Is Working at Home Right For You?

More often these days, people are considering the personal and professional benefits of working from home. Cost effective to the employer, more comfortable, and potentially more productive, setting up office at home does have its benefits.

A recent study from Stanford University suggests that working from home actually offers higher work performance (as much as 13% higher than in-office workers), and higher work satisfaction. As someone who has spent most of my professional career working this way, I can certainly attest to its benefits.

Of course, for many reasons it isn't for everyone. Considering a professional opportunity that might let you work remotely? Here's a check list which (based on my experience) should help you weigh the pros and cons.

Do you prefer a flexible schedule or a fixed work week?
Remote work often has the benefit of more flexible hours, letting you work around your personal needs. This often comes with the expectation that you be willing to work at unusual hours, and often nights and weekends are fair game. If you enjoy getting off work and having set time to relax, remote work might come less naturally to you.

Are you task orientated and self organized?
Self organization is critical to remote work, as it's on you to make sure you're handling your workflow efficiently. The benefit of no boss looking over your shoulder is obvious, but it is really is up to you to ensure you set checks and balances so tasks are scheduled realistically and work gets done. If you find you need constant reinforcement to stay alert to your tasks, you'll likely find remote work difficult.

Do you often seek face to face collaboration and elaboration?
A big challenge of remote work is communication. Even the most independent task often requires some guidance, reporting or collaboration, and more often than not remote workers are working with remote teams. If instant messaging (like Skype), conference calls, and collaboration tools like Basecamp are already a part of your workflow, then you'll likely find the transition to working at home much easier.

Where do you face the most distractions, at work or at home?
In my case, my apartment is generally quieter than an office would be, meaning I'm less prone to distraction at home. I have no TV, no kids, and my partner (often working remotely herself) is often just as focused on work as I am. This isn't the case for everyone. If you have young children, or your home life is often hectic, it's likely the performance benefits of remote work won't be as dramatic. Working from home means it's up to you to balance home and work. Are you willing to push back on those you care about when needed so you can finish tasks before losing time to distraction, or work more irregular hours to compensate?

Tools of the trade: are you equipped to work from home?
As mentioned above, becoming familiar with remote communications tools like Skype or Basecamp will make a transition to a remote workflow much easier. There are, of course, other considerations needed to properly equip yourself for remote work. A great laptop will let you work not just from home, but from a coffee shop, library, or even sitting in your car picking up your kids from school. If your organization hasn't moved to Skype, a comfortable phone with a dedicated office landline, a speaker phone and a hold button is definitely helpful as well.

You'll likely need access to a copy of Microsoft Office, or become familiar with Google Docs. If invoicing becomes your responsibility you might consider using an online tool like Freshbooks, which lets you run a timer when you're working and log your hours according to tasks.

Also key is ensuring you're able to perform maintenance and backups on your own. With no IT team at home, it's on you to diagnose network issues and to make sure your computer runs smoothly.

Do you have a dedicated space to work?
Just as important a consideration as software and hardware is your office space itself. You'll need a comfortable chair and a good desk with space to layout out your work. Home office solutions have the benefit of offering a wide range of customization for the individual needs of the worker. The issue is when your workspace gets used for other things. If you have kids, don't let your home office become their "home office". Keeping your space personal and uncluttered is essential to working from home.

Can you stay self motivated?
I started working remotely when I was still in my early twenties. An active social life meant balancing not just work and home life but also going out. For obvious reasons, some mornings getting out of bed was really difficult. Without a commute, a bus to catch, or a set start time in the morning, sometimes you just want to sleep forever. Of course you can't; you have deadlines, meetings, and are accountable to those you work with whether you see them every day or not. To ensure remote work is right for you, you really must be self motivated.

Conclusion
In my personal experience, working from home has been incredibly rewarding. That said, you must make sacrifices that a traditional job would never ask from you; answering emails when out to diner with friends or family, working late to compensate for the flexibility of more open hours. While there are obvious benefits to the employee and employer, before making the shift to remote work, consider the above to help you decide if telecommuting will in fact work better for you.

(image: Sean Rioux)

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