I have been working from home (full-time) for nearly 7 years. At first, I was so excited — no more rush-hour commute and losing time in traffic jams! I could sell my car, save on insurance premiums, gas, and be more available for my kids. I would reduce stress, have more time, and make my time as I pleased — what could be better?
Working from home is not all it’s cracked-up to be. Ever see that viral video of the guy being interviewed on CNN when his kids come crashing through his office door dancing and making noise before the mom whisks them away? The comments on that video were all the same: yeah, been there done that. The video was so popular because so many people could relate.
Those of us working remotely know that it’s not easy to maintain good work-life balance when your home is your office, and your office is your home. On top of that, managing remote teams that you don’t see frequently (if ever) in person can be highly challenging; it takes longer to establish close working relationships than it would if you hung out with them at the water cooler or the coffee machine in the office each day.
The hardest thing is managing expectations. You need to set boundaries for your employer, your co-workers and your entourage alike. At first, my husband naturally assumed that since I was working from home, dinner would be on the table waiting for him when he finished work. It took many years of explaining that just because I’m home all day doesn’t mean I’m not working, or that I have time to clean the house in between conference calls! As is true with MediaDev, many businesses are global and if you don’t set limits, you can work round-the-clock, covering time zones from Asia to Europe to the States. For co-workers, I sometimes have to disconnect from Skype so that I’m not bothered during (my) non-work hours.
By sorting out the pros and cons of remote working I think it’s possible to make it work equally well for both employee and employer.
Here’s my list of pros and cons. What are yours?
Recruit and retain diverse talent
In our line of business, giving employees flexibility and the possibility of working from home (either occasionally or permanently) is a big benefit (for us and them). We have been able to hire people with reduced mobility and tap into talented resources located in all corners of the globe because remote working has become an accepted practice.
And why not?
In today’s day and age, technology allows you to get the job done (and monitor progress all along the way) regardless of where you are, so it can help an employer retain its best workers, and hire ones that it might not otherwise find in the locations where they do have offices.
Everyone is not willing to relocate and relocation costs can be expensive. While we do help people who are interested in relocating, it’s not mandatory to pick up your life and move to a faraway location if you don’t want to.
You can work in your pajamas
This is both a benefit and an inconvenience at the same time! Not having to spend a lot on a fancy wardrobe to work on High Street is a plus, but it’s not good if that means you don’t leave your house all day because you haven’t taken the time to get dressed in the morning. My advice (whether or not you shower when you wake up): change into a pair of jeans and a top (that wasn’t the one you slept in!) before you start work, and take a few extra minutes to look nice (even if you’re not going to see anyone).
You’ll get more done
Less distraction naturally means you’ll be more productive. By saving on commuting time, you’ll have extra hours available in the day to get more done. Use them wisely! Setting daily goals helps prioritize tasks; time tracking tools can help monitor that you don’t waste time on things that aren’t so important.
Trusting your staff can inspire greatness
Showing your staff that you trust them to be adults (by allowing them to work from home) gives them the opportunity to rise to the occasion. Most pass with flying colors. When you treat employees like adults instead of children that need to be micro-managed, their level of confidence rises, and they are naturally better able to handle the tasks at hand.
Allowing people the liberty to self-report, to be autonomous and take initiative is the first step to developing a long-lasting (working) relationship. Remote working can help kick-start that (as odd as that may seem).
Virtual contact only is lonely
While Skype allows us to talk and “see” each other regularly, virtual contact is not the same as physical contact. Being home alone all day can push you to extremes — never going out to lunch with colleagues, skipping breaks (except to go to the bathroom!), or isolating yourself to a point where socializing with others becomes difficult.
Unless you make a concerted effort to reach out, you may feel like you are on your own without the support of a larger group of people. It’s important in this case to plan regular team meetings, reach out to colleagues for help and support, and when you’re done for the day, spend time with friends or family.
At first you’ll work A LOT harder
Years before joining MediaDev I had a boss who told me that, “If I can’t see you working, you’re probably not.” Concretely what that means is that you need to “prove” to your bosses and co-workers you are actually working despite the fact that you’re at home –which means doubling the output (at first).
Once the people you work with get used to it, see that it makes no difference whatsoever that you’re not physically in the office (or that actually it’s beneficial), then this dies down. But in the beginning, it can be a frustrating feeling to have to constantly prove you aren’t sitting at home doing your laundry or watching television.
Working hours become theoretical
There are some days when I just can’t help myself. I can’t sleep, or I wake up early and my first instinct is to turn on my laptop, my tablet or my smartphone (yes, we are too connected these days!) and check my emails. The problem is that you can easily get sucked in to responding at odd hours of the night (like at 3 am CET which is only 6 pm PST, or contrarily 9 am UTC!) and then not stop.
As technology can be an asset for remote working, it can also be a burden because it’s hard to turn off. Having a break between one’s working life and one’s private life when you’re working from home is essential. The rule should be that when you turn your laptop off for the day, it stays off! (And don’t be like me and start writing a blog post at 11 pm).