Although I now work from home full-time, over the years I’ve telecommuted off and on. I like to reminisce about the good ol' days, back in the 1990s, when I first started to work from home. Telecommuting was a lot different back then, but I thought of myself as a bit of a pioneer. Okay, I know calling myself a pioneer in anything is a big stretch, but I was working from home before today’s technology made it so easy.
Over the years I’ve encountered many telecommuting challenges. Some of those challenges were relatively easy to solve and others required a bit more creativity. I’m sure my challenges aren’t unique, so I am sharing what I’ve done to improve my work-from-home situation over the years in hopes that others with the same problems will find my resolutions helpful.
Although studies have shown that employees who work from home can be more productive than their in-office counterparts, it is also easier to be less productive. There are myriad distractions to draw you away from your work: phone calls, favorite television shows and even great weather can reduce a telecommuter’s productivity.
To combat productivity challenges, I began to use a multi-device task management system called OmniFocus. My tasks and to-do lists sync seamlessly between my MacBook Air, iPhone and iPad. If I find myself distracted, a quick look at my task list usually gets me back on track.
2. Staying focused
Although my task management system helps keep my productivity in check, staying focused can easily derail the best program. Staying focused ties into productivity, but since I work entirely from home and I am a freelancer, I separated the two, as they are both significant challenges.
I have helped solve the focus issue by creating a dedicated workspace and dedicated work hours. For the most part, I stick to these hours and work in my home office space. It helps keep me in the “working” mindset.
3. Early morning conference calls
An early morning conference call may not seem like a big challenge, but I live in Arizona and it seems that most of my contacts are on the East Coast. Half of the year, Arizona is three hours behind the East Coast because my state doesn’t participate in daylight saving time. This means that a 9 a.m. New York City call time is really 6 a.m. my time.
I don’t mind getting up for a 6 a.m. call, but in addition to my role as freelance writer extraordinaire, I’m also a mom. On school days, 6 a.m. is about the time the kids are waking up and requesting breakfast. If I know I have an early call, I’ll make an easy to reheat breakfast the night before. The kids can quickly microwave their breakfasts. In addition to getting the food ready, I’ll lay out all of their clothes and pack their backpacks so that I can focus on the call while they get ready for school.
Speaking of kids, they are their own challenge. When they were younger and not in school full-time I’d try to work early in the morning before they woke up or late at night after they went to sleep. Sure, I’d have some days when I was really tired, but this schedule allowed me to be present for them during their waking hours.
Now that they are older, summer breaks and other school vacation days are the challenge. They stay up late, so working after bedtime isn’t always a viable option. I can wake up before they do to get some early work done, but I’ve found that the office-on-the-go concept works better. A few hours at the library is entertaining for the kids and it allows me to focus on my writing.
5. Staying connected
I love almost everything about telecommuting, but what I don’t love is the inability to quickly connect with my peers. If I need feedback on something, I can’t walk into my coworker’s office and ask. Sure, email is handy and can be nearly as quick, but it just isn’t the same as face-to-face communication.
There is really no way that I can compensate for the lack of in-person communication, so I’ve focused on expanding my networking efforts. Obviously I am in contact with my editors regularly, but I’ve also joined several online freelance journalist groups as well as a membership organization, the Society of Environmental Journalists. These groups have given me new ways to connect with peers, alleviating some of the challenges I’ve faced by working remotely.
If you telecommute, what has been your biggest challenge and how did you solve it?
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