are you cut out to work from home?

Working from home sounds great to most people – you can work in your pajamas, with no commute, the cat on your lap and a load of laundry going in the background. What’s not to like

But working for home isn’t for everyone. Some people do better at it than others – and some find teleworking makes them miserable or destroys their productivity, even jeopardizing their jobs. So it’s important to take a hard look at whether you’re truly cut out for teleworking. Here are six questions to ask yourself before you make the leap.

* How disciplined are you? Teleworking effectively resisting all the distractions of home: TV, pets, laundry, surfing the Internet, napping, or whatever most calls to you. Are you someone who can create a structure, stick to a schedule, and produce at a high volume in the face of all those distractions and without anyone watching you? Or will you realize on Friday that you’ve done little work all week and now somehow need to make up for it?

* Can you handle the lack of in-person contact, or will you go stir-crazy? If you thriving on contact with other people and the camaraderie and collaboration of working in an office, you might find working from home feels too isolating. On the other hand, if you’re someone who thrives when you have your own space and no one popping into your office to chat, you might love working from home and even find that you’re more productive.

* Can you set and enforce boundaries with family and friends? You may find that your family and friends think that “working at home” means “available for calls and visits and help running errands.” You’ll need to be able to enforce boundaries – telling people that you’re not available to socialize during work hours, and that you can’t watch their kids or pick up their prescriptions while you’re working. Are you willing to lay down the law with people who might push back or not take your work schedule seriously?

* Are you responsive to emails and phone calls, or do you sometimes realize you’ve forgotten to get back to people? You should always strive to be responsive to calls and emails, of course, but it’s especially important when you’re working from home and people rely on that to reach you. If coworkers, clients, or your manager don’t get relatively speedy responses from you, not only will you inconvenience them – you might raise questions in their minds about whether you’re really working.

* Can you accept the intrusion of work into your home? When you work from an office, work usually feels at least mostly behind you once you leave for the day and go home. But when you work from home, your work is always sharing that space with you – you could always be putting in a little more time on that memo or responding to emails. So you’ll need to be disciplined about turning off work at the end of the day and mentally transitioning back into “home time.”

* Are you comfortable finding ways to make yourself and your work visible? As a telecommuter, you’re going to be out of your employer’s sight most of the time – but you shouldn’t be out of mind. You’ll need to make extra efforts to ensure that your manager knows what you’re working on and how your projects are going and about any successes you have. If you’re not comfortable speaking up and tooting your own horn about your accomplishments, you might struggle to remain on your manager’s radar and reap the rewards that often accompany visible achievements.

* Do you have separate child care, or are you hoping to watch your kids while you’re working at home? Working from home is not a substitute for child care, and in fact, most employers require that teleworking employees have separate arrangements for child care. You can’t be as productive when your attention is split between watching kids and doing your work – and most employers aren’t happy when client calls are interrupted by a crying child.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

    I know I’m not. I’m a bit introverted, and I rely on meetings and water cooler conversations to build relationships with my colleagues. It would be really difficult to meet people if I had to reach out to every single coworker. I do find it helpful to work from home occasionally when I need to focus on finishing a demanding task – but that’s something I only need once a month.

    1. Vicki

      I’m a lot introverted as well as HSP (see hsperson.com).
      I would rather get the work done and avoid the constant distractions than “build relationships” while getting nothing done.

      I’ll go in for necessary meetings.

  2. Ann O'Nemity

    I love teleworking on occasion, but #2 (stir crazy social isolation) would keep me from doing it every day.

  3. Cat

    It’s the intrusion of work into home life that really gets me when I’ve tried telecommuting. I’ve gotten to the point that I’ll usually even come in on the odd weekend day rather than trying to finish something with a tight deadline at home. Otherwise it’s just too easy to spend the day messing around and be still working at 2am, and that way lies madness. (I also tend to get stir crazy so that doesn’t help.)

  4. Victoria Nonprofit

    I work from home (mostly) now, and it’s the work/life separation that’s a challenge. It’s worth it, but it’s a big challenge for me (and always has been, even when I didn’t work remotely).

  5. Esra

    I loved working from home, loved it. I would take a pay cut to work from home again.

    One thing I found was on the days where you are feeling like you just don’t want to work at home, trying ditching the jammie pants and dressing properly for work. It helps get you out of the lazy day mode.

    1. Anonymous

      lol @ jammie pants. I’m an occasional teleworker. When past coworkers found out, they started making comments about how lucky I was. I use to think teleworkers were “lucky” too. I actually realized that I mostly prefer coming into the office. I do like the flexibility to work from home during bad weather/home repair appointments but I don’t plan on making it an everyday thing.

      1. Elizabeth West

        That’s exactly how I feel about it. I don’t have any trouble cutting it off at quitting time, and I pretty much work remotely anyway, since my boss is in another state and the team I support is gone most of the time. But I don’t like the solitude. Also, I’m hourly, so if I’m going to work at home that day, it has to be for the full eight hours, and I end up as chained to the computer as if I were in the office.

  6. Sascha

    I think a combined approach is best for many people. I have 2 days at work/3 days at home, and I love it. I get my meetings done in the 2 days I’m there, I talk to coworkers, and I can take care of all those little things where it’s better to communicate in person. At home, I can work on projects and tasks where I need long periods with no interruptions. I think if I worked from home the entire week I would go stir crazy and get really lazy, but having at least a couple days in the office remedies that.

    1. Christine

      I posted below that I probably wouldn’t function well as a telecommuter. However, I like your approach…I think I could handle that, and might even work for me because I sometimes need those long, uninterrupted periods. It would certainly ease my transportation hassles too.

    2. fposte

      That’s the best for me. I have regular work-at-home days and specific focus-y tasks that happen on those, and I can’t imagine getting those done in the office. But I also need to be in the office to overcome my tendency toward uninvolvement.

    3. Kara

      I’d love to spend two days home, three days in the office. I’ve worked at home full-time as a freelancer and I was lonely; I like “water cooler chat” on occasion. But I do get more done at home – I can put my head down and really churn stuff out in a way that takes longer at the office.

    4. Vicki

      Yes.
      This.

      I wouldn’t go stir crazy or get lazy. But if the job requires some face time so the co-workers recall what I look like 3 out / 2 in is a reasonable scheduled. (4 out 1 in is even better. :-)

  7. -X-

    I’m OK at it but don’t like to do it much.

    Having the option to do it occasionally is very useful to me.

    What is great about my job is I can sometimes just leave early or come in late and make up the productivity at night or early morning or on the weekend from home. But working from home for extended periods brings me down.

    1. B

      Agree as well. I live alone and recently moved to a new city so working from home would be depressing. I would go out and get my SSRI script now. But I LOVE having the ability to work from home on occasion. If the cable guy is coming or the kids have a snow day, it’s a life saver. Being able to work from home on Fridays would be really cool though. And then the office would be emptier so coming into the office on Fridays would be better too. I love it the day before a 3-day weekend when many people take a personal day to make it 4 days. It feels like a partial day off for me because nobody is bothering you.

      1. Jamie

        This is a really important point for the employers out there who don’t allow the occasional flexibility because of the fear that if you let people do it once, they will want it all the time.

        There are scores of people like us who appreciate the flexibility to work from home while waiting on a plumber, or to keep our cold germs home when we’re well enough to work but still contagious – but who would hate doing it on a regular basis.

        I’d quit if I was told I needed to work from home FT from now one – but other people thrive and do wonderfully productive work that way. A good policy would take this kind of individuality into account and understand that for some of us it’s a necessary evil on occasion and not a life long dream to work without mascara.

      2. Jamie

        I love it the day before a 3-day weekend when many people take a personal day to make it 4 days. It feels like a partial day off for me because nobody is bothering you.

        Oh, and this. When the office is at half staff it does feel kind of like a day off…but a productive one.

  8. Coelura

    I love, love, love fulltime telecommuting. I’ve telecommuted for 15 years at several different companies and all of my employees also telecommute. One major key is instant messaging. Without it, I would not be nearly as effective. I do have to keep to a strict schedule – I do not wear jammies – I dress for work (albeit, in sweats) and have an office where I close the door after I’m done working so my work computer doesn’t beckon to me to come finish something!

    1. Sascha

      “Work sweats” – yes, I have my professional yoga pants that I wear when telecommuting. :)

    2. Vicki

      Coelura – I’m so happy to see this post.
      I was beginning to think everyone commenting wanted to go to work at least a few days a week to socialize.

      Yes, you need to exercise diligence (just as in the office; you shouldn’t keep going to the break room to chat, right?) And you should dress reasonably. Believe that you are Working from home (not hanging out at home).

      And IM is a wonderful tool. At my last job, we couldn’t tell who was in the office and who wasn’t because we all used IM all the time regardless!

      1. Julie

        And with IM, you can know that the work-at-home folks are actually working because they’re sending and receiving IMs.

        I work from home most of the time, and for me there are pros and cons for each option.

        I really enjoy going to the office at least a couple of days per week for a number of reasons:

        I like being around the people in the office and having brief chats with them. I’m the only person on my team who is not in one of two main cities, so the people in the office are not on my team, but we all work at the same company.
        My partner and I like having the “alone time” that we each get when I go to the office and am not home all day, every day.
        It just feels good to get out into the world (subway, walking, talking with people) a couple of days a week.

        When I’m working at home, I’m the designated dog minder. And while dogs are not as attention-consuming as children, I know I get more done in less time in the office. At home I sometimes end up working a couple of hours extra to catch up. However, it is nice to be able to take the dogs to the dog park in the middle of the day and relax, even if I have to work longer at the end of the day.

        I often have conference calls and deliver training sessions, and in the office, my desk is in a room with eight other people. So if I’m scheduled to be talking a lot during a particular day, I’ll need to book a small conference room for myself or work from home.

        I like being able to sleep later because I don’t have to get up in time to get ready and commute to the office. On the other hand, I enjoy the 20-30 minutes of walking I get when I do commute.

        So for me, there really are pros and cons for both, and I’m glad I generally have the option to choose whether I will work from home or not. My company is moving out of office space that they don’t own, so there may come a time when I’ll have to work from home, but for now, I can have the best of both worlds.

        1. Julie

          This part was supposed to be a bulleted list, but it seems that you can’t use that particular HTML in the comments, so I’ll fix it with dashes:

          – I like being around the people in the office and having brief chats with them. I’m the only person on my team who is not in one of two main cities, so the people in the office are not on my team, but we all work at the same company.

          – My partner and I like having the “alone time” that we each get when I go to the office and am not home all day, every day.

          – It just feels good to get out into the world (subway, walking, talking with people) a couple of days a week.

  9. The Other Dawn

    I love having the option to do it when I need to, but I’m not sure I’m disciplined enough to do it all the time. The internet tends to just suck me in. Or my cats are trying to lay on top of my paperwork. I could probably deal with 2-3 days a week, though.

  10. Marie

    I have worked from home for just over 3 years and it has been amazing. A few things help me:

    -It’s a standard-hours office job, which means I’m expected to be available from 8:30-5:30 every day just like if I were in an office.
    -Piggybacking on the above, I have an office in my house that has a door that closes. Helps a lot with the separation of work and life.
    -My husband also works from home so I don’t go nuts from being alone. It’s on a completely different job so we work in different rooms and just meet up for lunch and teatime.

    1. Vicki

      My hubby has worked primarily from home since before I met him. We each have an office at home with a closing door. No kids, only cats.

      I have worked from home one, two, three, or four days a week at various jobs and not at all for other jobs. I really hate the not at all and always envy my hub for being at home when I’m in an office with headphones over earplugs wishing the Noise Would Stop.

  11. Christine

    I’d say the answer in my case is a big fat “no”. Because I can’t drive, I am home allllll the time. Thus, while I don’t always enjoy the constant buzz of an office, I do like getting out and interacting with people as long there isn’t too much going on (I’m very prone to sensory overload). Plus, I am weirdly disciplined when I know I’m in an office environment, but can’t seem to replicate that at home whenever I have my volunteer projects to work on. I don’t think we have the space anyway because the way I work, I’d need to really spread out.

    1. Elizabeth West

      I’m the same way–it’s just easier to concentrate in the office. Except when I’m writing, but that is different. Then I don’t want all those people around.

      1. Vicki

        Want to trade with my previous office environment?
        20 feet from an (open) breakroom, 30 feet from an (open) stairway and elevator area, 10 feet from a thin-walled meeting room (speaker phone) on a cross aisle between two main aisles.

        I gave up oneven trying to concentrate. I just admitted to myself that the two days a week I was in the office would have < 50% productivity.

        1. Daria

          For real. I’ve had ONE office where I had a door. Every other one was an open office concept. I can’t think in that environment. When I had my door, it was not so bad. When they got rid of those offices to cram in more cubes, I started telecommuting.

  12. jmkenrick

    I only like telecommuting to be available as an option if I ever feel sick.

    Other than that, I hate working from home. I don’t think I have the discipline. However, I suspect that might change as I get older. I would guess that more experienced people perform better with working from home than people who are newer to the work force.

  13. Rana

    I’m a freelancer – that’s pretty much my answer right there. ;)

    But, no, one thing that academia did do a very good job of preparing me for was learning how to work effectively when your work is something that is entwined with your personal life and home space. I think for me what would be harder would be teleworking on someone else’s schedule; when I’m working, I do get a solid chunk of hours in each day, but they are intermingled with other activities – in fact, these breaks are part of what keeps me focused and productive during my work periods. My “work day” is basically from the time I’m done with breakfast to the time I’m getting ready for bed, but so is my “normal” day. For me it works, but if I was expected to follow a strict 9-5 schedule, it would be a lot harder.

    Being able to handle not being around people is pretty key, as well. I like people, but I find them distracting; in office settings, I was the person who wanted the open-door office near the breakroom or the stairwell so I could see what was going on, and it was hard keeping myself from doing “the cruise” between other people’s offices. At home, there are other distractions, but they’re easier to tune out when the crunch times hit.

  14. JFQ

    As someone who can work from home and has for 5+ years, I continually see not exactly a misrepresentation of working from home but more like a lack of nuance in considering what “working from home” can mean.

    One issue is the overliteral use of the word “home.” Having a good home setup is important, but many of my coworkers and I work from coffee shops, libraries, and other public settings that aren’t the office but that are out of the house. The variety can help with the cabin fever issues, the monotony, and the possible lack of boundaries.

    Another is the issue of just how flexible the work schedule is, not just the location of the work. While keeping 9-5 hours at home is in many ways better than keeping them at the office, one of the true advantages I’ve found in my schedule is the extreme flexibility. I agree with Rana on those advantages, which means that I disagree in part with Alison’s first point about discipline. Little breaks to do laundry or run or take a nap are a huge perk of my job. They help up me break up monotony, clear my head, and avoid the waste that comes when I’m trying to work and just can’t focus. Yes, taking breaks expands my work day into what is traditionally non-work hours, but it’s a great trade and part of a workable schedule for me. Some of my coworkers even work in the car while they travel (with someone else driving), which helps to not eat a day of vacation for a road trip.

    That kind of flexibility with schedule instead of just location is a big advantage for dealing with kids. Yes, you can’t simply handle childcare while simultaneously working, but with the kind of flexibility described above, childcare schedules can be much more finely structured, picking up/dropping off kids is a lot easier, and catching a ball game/play/recital/whatever is a lot easier as well.

    We have certainly run into problems with our arrangement, though mostly when someone wants all the flexibility but little of the “intrusion” into what is considered by some to be non-work time. Any work setup has trade-offs, so anyone considering offsite working needs to have clarity about what exactly the rules and expectations are, and managers need to take responsibility for establishing clear standards not only for schedules but also for behavior, such as availability via instant messenger or the phone. My company also has a culture of working remotely, which means that the disagreements about preferring phone calls to email and the like just aren’t a problem since we’re all on the same page.

    1. The IT Manager

      Nuiance is critical in this situation. At my office what you described (flexible hours) would be called flexiwork and it is separate from working from home.

      Also it really depends on what you do. I spend a good number of hours in teleconferences. I suppose I could listen to those meetings easily enough in coffee shops, libraries, and other public settings, but I’d hate to have to be the host or speak a lot in that setting. The calls would contain background noise, I’d disturb the patrons around me by having a phone call in a public place and risk security by over-sharing information that maybe shouldn’t be.

      Not all telework, work from home is created equal. What’s expected of someone working from home should be well-defined up front.

  15. Daria

    I love working from home! I find the biggest issue for me is setting boundaries with family/friends. People have this idea that because I’m working from home, I’m not really “working” and can talk/meet up/be a babysitter for their kids/etc. It has really been a good thing for me- I had to learn to set firm boundaries.

    I think I’d have a hard time going back to an office.

    1. Daria

      One key fact that makes it enjoyable to me: I don’t have to work any specific hours, I just have to get my work done by x deadline. I am not sure I’d enjoy it as much if I were chained to my desk. I choose my own hours. The downside is that sometimes I am working 12 hours a day, but the upside is that some days I can just check my e-mail and be done with it.

  16. Anonymous

    Love it! Probably save $10000.00 year full time telecommuting, without costs for travel, clothing, lunches, and tax deductions! I love having my cat stare at me behind my computer each day, I ma extreeeemly efficient and so what if my wardrobe consists primarily of matching HelloKitty coordinates, Just being able to stay out of the BS hulabuloob of the watercooler talk is good enough, the above $$ is just a bonus.

  17. Jess

    I’ve been working from home for almost 3 years, and me and my home office have a. . . complex relationship. I to have ‘worksweats’: I don’t work in my actual PJs, but have a whole category of comfy clothes with nonjudgmental waistbands that are my ‘work’ attire. I think the kind of work you do is also crucial: I work to monthly deadlines with a monthly trip to the head office. That alone enforces a certain schedule on me! Over the years, I’ve also discovered the importance for my mental health of a separate room with a door that closes: yes, you CAN work on your laptop from bed, but when you do that too often. . . things get weird.

    Overall though, I love it! I love the flexibility, I love how focused I can get without distractions. It’s made me more efficient, even in my errands: grocery shopping at 10am on a Tuesday is the fastest thing ever. You do really have to set up boundaries though: early on I was so eager to prove I was working, I got into some bad habits and coworkers got used to the idea that they could call me anytime, day or night, and since my computer was right there, I could crack on with whatever they needed immediately– no need to wait for a weekday or work hours. I also had a hard time turning off at the end of the day, and I did have to enforce certain rules with houesmates– no, just because I’m there all day does NOT mean I am their housewife, in charge of all the cleaning and household tasks. But overall it’s been really positive for me; my job occassional entails overtime, and that’s way more comfortable when I can make dinner, take off my bra, and continue on. But it does take a very specific type of person, paired with a very specific type of management to trust that it works!

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