Got kids you hate leaving with daycare? Work at a soul-crushing nine-to-five job? Ever thought of working from home? Millions do every day. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 50-percent of jobs are compatible with working at home at least part of the time and 20 to 25-percent work from home. For an established company, most of the time; that comes out to 3.7 million people working from home, not including freelancers and small businesses run from the home. Statistics show more and more will be working from home as companies look to revamp their workplaces. If you’re looking to work from home, now’s the time.
In this article, we discussed the in-depth details on working from home including the advantages and disadvantages, good and bad sides and how to be setting yourself up for success.
Upside and downside
Working from home can be great. Unless you need to go to a meeting, you could actually work all day in your jammies. Need to get some laundry done? Go do it. Working from home means you eat healthier because you’re eating from your pantry, not from a restaurant or local lunch place. Because your commute is as far as the distance between your kitchen and your home office, the only traffic you have to navigate is the kids getting ready for school or the furry family members wanting attention.
You actually save money by working from home. Your insurance rates go down because you’re not driving to and from work on a daily basis. Your wardrobe only needs to include a few things appropriate for business meetings or trips out of town; sweats and a T-shirt work well, along with your comfy slippers. You’re not eating out as often, so your food bill will be less; even though you’re eating at home, you will spend much less by not going out to eat.
Comfort-wise, you get to choose where you work, when working from home. No more cubicles and noise from the person sitting next to you. It can be as quiet or as noisy as you like, depending on how you work. We spoke with some freelancers working from home; one is most productive when the television is on, sound off, so she knows what time it is, another has a special playlist for work that keeps her on target and another needs absolute quiet. Furnishing your office can be a delight, as you choose your chair, your desk, the light and the colors.
Working from home sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? It is, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Jenny, a medical transcriptionist working from home, says, “I have to set a timer for breaks. I get in the zone and before I know it, I’ve been sitting at my computer for several hours, so I set the timer for 30 minutes of work, five minutes of break. I also set a timer for lunch, to make sure I actually eat lunch.” When you work at home, it’s easy to lose track of time, because no one is standing up, leaving for lunch or getting ready to leave at the end of the day.
What about interruptions? Those working from home get used to tons of interruptions, unless they set concrete guidelines. Friends and family pop by without calling first because they know you’re home. Spouses have a tendency to use the, “Honey, I know you’re working, but …” line at least twice during the time you’re working. Kids run into your office wanting a mediator or a glass of water.
There’s also a perception, especially among older ones, that working from home isn’t really “working.” A freelance writer told us of one friend who stopped by to say, “I’m really going to miss coming over to talk when you get a real job;” at the time, the writer was in the middle of three big client projects, working a zillion hours. One medical coder lost her house because her grandfather, who owned the house, wanted her to go get a “real job,” even though she was working 12 hours a day and making good money, was never late on rent and took good care of the house.
Getting distracted by family and friends is a drop in the bucket when compared to internal distractions. It’s easy to grab another cup of coffee in the kitchen, notice dirty dishes in the sink and, before you know it, you’re cleaning the kitchen. Or you go to the bathroom and walk past a pile of laundry and, suddenly, it’s 30 minutes later because you’ve started doing laundry and picking up the kids’ rooms.
Perhaps the biggest downside to working from home is you. To work from home successfully, you need to be disciplined and organized. You need to set work times and then walk away when that time is done. There needs to be a clear boundary between work and home. The draw of working at all hours of the day and night just to get the job done can lead to being less effective, at the least, and burnout, at the most. If you’re not disciplined, you won’t get the same amount of work done at home as you would have in the office, you’ll miss meetings and give into the temptation to sluff off work because there is fun to be had.
Isolation is a big “you” factor as well. If you’re used to working in an office, it might seem great to work from home for a while, with all the office-type distractions gone. But after a while, you find you’re talking to yourself just to hear conversation. It’s easy to get withdrawn from human society when you work from home and actually turn down opportunities to go out; after all, you’ve built your own cocoon at home, so why go out?
While you think you’d love to work from home, remember – it’s still work. You still need to have the same dedication you’d have if you were in an office. You still need to perform and stay focused. And you still need to set boundaries.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Now, we’re going to look at work-at-home scams and how to tell the difference between real opportunities and those that will just take your time and money, leaving you with nothing.
Working from home can be the perfect answer to those caring for others, such as children or older ones, as well as for those who want more freedom about how they spend their days. Finding work that allows you to work from home can be frustrating, though. Doing a Google search of job opportunities that allow homework results in a long list of opportunities, some good, some bad and some just downright ugly. So how do you find work you can do at home?
Many companies are offering a remote option, letting you work for them part of the time from home; the drawback is that you have to have worked in the office for a period of time before they let you work remotely. The best jobs for working at home are the jobs you build yourself. Having a little entrepreneurial spirit will go a long way toward creating your own work. Some ideas lend themselves well to working from home, such as:
- Virtual assistant
- Personal assistant
- Data Entry
As always, you can turn almost anything you’re good at into a business. One woman loved baking cookies using her grandmother’s recipe. She started making big batches every day and selling them to parents waiting for the school bus. She met several parents who introduced her cookies into their companies, where she was able to sell even more. Ultimately, she turned her grandma’s cookie recipe into a cookie delivery business.
There were several good opportunities to work at home that have now become bad ideas. Medical transcription, for instance, used to allow you to make as much as $25 an hour even 10 years ago; however, with the advent of electronic medical records, medical transcriptionists working at some of the bigger companies are making as little as minimum wage.
Years ago, companies sprung up everywhere that would answer phones for small businesses and individuals so callers wouldn’t get voice mail; these companies would hire people who worked at home to help. Now, technology has almost done away with those companies as voice mail has now become the norm rather than the exception.
Insurance companies will sometimes hire agents who work out of their homes, but you have to be really careful; some companies will pay you 100-percent of a years’ commission on a policy, only to ask for a portion of it back if the client cancels the policy before the year is up. Commission-based companies can be good if you’re used to selling, but if you need training, you could end up losing your shirt.
The ugly work-at-home schemes haven’t changed much in the last 10 years; there are just more of them. Here’s how to tell if they’re really ugly and not just bad:
- You’ll never earn a lot of money starting out if you don’t work for it, be it sales or any other type of business. If they say you can earn money for doing little or no work, it’s a scam. The only person making money will be the person who sells you a “starter kit.” To earn a living, work is involved, so if it sounds too good to be true, it is – walk away.
- Getting paid to stuff envelopes is not only ugly, it’s just dumb. In many cases, you’re stuffing envelopes with flyers to get others to make money stuffing envelopes. You’ll end up working like a dog and get almost nothing in return.
- Companies are not standing in line to get you to assemble products for them; they’re going overseas instead. These work-at-home schemes consist of someone sending you a bunch of parts for you to assemble, but they have to be up to company standards, which you will never meet, so you don’t get paid. Time + effort = nada.
How to find good opportunities.
If you love doing it, you can find a way to make money at it, so creating your own opportunities is best. That being said, if you’re not able to build your own business and want to work at home for someone else, make sure to look for legitimate companies, those with established reputations and track records. Make sure you know up front what’s required of you. Get personal recommendations from someone you know who works at home. Do your research; read both good and bad reviews to get a clear picture of who you’re thinking of working for. Most of all, remember – when it comes to working from home, no one is going to pay you to do nothing; you’ll still need to work and work hard.
Setting yourself up for success
Finally, we’ll will look at how others who work at home avoid distractions, keep on track and build their lives around their jobs.
Technology has gotten so advanced that, if you go to someone’s door now, you’re more than likely to find someone working from home. The number of people working from home, either for their regular employer, who lets them work remotely, as contractors or as freelancers/entrepreneurs. Most companies had their start from someone’s basement, garage or home office; it’s just taken us decades to get back to it as a real way of working effectively. Working from home successfully, though, means you need to set up your workspace and your days the right way; yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to work from home.
Start with where you’re working. If you work from home every day, make sure your workspace is set apart from the rest of the house. It’s ok to bring your laptop into the dining room or living room from time to time, but your main work area needs to be separate. When you work regularly in the family areas, your family and friends will expect you’re available for conversation, help and mediating. When your work area is not set aside, you also run the risk of feeling like you can never get away from work because it’s in the middle of the rest of your life. Having your office in its own room, with a door, lets you close the door when you’re working and when you’re done for the day, keeping work and life separate.
How can you work from home when you live in a very small space, such as a one-bedroom apartment or a dorm-sized room? Set aside a corner in your bedroom, living room or kitchen that’s just for work. Keep all your work-related materials and supplies in that one area and don’t let them leak into the rest of your home. Walking away may be difficult, but being disciplined will help with that.
Interruptions, when working from home, can run rampant. “There is no way I could work from home without still putting my kids in daycare,” says Blair, a freelancer in Austin, Texas. Many freelancers have a sign on their door or on their desk with times when children, spouses and others can interrupt you. One dad, who works from home in the afternoons, has a sign on his desk that says, “Dad Is In;” he puts the sign up when he’s working on something that can be done later or when he’s not on a deadline. “My kids have gotten to the point where they know when they can come to me and when they can’t. My daughter will stand outside my office waiting for the sign to go up, especially if she has a complaint against the other children.”
Keeping yourself on track can be a challenge when working from home. Gregg, from San Francisco, says, “My goal is to get high-priority items off my desk by lunchtime, if possible. This leaves afternoon for long-term projects, meetings.” Keep a written calendar on your desk and schedule times for coffee breaks, lunch, putting laundry in, etc. For morning people, getting a running start first thing in the morning means household tasks can be done in the afternoon, when energy wanes. For those who need a little more time to get going and are most effective in the afternoons/evenings, the mornings are perfect for those chores.
It’s easy to get comfortable in your home office, to the point where you’re not going out enough and seeing others. Kelly, a medical transcriptionist from St. Petersburgh, Florida, sets a timer on her phone for 45 minutes; at the end of that time, she gets up from her desk, gets some coffee and, at the very least, walks outside the front door, closing it behind her. “Going out of the house for 10 minutes at a time, with the door closed behind me, energizes me more than I thought it would.”
Greg schedules several working lunches throughout the month to get some work-time human contact. “I book working lunches 2 or 3 times a month to have meaningful human interaction. I also have a running lunch date with my wife once a week, and occasionally work at coffee shop or bar.”
Have you heard of coworking spaces? Think executive suites combined with your local coffee shop. Coworking is a new trend, with spaces and meetups setting up around the country almost daily. Typical coworking spaces offer desk space, printer use, dedicated quiet spaces set aside from the regular areas, meeting rooms for rent as needed, high-speed WiFi and as much coffee and snacks as you can handle, all for a small fee per month. Most coworking spaces also offer drop-in rates. There are also free coworking meetups on scheduled days throughout the week, where those who work at home gather to have some lunch, talk and get help with whatever issues you might be having with your work. Working in the more public areas of a coworking space brings conversation while working, like being at an office without the office. One coworking space is set up with tables and booths purchased from a restaurant, each equipped with USB plugs and power outlets. In the back are communal tables and chairs and stand-up desks.