Within the last two decades, the percentage of American workers with telecommuting experience has nearly quadrupled. This is unsurprising considering the many benefits of working from home such as increased productivity and work satisfaction, as well as reduced cost for employers. With so many advantages for both the employee and the employer, offering telecommuting options seems like a no-brainer for many businesses.
However, telecommuting is still a fairly new concept and offers its own set of unique challenges. While many of these obstacles are fairly common among workers-from-home, solutions are readily available to those individuals who are determined to make telecommuting their way of work.
Challenge #1: Distractions
Working from home is an appealing idea to many employed Americans, particularly those who wish to spend more time near their families or with other home-related responsibilities. At the very least, working from the comfort of home is a great motivator for telecommuting. On the other hand, with the comforts of home come the many distractions: noisy neighborhood traffic; children, spouses, or roommates milling about the house; the ringing of the doorbell and phone, needy pets, and of course, the ever-present lure of the kitchen snack-closet.
Distractions lurk around every corner and during every conference call. One solution is to create a defined workspace or home office, including a desk, chair, computer, and all of the necessary accessories to complete a job, ideally a separate room with a door to close. This reduces the need to wander away from the laptop into distraction zones like the kitchen or bedroom to retrieve certain items. Additionally, this space can be officially reserved for work, which will help create boundaries between you and any other individual in the house who may disturb you if you were otherwise sitting on the living room couch.
Challenge #2: Work-Life Balance
Speaking of boundaries, creating a boundary between work and life when working from home can be particularly difficult. Telecommuting often comes with flexible hours, which seems nice until you find yourself pushing three hours past quitting time and missing family dinner. Conversely, the temptation of sleeping in or otherwise procrastinating means that your productivity could suffer. Organized time-management is key when working from home.
Set a start and end time for yourself and stick to it. Reclaim the time you would typically spend commuting: use these minutes to write a daily schedule or catch up on emails. Change out of your pajamas and dress as if you are going to the office to get in the right mindset before you enter your home office, and silence your personal phone.
At the end of the workday, reach a comfortable stopping point in your task and shut down the office. This includes turning off your computer and work phone, and perhaps even changing back into more comfortable clothes.
Challenge #3: Isolation
One of the most appealing things about telecommuting may also be one of the most unpleasant things about it. Unless you live alone, feelings of loneliness and isolation may not be a huge issue. However, some telecommuters have reported small cases of cabin fever; after weeks of work isolation and nothing but email correspondence, having a real conversation with anyone even that really annoying coworker - sounds good.
Luckily, the age of technology has given us unlimited tools to communicate and collaborate with others while working remotely. Instead of chatting over a cubicle wall, you can utilize tools like Slack, Trello, Skype, and many more to share ideas with co-workers and attend virtual meetings. Because many of these programs are designed specifically with telecommuters in mind, they offer a comfortable and convenient platform with which remote employees can achieve maximum productivity.
While these are the most common issues facing those who telecommute, there are a variety of others. No IT team means that a tech issue could take days of frustration to fix, no physical supervisor means that social media is always just a click away, and depending on your personal responsibilities you could go days without leaving your house, which is generally not recommended.
Regardless, many workers are finding telecommuting to be a pleasant experience, and have reported that they feel happier and more valued as compared to working in an office setting. As a result, more and more companies are beginning to offer work-from-home options to their employees, including big names like IBM, About.com, and SAP.
With the right preparation, telecommuting is a fantastic new way for employees to increase productivity and for employers to save money. By setting guidelines and sticking to them, with a hybrid solution, you can reap the benefits of working from home and guarantee success for yourself and your company.
About the Author
David Ashworth is a seasoned CEO with over 30 years of heading local, regional and global businesses - from start-ups to $4 billion companies. He has held management positions in organizations in Europe, Asia, and the United States. David holds a BA in business administration from Lady Spencer Churchill College in Oxford, England, and has attended INSEAD Business School and the Stanford Executive Program.