Working from home sounds like a dream, but comes with its own set of challenges which can quickly turn the dream into a nightmare. I’m not going to get into the client issues. This post is more about you, the challenges of working from what is supposed to be your sanctuary – home – and which now becomes your 24/7 space for all things known as your life.
There is no denying that being able to practice from your home has a lot to offer on the upside, no duplicative overhead (instead, actual home use tax deductions), no dress code unless you are meeting clients, hours saved with a simple carpet commute and no road rage to drive you to drink. But it also has quite a few landmines that can blow up your best intentions and bring your business to a halt if you 1) don’t identify the most harmful, and 2) learn how to deal with them or avoid them altogether. These are four of the most deadly, in my opinion, to your home-based practice and some solutions. I’m sure you have your own antidotes so please share in the comments.
1. You’re a ‘people person’. Many people feel separate and apart from the world when they work at home, lonely as if they are off the fast track of life. It even gets to the point where their day is compromised of just Facebook interactions non-stop (I know people who have two monitors – one just with their Facebook activity feed going so they feel they are having some socialization!) By noon they are restless from sitting for hours in front of the computer screen acting busy and in actuality getting nothing done. What was meant to be a ‘panacea’, the dream of calling your own shots, now feels like a self-imposed prison isolation cell and is counter to productivity and emotional well-being.
Solution: Recognize that it’s okay to feel like this. What isn’t okay is acknowledging it but doing nothing about it because you’re ‘too busy’ being busy but unproductive. Schedule time for interaction with peers, colleagues. It doesn’t have to be everyday but it has to be something you look forward to. The beauty of working from home is that you are not in an office working next to people you didn’t choose, don’t necessarily like and dream of running away from at every opportunity. You can now create you own professional interactions on your schedule and make them by far more enjoyable than forced office meetings, sporadic conversations in the ladies room while you wait for the hands on the clock to read 5 p.m. Find professional conferences which are enjoyable, educational networking opportunities. Plan to go with other professionals you enjoy. Set up a weekly lunch with colleagues. Create a Google Lunch Hangout with peers once a week to catch up while you sip a cup of coffee and shmooze. Create your own ‘watercooler’ chat on your own schedule from the comfort of your home office and don’t be afraid to use your webcam. The technology is there. Use it. You will be amazed at how refreshed you will feel and not so ‘lonely’. Sometimes you just want to get out of the home office, not necessarily to socialize but to have a change of scenery and feel people moving around you. Go to a local hot spot.
2. The Freshman 15 becomes the Home Office 15. When you are restless and distracted from work you find yourself making an hourly pilgrimage to the refrigerator. You know exactly what’s in there but you keep going back and taking food or drink you never would if you were working in an office. Sitting at the computer all day and then consuming extra calories is not going to help your health or your mood. Or, if you don’t soothe your distractedness with food, you may find yourself doing laundry, or taking a nap on the couch watching some mindless show, playing with the dog, cleaning the linen closet or pacing. The upshot, you can’t concentrate long enough to get any meaningful work done and any sense of accomplishment or self-satisfaction you thought you’d be able to find working from home quickly gives way to fantasies of working in an office, the very thing you said you would never do, again.
Solution: If you’re not disciplined enough to ignore the temptations of vacuuming cat hair under the couch at 11 a.m., try re-framing your day. Instead of catering to your distractions whenever the mood hits you, schedule them into your day. Have a ‘power hour’ of work (completely uninterrupted time) then schedule in a 10 or 15 minute break to catch up on the news, chat with your friends on Facebook, get a snack, shop online or play Disco Bees (my personal favorite). It takes 30 days to both break a habit and 30 days to develop a new one. Give yourself a 30 day goal to change some of your ways.
3. You work 24/7. When your home is your work and your work is your home (even if it is a separate space), the lines blur. Yes, you have flexibility to go to your daughter’s dance recital at noon on a Thursday, but it also gives you the ability to wake up at 2 a.m. to answer email, write a brief, catch up on all manner of work, so you do. Because you can access your work, you do. And even if you realistically have the ability not to work because there is an ebb in your work flow, you still work because you are compelled by a misguided sense of guilt because of proximity to work. Even if there is absolutely nothing pressing, you somehow manage to make it pressing because you get an alert on your phone telling you that someone needs you to do something. Mind you, they don’t expect it immediately, but you act as if the house is on fire. This is the short road to burn out and health problems.
Solution: You chose working from home because it meant freedom to work on your terms. However, freedom to work on your terms means freedom not to work, too. Your work environment from home must be set up in a way that you can physically separate from it by either closing the door, hanging a sign that says ‘closed’ or your ‘office hours’, partitioning off the space or a completely separate cool working shed in the back yard. Maybe even just physically shutting down the computer so you know the day is done. We all know how long it takes to fire a computer up so this alone might curb the impulse to work after normal hours. Schedule your day with an end time to the day. Set the alarm, like the whistle in the work yards of yesteryear. When that whistle blows, the hourly workers know it’s time to end their day/shift. Do the same for yourself. Make plans with your family for dinner, girl’s night, boy’s night so you can’t work. Yes, sometimes this isn’t always possible but let it be the exception and not the rule. You will find you will be much more productive during your designated work hours than if you don’t set any boundaries.
4. I love my kids, but…. One of the undeniable perks is being able to share time with your children when you want to. The flip side of this is your children wanting to spend time with you when you have to work. The reality of this situation is when you are in the middle of an important phone call and your kids consistently interrupt you for lunch, can’t find the remote control, one hit the other over the head with a Barbie doll or worse…you’re simply not getting work done and your time is fractured beyond repair. You thought by working at home you’d be able to run a business and take care of your kids at the same time. The kids ultimately think you love the computer more than them. But at the end of the day you can’t give full attention to work. You can’t give full attention to the kids and you don’t feel good about your work time or family time. The worst part; your spouse comes home, the kids flock to them and s/he has uninterrupted time to be showered with hugs and kisses. You just feel miserable.
Solution: As a self-employed professional or entrepreneur you have to respect your needs. Creativity, time to let your mind wander uninterrupted, is critical for success. There is a whole body of work to support the importance of creative free time. The reality is that children do not respect the process. Nor can they be expected to fully understand and certainly not to cooperate without laying a huge guilt trip on you. You’re home. You’re the parent. You have to outline parameters. However, you also need help. If affordable, arrange for child care. In the alternative, maybe you have a support group of other parents who work from home who can alternate taking the kids one day a week. Get five home-based attorneys and you can get four days (or afternoons) of uninterrupted time to work. It also allows you to go to your lunches, networking events, even the spa or the gym if this is a necessary part of your routine for health and well-being.
5. Ugh. Did I remember to shower today? Oh, I know you’re laughing. But if you work at home, be honest. How often have you started your day before you’ve even brushed your teeth or put in your contacts? You think you’ll just get a little work done in your pajamas while the kids are still sleeping. But then one wakes up early, demands breakfast, the others come running. Now before you’ve ever had a chance to start the day right, you’ve gotten the kids ready for school, they’re on the bus and you have a 9 a.m. phone conference. Next thing you know it’s noon and you realize you never ate breakfast. You’re starving for lunch, no time to shower. You’re still in your pajamas. Your coffee breath is lethal. You know the drill. No need to elaborate further.
Solution. If you are an early bird, schedule (yes, schedule) your shower time. Lay out your ‘work clothes’ the night before and act as if you are going to the office. You wouldn’t go to the office unwashed, with bed head, bad breath and in your pajamas, would you? Of course, not. Respect yourself enough to go to your home office appropriately, too. In addition, if you have an emergency client meeting, you are ready. But more importantly, you will feel better, be much more productive, and you send the message to yourself and other family members that ‘you are working’.
How have you addressed the downsides of working from home? Please share your thoughts in the comments.