Working from home is a dream come true for many of us. It’s one of the biggest perks of being a freelancer. No more commuting, no boss looking over your shoulder, and no need to get dressed up, or at all, for work every day. No more expensive cafeteria lunches or brown bagging it. No colleagues interrupting your flow with Game of Thrones discussions, and no more sharing office space.
A recent Stanford University study found that remote workers are 13% more productive, working longer shifts, taking fewer breaks and sick days, accomplishing more and enjoying their jobs more than commuters. No wonder approximately 10% of American professionals work from home at least some of the time and 4.3% work from home most of the week, according to the latest US Census data.
On the other hand, it’s easy to fall into bad habits when there’s no one supervising. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself stressed and chasing your tail instead of enjoying the telecommuting experience. Yahoo CEO Melissa Mayer infamously cancelled the company’s work from home policy in February of 2013, ruthlessly requiring all employees to physically appear in the office. Her logic was that the best work gets done when people work side-by-side, which has sparked a global debate on the merits versus dangers of remote working.
In order to get the most from working out of your home, be aware of the pitfalls and create a plan to avoid them in advance. Here are five of the biggest dangers and how to get around them.
1. Assuming you have all the time in the world
It’s easy to overschedule yourself when you don’t have a structured day. If there’s no official closing time for your business, you may find yourself taking on more projects than you can realistically handle, leading to stress and underperformance.
In order to keep clients happy with your work, you need to be able to devote sufficient time to each one. You can do that best by blocking out time for each task in advance. When someone calls you about a new project, check your schedule to see if and when you are available, and give the client a realistic estimate of when you can finish the job. If your schedule is overflowing in the foreseeable future, it’s in your best interest in the long term to refuse the project and refer it to a colleague.
2. Taking too many breaks
No one is watching the clock when you take your lunch or coffee break. There is no one to complain that you have spent too much time on a personal call or Facebook. Even worse, you’ve got laundry piling up, dishes sitting in the sink and children demanding your attention. Another few minutes won’t hurt, right? Wrong.
If you are working from your home office, it’s important to separate work and home. Decide in advance what your office hours are, and don’t let anything distract you during that time. Don’t worry – the dishes will still be there at the end of the day. In addition to sticking to your own schedule, make sure friends, neighbors and family understand that you are working and not available to do favors for them and enjoy visits during this time.
3. Forgetting to stop working
Just as you can waste valuable working time at home, you can also lose the boundaries between work and leisure and work too hard, ultimately leading to burnout. If you keep checking your emails, doing one last task and making one more phone call, you will have no time for yourself or your family.
Decide in advance what your work hours are, and stay away from all devices at other times. It’s okay to tell clients that they need to call between certain hours, or that you will get back to them tomorrow.
4. Never leaving the house
If work and home are in the same location, there’s no need to go anywhere, right? The problem is, staying home all day every day isn’t really healthy.
Make sure to schedule some activities into your week that involve going out of the house. Networking groups, conferences and community groups can be fun and educational and they may even bring in more business. Meetings with clients and customers help keep you in their thoughts and ensure you are in the loop when important decisions are made. And short walks around the block can do wonders.
5. Getting bogged down in administrative work
When you work on your own, all the administrative tasks fall on your shoulder, including filing, buying office supplies and sending invoices. If you are running your own business, there will be lots of administrative work to get out of the way at the beginning – creating branded templates for various paperwork forms, for example.
You may be surprised how affordable and helpful it is to get administrative help, but if that isn’t a feasible option, consider scheduling a set amount of time per day for these types of tasks. Tackle them at a time of day when you aren’t as creative and productive, so you don’t lose your best “thinking time” to tedious work.
Now that you’ve taken care of all these five pitfalls, you can enjoy the freedom and convenience of working from a home office. Sticking to a schedule and putting up clear boundaries between work and home will make you more productive than you were in an office.
And all that extra time you used to spend commuting can be channeled toward administration and networking. Or a little bit of extra time you’re your family or just meditating on how awesome your job is.