Over the past year I have transitioned from working at my office full-time and at home part-time to working at home full-time and the office part-time. It’s been an interesting switch as working from home appears to be rife with more distractions than any cube farm. They’re just everywhere. Working from home, I’ve come to realize, takes a special kind of discipline. At first it was hard to not let writer’s block turn into a reason to cut the grass. But after some time and self control, I’ve started to treat home as you have to when it’s your main place of work: like nothing more than a large office.
You Will Be Disciplined
Work-from-home discipline is a two-way street. Dealing with the distractions can be the easy part, as deadlines don’t care about distractions (I’ve come close to missing a few because of shrubbery that urgently needed trimming). Looking out a sunny window onto your backyard patio, it can become easy to tell yourself that you deserve a break. Rationalizations abound, from “I can make up the time later” to “This is one of the perks of working from home.” Avoiding this trap is one of the hardest things for remote workers to overcome.
Setting limits is another good form of self-discipline. The temptation to under-perform is one side of the coin; the other is working too much. Working from home, it can become easy for boundaries to disappear. For example, it’s easy start using the time you would have spent commuting as work time. Ah-ha moments that arrive during dinner no longer have to wait until you get to the office to be dealt with. When you say it out loud, it seems counter-intuitive, but work-from-home discipline is also about not working too much.
The Deafening Silence
Working from home means working alone. Yet humans are social animals. We not only like each other; we need each other. The goal of working from home is not to end up like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, talking to a face painted on a volleyball. To avoid that, though, you need a plan for maintaining contact with the outside world. The solution can be as simple as setting aside time each morning and afternoon to make phone and Skype calls. Scheduling in-person meetings away from home at least once a week is another solution.
Silence, like discipline, is also a two-way street: as much as you need interaction with other people, your co-workers need to hear from you. Oscar Wilde, who once worked from home, said that, “The only thing in life worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Being out of sight can devolve into being out of mind. This is why it’s important to develop habits and routines that keep you in regular contact with co-workers at the office.
The greatest danger of not being visible is not getting credit for your contributions. And the risk is particularly great if you’re introverted. Overcoming shyness and making your presence known by tooting your own horn will ensure you are not taken for granted. Work that simply appears completed, unaccompanied by a person, can lead to your becoming a non-entity. You may not lose your job, but advancement and salary increases may become scarcer over time.
The Final Word
The question of whether working from home is the right choice or not is a personal one. It requires that you look at yourself honestly and evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses. Consider the benefits and pitfalls and question yourself about how you think you will deal with different scenarios. Finally, turn to Shakespeare, and “to thine own self be true.”
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