Businesses beware: The ugly truth about telecommuting


Working from home has its fair share of disadvantages, but there are way to mitigate the risks. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
June 1, 2012

The bountiful advantages of working from home are well documented. There’s the flexible schedule, the absence of a lengthy commute, and less money spent at the pump, just to name a few.

But while the benefits of telecommuting are undeniable, every yin must have a yang. Those new to working from home should be aware of a few of the drawbacks and how to overcome the obstacles that come with this professional lifestyle.

Challenge: Isolation

Working from home can be quite lonely, and staying cooped up in your home for too long can result in cabin fever. Often, interactions with co-workers can be taken for granted until there’s no longer anyone to vent to and no one to go to lunch with you.

Humans are social creatures and need to socially interact with other humans. With the advent of the internet, it may appear that we are more connected than ever before, but nothing can replace the benefits of face-to-face communication.

Solution: Beth Mann, owner of Hot Buttered Media, says “it’s hard because connecting with people you love matters. People who have office jobs interact with one another and I miss that at times. I don’t want to deny myself the opportunity to chat with friends and family; that fortifies me. So when I take my lunch break, I reach out to my support system.”

Entrepreneur Daniel Maloney suggests telecommuters “start every morning with a ritual that's outside of your house. Go get a cup of coffee, go to the gym, etc. It'll force you to wake up at a "normal" hour and get dressed, so when you do return home to work, it'll feel like you've already had a productive start to your day.”

Maloney also adds, “Go to a co-working space at least a couple days per week. This could be a coffee shop or a more formal setting, just get out and among other humans.”

Challenge: Discipline

Reality TV, Facebook, personal calls, delivery drivers, pets and crying children can wreak havoc on your focus while working from home. For this reason, everyone may not be cut out for telecommuting. The fact is you don’t have someone there to manage you. You have to go into this situation with a strong work ethic and the ability to motivate yourself to get up early every day and get things done.

Solution: “Do the hard thing first. It may seem simple, but it makes a huge difference. Start the day by doing the hardest thing; it will do amazing things for your discipline. And feel free to reward yourself with a short stroll or a leisurely coffee having gotten that ‘hard thing’ out of the way” suggests Katherine Brodsky, a freelance entertainment writer/producer.

Mann adds that, “Everyone dreams about working in their pajamas but the truth is, sleepwear can lead to a certain apathetic approach to work. Sure, it's comfortable, but we all equate robes and pajamas with relaxation. Sometimes you need to get up, shower and get dressed, like it’s a 9-to-5 office job, just to alert your subconscious that you're serious about work.”

Challenge: Imbalance

Telecommuting can have a negative effect on work-life balance. Workers can behave differently when they no longer have the boundaries of a traditional 9-to-5 schedule where they shut down their computer and leave the office at a set time each day. Usually, when you walk out of the office, you’re done for the day. However, when you work from your home, you may find yourself answering emails into the wee hours of the night. Also, colleagues or employers may expect you to be available at all times.

Solution: “I implemented Kari-Free Wednesdays, where nobody on staff can contact me and I don't schedule appointments with clients. This way, I have a dedicated ‘catch up’ day in the middle of the week that helps keep me from falling behind” says Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory.

Note, other things that can get you down while working from home are boredom, weight gain, laziness, neglecting your physical appearance, and reduced team communication skills. Says DePhillips, “In some ways it's ruined me. I don't think I could ever work a cubicle job again, and the idea of having to wake up and consistently be somewhere by 8:30 a.m. is about as appealing as road kill.”

Solution: Never go back to working in an office again.

Tamara Franklin specializes in creative content and professional writing services for business and technology.

Follow Tamara and On Small Business on Twitter.

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