As we enter the new year, you may be reflecting on whether making your primary office your home office will improve your work-life balance. Whether its the length of your commute, the growing number of hours you find yourself at the office or the growing number of distractions keeping your from getting your work done, you are not alone.
Internet technologies make working outside the office easier than ever. Today, over 13 million Americans work at home at least one day per week. In a recent Pew Research poll, 21% of respondents reported they work remotely every day or almost every day. The benefits to employee productivity and satisfaction are well-documented and more companies than ever before are formalizing their work-at-home policies.
I work at a multi-national IT company which encourages flexible work arrangements. It’s been over six years since I made the switch from a Corporate window office to my work-from-home location. My family situation required me to move too far for me to commute daily. For my company, it meant the difference between retaining me or finding someone new with my skills. Since then, I’ve benefitted from an ongoing discussion with colleagues who, like me, now work from home almost exclusively.
If you are considering making your primary office, your home office, you should know working AT home once in a while and working FROM home are not the same experience. The former is a nice change of pace;it’s an option that comes in handy when the weather, appointments and family situations warrant a more flexible work arrangement. The latter is a commitment. It requires an ongoing investment to protect your work-life balance and your career.
Working from home is not for everyone but if you think it might be for you here are some things to consider:
You’re company, your boss, your team and your family only really care how your working-from-home impacts them
You want to be more productive. You want to get more done in less time. You want to cut down on your costs for dry-cleaning, car repairs and daycare so you can start saving for your retirement. But if it’s not a family emergency, working from home is not always a cut and dry a decision for everyone else involved. It changes the relationship dynamics within both the workplace and within the household. Everyone will need to adjust and they all will have their own concerns you will need to address.
If the company has a flexible workplace policy that provides clear guidelines, it’s an easier transition. But even then, when your particular job involves a local team that meets face-to-face, being the only work-from-home employee can be career suicide.
The problems start small but can fester, changing all of your interpersonal relationships. Your co-workers may come to resent having to ‘fill you in’ all the time because you aren't able to participate in the hallway conversations. They may jealous that you are home and they are not. Your family may stop talking to you all together after weeks of your shushing them because you’re on the phone – AGAIN! In fact, at first, both may find you generally annoying in less time than it takes you to make another pot of coffee and leave the cup in the sink.
When you do your cost-benefit analysis, take into account all of your ‘constituents’ – you, your company, boss, team, client, spouse, children. What do they get out of it. Yes there are do’s and don’ts posted online. But they generally list what you should and shouldn’t do. What are the guidelines for interacting effectively with each constituency? What can you do to improve your relationships and protect them as you make your transition? You are the person making the change so you are the one who needs to develop new work habits and styles.
For instance, what should the kids do when they have a question – other than jump and and down with some strange full body sign language? Come up with a plan to mitigate each person’s concerns. At least the ones you can predict. You’ll be surprised just how many other distractions there are in a week like retired neighbors popping in for unexpected visits.
Be flexible and expect to evolve your home office setup as you become more self aware of your new work patterns
Working from home takes more than a laptop, dining room table and surge protector.You will need to spend money and invest in a dedicated office space.
The good news is your home office doesn’t need to be large. From spare bedrooms to spare closets, the creative options on Pinterest are spurring whole new furniture lines. That said, don’t invest in desks, storage and whiteboards too soon. I don’t know one person whose current home office is the one they originally envisioned.
I moved from a corner of my living room to the spare bedroom and then converted the bedroom into a dedicated office with a desk, leather couch and full media center. At the end of the day, the plan is ,I can shut the door and walk away. Notice I said, ‘the plan.' A colleague, who lives in a warmer climate, eventually transformed a backyard shed into her ‘home office,’ so she could put some distance between her and her workload. Otherwise, she had trouble disconnecting during family time.
Be flexible and let your space evolve as you get to know your new work patterns better. This is a process; you are embarking on a journey. You’ll need to think about storage as much as ergonomics. To get started, buy a top of the line surge protector for every room and let the rest take shape over time.
Self-discipline is more important than ever if you actually want to benefit from your work-from-home experience
Company policies usually set guidelines for not doing ‘housework’ on company time, but they don’t preclude doing work-work on personal time. This is the number one problem with working from home if you love your job – there are no built-in boundaries. Self-discipline is a must. In fact, it’s the most important tool in your new home office after the surge protector and laptop. Without it, you will work more hours than anyone in the office and possibly lose your mind.
If self-discipline isn’t your strength, then consider only working at home one or two days a week. Otherwise, because you no longer face a one hour commute, you might find yourself starting earlier and ending your day later to point of distraction. If you make the mistake of checking your email before getting your coffee or getting dressed, then you will find yourself greeting the kids as they get off the school bus wearing your PJs and flip flops. You skipped lunch again and your breath could kill the dog. So much for balance.
Optimizing your experience means integrating your work, family, and personal health regimes. This takes discipline whether you work at the office or at home. No, you can’t spend your day at the yoga studio, forcing your co-workers to attend your midnight meetings. But you can take the time in the morning to go for a run in place of your commute. You are entitled to take a lunch break. Invest time into something that clears the cobwebs every day, preferably something that gets you outside. It will unleash your creativity and make you more productive. Just don’t overdue it.
So should you or shouldn’t you?
Whether you have a family situation that demands making the change or you are just convinced it’s the right thing to do now, talk with your HR rep and your boss. More and more companies are implementing flexible work policies and there’s a lot of data that quantifies work-from-home benefits for companies. If they don't have one, they should. Offer to help in creating one.
If they do and you can convince them it will make you a better employee, why not give it a shot. As long as you are willing to invest in the new skills, your new home office and in developing the self-discipline you need to actually realize the benefits, it’s worth trying for at least a six month trial period. Anything less and you are giving up too soon.
If the company or you aren’t quite sure, then take it slower. Start with one or two days at home. This give them, you and your family a chance to adjust over time. Things change. New job opportunities emerge, kids grow, and with practice, hopefully, we learn how to maintain healthy work-life boundaries. Then reassess your options next year.
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