We live in an ever changing professional environment where the work force is more focused on how their job fits into how they want to the live, than the jobs themselves. Employers are spending more time and money trying to coerce this youthful, exuberant and less loyal workforce to help their company’s bottom line. Corporations have had to shift their focus from relying on a loyal lifelong employee, to appeasing and recruiting a powerful yet selfish workforce.
One of the main factors that companies use to lure top talent in today’s market is by being fluid in their work environment. You can check any job posting or job board and find hundreds of jobs that are offering their employees the opportunity to work from home, at least some of the time. Companies now understand how important the work/life balance is to the growing work force so they are trying to find ways to cater to this population.
This work from home movement is not going away, so the question that has to be considered by the workforce is… Is it worth it?
Being someone that has worked in multiple environments from the small business to the corporate cubicle farms, and everything in between, I want give my take on the work from home movement. Here are 5 important factors when working from home.
One of the first things that you and your company should consider is the space you will be using when you work from home. Most people assume that they can work from their couch or kitchen table. I can tell you from experience that those places can lead to a decrease in your productivity. It is a lot easier to be distracted when you do not have a set space that will be designated for “work” in your home. Having the square footage is not enough to deem your home a great place to work from. Having a set desk space is a great start, but you should also consider whether or not you need an actual door that you can close to prevent distractions that are a guarantee if you have kids. I love hearing my kids play outside but the moment I hear that ball bounce followed by laughter, I am immediately interested in what they are doing. When you don’t have that set space, it is hard to trick your mind into thinking you are at work. “Trick” that is the keyword, you have to make your mind think that you are at work and not at home.
You may have to experiment with your space to determine which design makes the most sense for you and the type of work that you do, but it is an important first step in ensuring your success when you work from home.
In my experience I have found that my workload is a big factor in whether I am “enjoying” working from home. The amount of work you have to do, does not sound like it should be a factor in this conversation but it is a big factor in that mind trick that I referenced earlier. Imagine sitting in your newly set up home office at 8 am ready to get your day started when you realize all of the work you planned to work on was completed. I am sure the first thought that crossed your mind was, oh I will find more to do, but what if there is no more to do for the day? What do you do with your time? In most cases when you work from home you find time to get some light housework done. I promise I won’t tell your boss, but this can become a problem when you plan on having this time to complete this housework. You have to ask yourself, is my company paying me to do my laundry?
As an employee I appreciate the willingness to trust that I am working hard while I am at home, and honestly I am working hard, but the temptation is there to get “other” stuff done. When it becomes a habit to get the extra house stuff done, you are playing a dangerous game that could jeopardize your productivity and your overall happiness with working from home. And in the end if you are not productive in this environment how long before you company either no longer lets you work from home or no longer lets you work at all?
The goal of this section is not to make it seem as if your home office space isn’t enough. Honestly I am sure you are more comfortable and productive in your home office space than you are when you have to go to a meeting at an office. The purpose of this section is to show why variety of work space is an important concept for the organization you work for.
At one point in my career I worked solely from home and would periodically travel to schools in different cities to provide consulting services. During this time frame I was able to really understand the good and bad that comes with working from home. This is when I figured out that working from home has its drawbacks. I really enjoyed the convenience of not having to drive to an office everyday. The gas and time savings were a huge job satisfier at the time. I enjoyed not being forced to put on anything other than sweatpants in the winter months, I enjoyed being able to get lunch from my own personal refrigerator and not the community fridge and I really enjoyed the extra 30 minutes of sleep I was able to get each morning. Those were all great things, but the allure of them all eventually faded.
The lack of variety in the workplace began to wear on me over time. Although working in the same office year after year may not be a change of scenery, it can at least offer people to talk to. You have the opportunity to have a variety of conversations with a variety of people over time. You do not realize this is something you value until you find yourself having the same conversation with Wilson the volleyball day after day (hopefully the Cast Away joke didn’t fall on deaf ears). So find different places to work, whether that is the local coffee shop or bookstore. Over time you will will be thankful you did.
In every article you read about working from home, one of the first things you will see if that it is not for everyone. After experiencing it myself I can adamantaly agree that this holds true. Based on an article published in 2014 on Inc.com they explain specific traits that they believe are necessary to work from home. Although their list is not exhaustive, it lays the ground work for determining if you are built to work from home.
In reality I think there is one innate personality trait that can determine if you are the right fit to work from home. The trait in particular that I think matters most is whether you are an introvert or extrovert. When you really think about where you get your energy, you can quickly assess whether working from home is for you or not. If you are the life of the party and people are easily attracted to you, this may not be for you. If after spending any signification amount of time with a group of people you are mentally exhausted, working from home is probably more for you. My reasoning behind this is simple. When you work from home there is a lot of alone time. You must be completely comfortable being isolated, even though you may not always be alone, in order to be successful.
That isolation was the part that I struggled with over time. The first year of working from home was fantastic. I was more productive than I had ever been, I got out of bed early to seize the day, every day, and I had the highest job satisfaction I had ever experienced. Year two was good but not nearly as great as year one. I still enjoyed my job and remained pretty productive, but I can not say I was seizing the day by the end of the year. Year three, now that was a totally different story. I found myself looking for reasons to get out of my house, so much so, that I would take my lunch hour and go to the local YMCA to shoot basketball and never actually eat any lunch. Doing house work became a normal part of my daily routine and I started to dislike my job more day by day. The isolation got the best of me. Looking back I realize now that my maturity had something to do with how I handled it at the time, but that does not change the fact that the isolation was a real problem for me.
Teamwork vs. Independent work
The last item can be a little tricky. In today’s work environment we are more connected than ever. Whether you use some product like Skype or Facetime or any of the many instant messaging platforms, you can seamlessly contact coworkers at a moments notice. These tools allow companies to continue to utilize a team approach to the work even when coworkers are miles apart. This sense of “virtual” teams will give employees the feel of working closely with people in the office. Even with all of the new tools the fact remains that schedules may not always align and team members may not always be available. To ensure success in the work from home model you have to make sure there is enough independent work.
Employees must have some independent deliverables so that they are able to remain productive when they are not working with their team. This small but mighty factor can go a long way to a successful work from home model.
I am not the authority on all things work from home, but my experience has taught me that if the above factors are considered anyone can successfully work from home.