance is often an unexpected time-sucker, making it one of the biggest aggravations about working from home. I once sat down to work a nice 6 hour block of time only to spend the first 2 hours fixing an Internet connection glitch so that I COULD work.
Since my kids were born into a world with computers and cell phones and seem to have an innate understanding of gadgets and gizmos at a level that’s a tad higher than my own, my near-future plans are to mold them into my own personal IT department. Until they reach that status, however, they are challenge number three . . .
Many parents, like me, choose to start a telecommuting career because they wanted to be able to care for their children and earn a living at the same time. You, too, might want to avoid daycare costs, which often consumes a considerable portion of your income, and be more involved with the day-to-day raising of your children. While these are certainly great reasons to work at home, it’s not as easy as you might think.
Many companies that allow for telecommuting do not allow for background noise. That means if you have small children at home, they must not be anywhere near you when you’re working. Even if the company you work for doesn’t require you to be on the phone as a general rule, there will be times when you’re needed for an occasional phone conference or meeting. So at some point, and on some level, you’ll need additional help to fulfill your child supervision duties.
If your telecommuting job requires you to be on the phone in a quiet room for 8-hours a day you’ll need to work out a schedule with your better half or find a creative, full-time solution that allows you to work. Maybe your better half is able take on the kids during your work times or maybe there’s another mom nearby that is also working at home and able to entertain your children with hers in exchange for you returning the favor on a regular basis. Or maybe you can find a sitter who also likes to tidy up the living room while you’re working. If your telecommuting job doesn’t regularly require phone time or conference calls, then sporadic solutions are often easier to come by and deal with. Grandma might not be able to watch the kids for 6 hours a day, five days a week, but she’ll welcome a long visit every now and again.
Since my children are both in school now, I’m able to freely devote the time between 9am and 2pm on most weekdays to working. I handle any phone conferences or meetings within that time frame when I can. Then there are always teacher work days, breaks, holidays, and the summer to work out around as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pleasure and I look forward to summer time, perhaps even more than my kids do. But it’s also a challenge when you work from home!
Many work at home articles will tell you that working at home with children around is impossible and that you’ll need to ship them off to day care or hire a professional sitter. I’m living proof that it’s not only possible, it’s an important life lesson that you can pass along to your children. I never went to work with either of my parents. Most kids don’t. Work is just some place grown ups go because they have to. I have, from the time they were old enough to walk and talk, explained to my own children that work isn’t a place you go, it’s what you DO to earn income and that the luckiest people on earth actually like what they do for a living. They, like me, are grateful and have a deep respect (and a bit of pride) for what I’m able to do. They are quite capable of understanding the concept of what it means to work from home.
While my 9 and 11 year old children can certainly be typical adolescent hellions, they can also be extremely helpful and supportive when it comes to my work. They totally get it! They have no problem setting the table while I am still working to finish something up before cooking dinner or helping me plan a two-hour time block with things they can do quietly while I’m on a conference call. They can even tell whether or not it’s okay to interrupt me when I’m working based on what’s on my computer screen at any given moment, which is more than I can say for my husband. Which brings me to challenge number four . . .
When you work at home everyone you know remembers the “at home” part, but totally ignores the “work” part. At least that’s how it seems from my perspective. My husband can’t type and loves to dictate. ‘Nuff said. But he’s not the only one with an agenda and all together, other people’s agendas can present a surprising challenge to working from home.
Neighbors, friends, family members, and even the UPS man can all have agendas! And most of them know you work at home. So when they need something, there you are. Sometimes it’s something big, like they need your help for a day. And sometimes it’s little things, like helping them figure out a computer glitch over the phone. Sometimes they’re things you would have taken a day off for, but most often they’re not. And I’m here to warn you that it’s much harder than you think to disregard other people’s agendas and just say, “No.”
I once got sidetracked with so many little side agendas from other people that I entirely missed my own agenda for the day. Sure, it was fun, and I didn’t mind doing any of them . . . but it wasn’t a very productive day for me work-wise.
I’m getting much better at side-stepping personal agendas, but I’m still at the mercy of work related agendas of course. And these days, working at home often means connecting with others who are working in various locations across the globe. For that, I am faced with challenge number four . . .
When you work in the office, the people you’re working with on a day-to-day basis inside that building are all in the same time zone. And if you work with anyone else who isn’t there physically, it often falls on that person to adhere to YOUR time zone.
Working from home involves working with a company or clients that may be in other time zones. That means you might be working different hours than what you are accustomed to – which may cause a real problem if you’re used to working 9 to 5. You’ll have to learn to be flexible in order to meet the needs of the company you are working for or meet the needs of your clients. This can include evenings, weekends, and holidays, too. It can also mean taking a conference call at 4 am if that’s what it takes to get in touch with a client. Being able to work from home successfully means being more flexible and more adaptable.
Personally, I’ve never been great with math and I find that I’m have to look up time zone information. Let’s see, if it’s 2:55 pm here . . . what time is it in Minnesota again? For time zone fun I love Mike Gieson’s time zone calculator. In fact, I love playing around with cool stuff I find on the Internet like that, but when I’m working I try to stay focused and steer clear from number five . . .
One of the biggest challenges of working at home is handling distractions in your environment. This can be things like the children and other people’s agendas that I mentioned above, but can also include a myriad of other things like demanding pets, the television, video games, Internet games and social sites, an email you get with an amazing coupon for your daughter’s favorite jeans, a sunny day, dirty dishes, dirty laundry, the refrigerator, noisy neighbors, frequent phone calls . . . well, you get the picture.
I know lots of people with “real jobs” who get paid while they’re doing a jigsaw puzzle on their desktop, reading their personal email, tending their garden on Facebook, taking a personal call, or chatting with co-workers but when you work at home, you’re judged by the quality and quantity of your work, not whether or not you’re in the office.
Combating all of these distractions takes diligence and the attention required to focus on the task at hand while ignoring your surrounding temptations. Having an office area with a door helps, but it can be done with or without an office door.
All of these challenges can certainly be difficult to cope with at times when you work at home. Distractions are a way of life when you work and live in the same space. If approached and managed properly, obstacles and distractions can be overcome and you can be successful, and even super productive, working from home.