You can’t argue with the research. More and more people around the world are now working from home. Latest statistics from a Gallup poll show that as many as 37% of American workers now do so from the comfort of their pajamas. And the trend is on the rise. How so? Technology has made it easier for anyone with computer skills and an Internet connection to make an extra buck – or even an entire living – online.
You can be a writer, designer, programmer, customer service representative, translator, transcriptionist, or even office manager, remotely. Avoid the gossip at the water cooler, the overcrowded subway, or peak hour traffic by working from home. Many businesses are offering telecommuting and flexi-hour options, instead of bonuses or raises. And for those who spend lengthy hours on their commute, working from home can seem like the Holy Grail.
So much so, in fact, that a sizable chunk of the population would rather receive this perceived benefit than extra money. According to a 2016 Harvard study, the average American would take an 8% pay cut if they could work from home. Some really hardcore pajama fans would even give up as much as 21% of their salaries to stay at home all day!
Working from home sounds pretty great, right? And it is. Except that there are a few caveats you need to avoid. If staring at the birds in your back-yard sounds better than the inside of a cubicle, be sure to keep a few things in mind before taking the plunge.
And if you’re already working from a mobile office, think about your surroundings. Because working from home can turn you into a corporate slave much faster than you think if you don’t set a few rules. Here’s how to work from home and keep your sanity at the same time.
Have a Designated Workstation
Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have a spare room at home that they can call their own. Believe me, I know this. I spent many a year working from my bedroom next to a construction site, doing my best to attend international conference calls. It’s not always ideal and not always possible. But, say you’re a translator working from home, or a project manager, writer, or marketing exec. If you haven’t made enough cash to buy your own space yet, there are ways around it.
Set yourself a designated work station. You may be tempted in the honeymoon period to grab your laptop and work all over the house. From your bed, on your knees in front of the TV, in the yard. But the problems with this are various. Firstly, you’re more likely to sustain neck, back and other bodily injuries. Secondly, your productivity will drop if you can’t see your screen because of the sunlight, or you’re tempted to soak up its rays.
Lastly (and most problematic of all) you’ll never be free of work! You’ll start to associate work with every section of your house. You’ll answer one more mail, you’ll take one last call and the temptation to finish something up after hours will be larger than you can handle. So, make sure you work in the same place every day. Ideally one that you can shut the door on. But if it has to be your bedroom, then get a desk. Cover it with a sheet when you’re done. Shut down your computer and step away slowly.
Again, it’s obvious that there are many factors outside of your control. From screaming babies to your next-door neighbor’s dog, construction workers, to your roommate talking loudly on the phone. Reducing distractions can be hard. But, if you’re cursed with living next to a full-scale building project, or work from a household with kids, learn to discover a pattern. More than likely, your small children will nap at a certain time. Schedule your meetings, or the bulk of your work when you know they’ll be sleeping.
The builders outside? They probably take a lunch break. Get your conference call in while the drilling has stopped. Ask your roommate to be quiet when you know it’s important. If you need to concentrate, turn off the TV. Some people find working with music helps them concentrate, others lose their focus at the slightest noise. Find out which kind of a person you are. If your job demands that you be connected to Skype and the incessant swooshing makes you lose your focus, place the volume on mute.
Keeping distractions to a minimum wherever possible will greatly increase your productivity and the success of your home business. OK, so you can’t fight Murphy's law all the time. It will probably happen that the kids wake up at the wrong moment, your internet crashes, or the builders decide to power through their midday break.
But if this happens, learn to control your stress levels. It’s not healthy to panic over things beyond your control. Explain to your client that the noise is unusual and reschedule if necessary. You may be speaking to the president of a multinational corporation in Beijing, but you know what? He’s human too. And he may be working from home as well.
Leave the House
Everyone who works from home (myself included) is guilty of this. Especially on those rainy days when it’s cold outside and the temptation to stay in is too great. But sitting at your desk in your PJ's with three-day-old hair, eating a slice of pizza over the keyboard, really isn’t all that. Neither is not leaving the house in four days. This is a dangerous situation to get into.
According to Psychology Today, human touch may be eradicated altogether before too long. And that’s a shame, seeing as we need it to be able to thrive in our personal and professional lives. No matter what your situation, whether you live with a partner, roommate, parents, or alone, you need to get out of the house.
A deficiency of vitamin D can lead to early onset of osteoporosis. And that, coupled with a poor posture and too many hours on the computer won’t be your friend in your old age.
While there’s a great temptation to switch on your laptop and start as early as possible (especially if you’re working to a deadline) take a tip from me. Don’t get into this practice. Get up, have a shower and get dressed. Don’t become the crazy cat lady or the stinky man on the park bench no one wants to sit next to.
If you don’t shower in the morning, it will reduce your desire to get out of the house and leave you isolated from the world. You might think that your online chats and social groups are keeping you well-rounded, but you only have one life. You didn’t leave the office for another four-walled prison of your own making. Get out of the house. Get a hobby. Eat out. Apportion the money you would have spent on commuting to a yoga class, pair of rollerblades, French lessons or origami class. Whatever floats your boat, but make sure you do it away from home.
Know When Enough is Enough
Isn’t it great that you can download Skype, Slack and Asana to your iPhone? What about the Outlook App that means you never miss another mail? Well, in a short word: NO! Working from home is addictive. There’s a great temptation to enjoy the “freedom” of stepping out to the local store while being connected, or answering an email on your way to the airport.
But if you download your emails to your smartphone, you will never be free. Even on vacation, you’ll be pouring over your emails and thinking about work. Which means that your brain never gets a rest and you won't reach your peak of productivity.
Remember the days when you closed your work emails over the weekend and stepped back into the office on Monday? There has been plenty documented on the desirable work-life balance and need to shut your brain down. You shouldn’t have to feel like you have to respond every email, every moment it comes your way. Know when enough is enough and set limits for yourself. Don’t give in to the mails on your smartphone. And if you do, make sure that you turn off incoming notifications.
Whether you offer translation services, teach English online, or you’re into graphic design or development, you’ll always have clients who need you. If you’re the kind of person who finds it hard to say no, you’ll find yourself working an 80-hour week. With neck pain, poor eyesight and bouts of insomnia. Suddenly the subway doesn’t sound so bad after all. Remember why you wanted to work from home in the first place? Make sure you do it healthily – and keep hold of your sanity.