So you find yourself thinking about working from home? Lured by the prospect of late mornings, holding meetings in your bathrobe, and never having to sit through rush hour traffic again? Before you fully forsake your office cubicle, here are some things to think about:
1. Is my work cut out for it? Sure, we’d all love to work from the comfort of our own bedrooms, but not everyone’s job description fits the bill. Realistically assess the work you do: does it require you to sit solo in front of your workstation all day, or does it involve running around consulting with a million different people? Can you coordinate with your colleagues via phone or internet chat, or is your physical presence a must? Work that has clear-cut deliverables and that is evaluated based on output (think graphic design, writing, programming, and the like) is most adaptable to the work-from-home setup; if you have set hours and attendance-based performance measures, it’s off to the office for you.
2. Am I equipped to work from home? Do you have a well-appointed home workspace and the technology needed to telecommute? Fast internet connections are essential, as well as enough computing power to match what you’d use at the office. Dedicated phone lines are also a must; you don’t want your boss calling and being greeted by your three-year-old’s baby talk. Most people take office equipment and supplies for granted, but once they’re adrift on their own, they realize how much those readily available file folders and fax machine contribute to their productivity.
3. Am I structured enough to manage my work alone? If you were the sort of student who did your homework religiously and submitted projects two weeks before the deadline, you should take to the home office environment like a fish to water. But if you were constantly behind on your tasks and always being scolded by your professors, maybe you should consider how much an office hierarchy—complete with a boss breathing down your neck and colleagues peeking into your cubicle—might actually help keep you on track. When you work from home, you essentially have to motivate yourself and manage your own time; make sure you can move on your own, minus all the external motivators.
4. Can I resist the combined temptation of my bed, Facebook, and Grey’s Anatomy reruns? A corollary to #3, this question is designed to help you find out if you have not just the structure to work alone, but also the discipline. After all, what use is a detailed work plan if you’re willing to ditch it for a three-hour soap opera marathon? When you work from home, you do still actually have to work, so it’s best if you know you can steer clear of temptation—most of the time, at least.
5. Does the phrase “work-life balance” actually mean anything to me? It’s hard enough to keep work from interfering with your life (and vice versa) when you’ve got a two-hour commute between the two, but it’s even more difficult to separate them when you work in your bedroom! The tendency to work late into the night may not seem like a problem when you’re already at home, but remember that your family needs you to be fully there too—and cooking a meal while trying to make sense of that teleconference on the cordless phone does not count as being “fully there.”
Remember that with all the freedom and flexibility it offers, working from home still comes with a lot of responsibility—perhaps even more so, since nobody’s around to police you. Being aware of the possibilities and limitations will help you decide if it’s time to make the move—back home.