Working from home is a hot topic for staff and managers at many companies. Staff are interested in the arrangement to reduce commuting time, travel expenses and address other needs in their lives. Managers support working from home to stay competitive, to access talent from other locations, and to reduce stress. The case for working from home is clear. Yet many people struggle to do it effectively.
Work from home success requires advance preparation and navigating blind spots. Read on to get ready and then find out how to avoid common failure points.
What Work From Home Jobs Exist?
In the research for this article, I found some surprising anxiety online. There are many people who have searched for “work from home jobs” and been disappointed by what they find. As the New York Times reported (Telecommuting Can Make the Office a Lonely Place, a Study Says) this year, some evidence suggests that remote work leads to: ” the researchers found that the employees who chose to continue working in the office ended up feeling lonely and disconnected.” Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Before covering advice on how to make it work, let’s cover the three main types of work from home scenarios.
- Part Time Work From Home. Many companies allow their staff to work from home one to two days per week, with the rest of the week at the office. This is probably the most common work from home arrangement at large companies. Gallup reported that “U.S. workers say they telecommute from home rather than go into the office about two days per month, on average. Nine percent of workers say they telecommute more than 10 workdays — meaning at least half of all workdays — in a typical month” in 2015. This arrangement is commonly part of a broader work life balance strategy that includes flexible working hours, programs for parents and the like.
- Full Time Remote Staff. What if you could work from home all the time as an employee? That’s the definition of this scenario. It is less common than the part time scenario. That said, I have known at least two people at a large bank with this arrangement. One person I know works from home four days per week and commutes to the office on the other day. Another person I know works from home and travels to the office once or twice per month. In both cases, the individuals requested this arrangement. It is also worth noting that they are fairly senior level professionals. If you are under the age of 40, do not have a family and/or do not live far (e.g. 100 km / 60 miles or further) from the office, this arrangement will be challenging to obtain.
- Entrepreneur/Self-Employed Scenario. Those pursuing self-employed careers usually have partial to complete autonomy over where and when they work. There are trade offs needed to achieve this flexibility: starting a business, developing sales and marketing skills and accepting a high level of uncertainty. For more guidance on starting a business on a budget, I recommend “The $100 Startup” by Chris Guillebeau.
This article will focus on the first two scenarios of working from home as an employee.
Getting Ready To Work From Home: Your 3 Point Checklist
Use this three step process to gather information on the feasibility of working from home in your current circumstance. All three factors need to be in place in order to work from home successfully.
- Job Analysis. The starting point is to understand the flexibility potential of your current job.
At one end of the spectrum, there are traditional jobs – retail and the trades, for instance – that are highly unlikely to provide the work from home option. At the other end of the spectrum, there are knowledge worker activities such as writing, research, technology development, and design. If you can do 80% or more of your job by yourself or with modern communication tools (the Internet, phone, etc), then working from home is a possibility. If you spend most of your work time physically performing actions (e.g. painting, moving objects or laying bricks), then remote work is out of the picture for you unless you move to a new job.
- Company Analysis. Put aside company policies and policies for this analysis.
Instead, ask “How many people do I know at this organization who work from home on a regular basis?” If you can name at least two people, then you have a starting point to build on. If you cannot think of anyone, ask around for examples in your internal network. If you still find no examples, then it is time to face the facts: the organization does not currently support work from home. All hope is not lost. You could be the first person to work from home. If you decide to be a trailblazer, especially at a large established company, be prepared to face extra scrutiny.
Resource: Check out Fortune’s great article “100 Best Companies for Working from Home” if you decide to switch companies in order to achieve work from home flexibility. The list is an interesting mix of large firms (e.g Apple, Dell, IBM, American Express, General Electric) and other organizations.
- Home Analysis. Some home environments are better suited to work from home than others.
An ideal arrangement is to have a home office room with a desk and a door because you can set up a permanent home office there. An alternative is to set up a temporary work site each day at the kitchen table, the coach or somewhere else. Other points to assess: noise levels (e.g. nearby construction, loud pets etc), reliability of your Internet service provider and your personal ability to focus on work while at home.
Don’t be discouraged if you find your work from home arrangements are less than ideal. That’s how it goes for most people. One final note on preparation: start with the bare minimum in terms of equipment and supplies. If discover you need to purchase more office supplies and equipment, Amazon is only a click away. Finally, check with your employer may reimburse you for some work from home offices such as a headset for taking business phone calls.
Three Communication Mistakes To Avoid When Working From Home
Effective communication determines much of our success, so create a foundation for success by avoiding these mistakes. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Please feel free to add your observations and ideas in the comments.
1. Failing To Become More Proactive
When you work from home, you miss out on the “oh, by the way” conversations that mark office life. I don’t know of a full solution to this problem. A partial solution is to increase your outbound communication. What does that mean? It means calling various people on the people (e.g. 2-3 people per day) for a few minutes to sustain connection. Waiting for other people to contact you is a recipe for increasing isolation.
2. Becoming Too Reliant On Email
Email is a wonderful tool, but it is limited. If you are developing an idea or proposal, you may struggle to put those ideas into written form. In other cases, you need to have a ‘crucial conversation’ to solve a problem or resolve a conflict with another person. In those two circumstances, use phone calls, video Skype calls and in-person visits to improve the quality of your communication.
- Tip: I recommend the “2 email rule” for deciding when to pick up the phone. Once you have had two emails go and back and the issue remains unresolved, it is time to pick up the phone. A short phone call works wonders (see “The Tim Ferriss Superpower“)
3. The ‘Business Robot’ Trap: Becoming “All Business, All The Time”
As a long time fan of both Spock and Tuvok, this is an area where I face some challenges. As an introvert and pro-Vulcan person, it’s easy to focus on the business and neglect personality. If you face a similar challenge, be aware that working from home will make exaggerate your “Vulcan” (read: “cold” or “robotic”) tendencies. This is a problem because you may fail to notice and appreciate the emotional needs of others. In this area, I will refer you to a helpful article on Psychology Today: “How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence ― 6 Essentials.”
Note: Sharing your interests – such as my love of Star Trek and science fiction – is one way to connect with other people.
Share Your View In The Comments
What is one mistake you’ve made (and learned from!) when working from home?