There are many benefits to working from home — you avoid rush hour traffic, save money on gas and control your work environment. In the age of coronavirus, it may also keep you from getting or sharing the virus — and that's no small thing.
Though the number of cases in the United States has remained low, the cases worldwide have topped 3,000 and health organizations are saying it us like to become more widespread. As a result, more and more businesses are implementing telework policies and increasing the use of communication tools like video conferencing.
No matter how you landed at this fork in the road, if you've never done telework — or you haven't recently — it's important to go into telework knowing what to expect, and that includes common pitfalls that can derail your success.
From the distractions of home life to the distrust of some employers, here are the top 10 telecommuting pitfalls to avoid:
If you have a spouse, children or roommates at home who are used to going about their daily routine without you being there, you may have trouble with noise and interruptions. Set aside a quiet space for your office, keep the door closed and most importantly, set boundaries. Impress upon those around you the importance of having a distraction-free environment while you're working. If that's difficult for you, you have your first task carved out for you.
2. Lack of a routine
Set up a new routine at your home office, just like you would in any business setting. (Photo: Mike McCune [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)
Before you started telecommuting, you likely had a set routine: grabbing a cup of coffee on the way to work, checking your email upon arrival, scheduled meetings and lunch breaks at the same time each day. At home, there's less structure, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by your tasks or to forget to do certain things. Set a routine that's similar to the one you had at the office, and use a timer if necessary to keep yourself on task.
3. Increased workload
Sometimes, the spouses of telecommuting workers forget that you're actually working, and heap on additional household responsibilities. Being present at home doesn't mean you're suddenly available to do laundry, run errands or supervise children. Similarly, employers may feel that teleworkers have more time on their hands and are therefore able to take on more work. While telecommuters may have to give in to working an extra hour or so each day in order to work from home in the first place, do not take on so many extra tasks that you aren't delivering what you promise.
Don't underestimate the value of social interaction, especially if you're an extrovert. Working from home can be ideal for introverted personalities who are able to focus better when they're alone, but many people find they thrive on the company of others for creativity and motivation. Telecommuters who enjoy the social aspect of their job may be unhappy with the isolation of working from home.
5. Out of sight, out of mind
When you're no longer interacting with your higher-ups on a regular basis, you may be overlooked. Your presence at your workplace helps remind your bosses of your value to the company. When you telecommute, you have to work a little harder at maintaining communication with your colleagues, remaining available for instant messaging, video chat or phone calls. Participate in group projects as often as possible, and consider going in to work at least once a week.
6. Communication problems
There's more to communication than just reading typed words. When you're only communicating with your colleagues over email or instant messaging, you miss out on body language, tone of voice and other nonverbal feedback. Working from home, you can also fall out of the loop when it comes to office chit-chat that can affect your job, like staff promotions or lay-offs. Both of these problems can be alleviated by occasionally visiting work to talk to your supervisors and co-workers.
7. Limited equipment
Employees who work from home often do so using their own computers, printers, telephones, wireless internet routers and other electronics. This can be a benefit, especially in cases where office equipment isn't updated regularly, but it also places responsibility for equipment quality and availability on you. You may find that you need additional equipment beyond what you already have in your home office, and that your employers are not willing to provide it for you.
8. Data security
When you step outside the office with sensitive data on your computer or in your briefcase, your employers lose the ability to control the security of that information. It's up to you to prevent sensitive data leaks that can occur due to theft, hacking or viruses. Be aware of your work-related papers and equipment at all times, and keep your anti-virus software up to date. Use log-in passwords on all of your devices, and password-protect folders containing important information.
9. Inability to separate work and home life
As with the distractions and added domestic responsibilities, the lines between work and home life can be blurred when telecommuters find themselves completing work tasks at night and on weekends. It can be easy to find yourself thinking, 'I'll just answer that email', and suddenly lose four hours of your Saturday. Try to keep your work tasks contained within your regular working hours to prevent the kind of burn-out that these blurred lines can foster.
10. Dealing with distrustful employers
Some employers agree to a telecommuting arrangement on a trial basis, but are unconvinced that remote workers will actually get anything done. They wonder whether you're actually just playing games, watching movies or getting a tan in your backyard instead of completing your tasks. This is especially true in jobs that don't produce clear evidence of work completed, like customer service. You may have to find other ways to prove your productivity, like taking notes of calls or sending regular status updates via email.