Friday, December 11, 2009

The joys and challenges or working from home

I've worked from home in the past. I still work from home from time to time. However, I'm primarily in the office for my non-clinical day job as a medical director of an education/publishing company. I work from home when I'm involved in freelance/contract consulting jobs, blogging, (yes, blogging is work), career counseling, etc. I call it "moonlighting at home" and I try to balance work/life carefully.

There are certain joys and challenges of working from home that one must consider before choosing this path. My intent is not to compare self-employment vs. salaried employment. Many salaried employees work from home as telecommuters. I'm simply looking at the concept of working from home, whether you do this 5 days a week or 1 day a month. Let's take a look at some of them:

  • Extreme flexibility. You can set your own hours (unless you're simply a telecommuter). You can work in your pajamas. I think you get the picture.
  • More time with family. It may not be as rosy as you think. If you're really to be productive while you're working at home, then you'll probably need to be in an office where you're not interrupted. However, even if you set strict boundaries, you can still spend more time with your family if you take breaks for lunch, snacks, etc.
  • Less time in the car (train, or bus). This translates to savings on gas/commuting fees/parking/etc. Also, you now have time to exercise and do other things instead of traveling to and from the office.
  • More privacy. If you're working in a company, your privacy can be limited. Suppose you're in a cubicle and all your colleagues can listen to all your phone conversations. You may have very little privacy. If you set up an office at home, you can control your privacy.
  • Increased productivity. You may not believe it, but studies have shown that disciplined people who work at home are more productive than when they're in the office. You will probably have fewer interruptions and meetings if you're at home compared to the office. As a result, you can get much more done in a shorter amount of time.
  • Difficulty managing others. If you're in a position where you're expected to manage others, this can be much more challenging if you don't interact with these individuals face-to-face.
  • More distractions. Are you disciplined? Or are you easily distracted? When you're at home, you're surrounded by more distractions (TV, kids, chores, etc.), so you need to know yourself really well so that you can evaluate whether it makes sense to work from home. If you're easily distracted, then your productivity will obviously suffer and you place yourself at risk for job loss and unemployment.
  • Limited brainstorming sessions. If you're not interacting face-to-face with your colleagues, it can be more difficult to have effective brainstorming session where you're writing on a whiteboard, drawing diagrams, using hand gestures, etc. Modern video conference call technology and tablet computing may overcome many of these barriers but nothing replaces the true face-to-face interaction.
  • Isolation and less personal connections. Let's face it. When you're in an office, you can chat with people casually and learn about their personal lives. As a result, you can get to know your fellow colleagues really well. If you're at home, you're more isolated. It's more difficult to really get to know your colleagues or your boss.
  • You're always working. Many people who work at home have a difficult time separating work and home. As a result, you're always working. Your family may eventually accept that, but you could also get burned out. Sometimes it's much healthier to leave work at work so that you never bring work home. However, if you're working at home, then your work is right in front of you all the time.
So, what do you think? Should you work from home? Have you ever tried it? Are you disciplined? Will it interfere with your work/life balance? If you thought that working from home would be "ideal," then perhaps you need to give it another thought.

In general, it can be more difficult to secure a new job as a telecommuter unless you have a proven track record of being an effective telecommuting employee.

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