The five challenges to working from home and how to fix them

The route to attaining comfortable levels of health and wellness may be straight forward for those people employed by large corporations with substantial benefits packages. But what about the growing number of freelancers? We asked one about the challenges she faces on a daily basis...

When I tell people I work from home the reaction is almost universally one of envy. Lucky me, they say, you get to wear pyjamas and set your own schedule.

It is true, I run my own show, but pyjamas are over-rated and setting your own schedule requires sturdy self-discipline. The home office is very different from the traditional office, obviously, and with that comes a non-traditional set of work-related problems.

1. Loneliness 

Yes, technology affords us the wondrous ability to connect via home computers but it denies us the essential social contact we need as humans. It just isn’t enough to talk on the phone and call it contact. My job as a writer means if I am busy, I am alone. When I find myself chatting up the grocery store staff, I know I’m in trouble. Mickey Goodman, freelancer writer and memoirist, adds that she was quite surprised at "how lonely working from home can be at times." Freelance writer and editor, Jennifer Bradley Franklin says she also finds the at-home gig to "be a bit lonely, particularly since I was in a full-time, in-office role before freelancing."

The fix: Be very strategic in planning social time. Combine exercise and socialising, make regular breakfast and lunch appointments with colleagues, and leverage your flexible work hours to volunteer somewhere mid-week. Whatever you do, be deliberate about it, loneliness requires effort to prevent.

2. Work distractions

My desk is always there, like a siren song, calling me to take care of some small thing at all hours of the day. Mitch Leff, president of Leff & Associates Public Relations agrees, "Separating work from home is a challenge. It’s very easy to find yourself down in the office getting ‘just one thing done’ in the evening, when you realise it’s midnight and your family has all gone to bed!"

The fix: Franklin made a point of setting aside dedicated office space at home. "It's been a huge help to have a dedicated office space and to create some defined working hours. That way, when it's time to work (hello deadlines!) I'm fully engaged in that and when it's time to spend time with my husband or friends, I'm 100 per cent present in those moments as well."

3. Domestic distractions

In between call and emails, one might make the mistake of wandering into the kitchen where the dishwasher beckons, or the laundry room where piles of laundry lie in wait. Doorbells and barking dogs always go off during the most important of conference calls. It’s a juggle of a different sort. Rather than office politics, you have home needs competing for your attention. Adam Whitehurst, Vice President of Sales, East Region for Scientific Games, has worked from home for years and will never forget when his dining room started flooding through the ceiling. "Of course I just happened to be on a contentious phone call with a high profile customer."

Working from home makes you a sitting duck as well. If everyone knows you are there, observes Goodman, they tend to feel free to drop in. "Friends and family often assume because you work at home, you don’t have a "real" job. They feel free to call or stop in at any time. No one would ever do that if you worked at an office."

The fix: Schedule a specific time into each day to address household tasks. If the ceiling floods, well, hang up the phone and call it a day. Dedicated office space and a good door will do wonders for keeping distractions at bay.  

4. Keeping your edge

There is something to be said for dressing up, putting on clothes and making an impression. Working from homes means I could easily settle into gym clothes and no one would know. But frumpy duds tend to influence my sense of focus and drive. Pajamas are for sleeping. Looking nice sets a tone for the day.

Networking is another thing you must be deliberate about. With no office pressure to attend events or travel to trade shows, why bother? 

But you should. Every “cup of coffee” with a colleague has the potential to open doors later. One coffee appointment I reluctantly attended (because of looming deadlines) led to a three-year gig writing for a major national outlet.

The fix: Routine is vital; Goodman makes a point of getting up, bathing, dressing and putting on makeup, "so I feel like I have a job, not a hobby."

5. Being your own office manager

The home office is an all-in-one shop which means that everything from billing and expense reporting, to travel planning and technology falls in your lap. Leff notes that for him, IT/technology issues are most time-consuming. "At other places where I’ve worked, I always had a “tech guy” who could fix my computer if it went down. Now, I’m either doing the fix or I have to hire an outside consultant."

The fix: Consider addressing small management duties during unproductive time. When I have writer’s block, I put aside the story and work on invoices. Late afternoon, when people tend to get tired, is a good time to schedule mundane office duties that don’t impact your bottom line. 

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms  for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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