Avoid the Pitfalls of Working From Home
Every morning, you make the traffic-jammed trek to the office, imagining all the while how much easier life would be if you could just work out of your home. After all, you’ve got a BlackBerry, super-fast wireless Internet and even a webcam for video conferencing. So why go into the office at all? These days, more and more companies are coming around to your way of thinking. Corporations such as Capital One, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Sun Microsystems have set up telecommuting programs. But though having a flexible schedule and avoiding Beltway backups may sound like a dream, you should think about a few of the challenges as well. Here are six to consider:
Handling High-Tech Headaches
The computer geeks are the forgotten heroes of offices everywhere. They’re usually completely ignored until your control-alt-delete magic wears out and you actually need someone to, you know, fix your computer. In the office, they’d be at your desk in a jiffy, but if you’re working from home, well, that’s another story.
“Calling in to say the DSL is down just isn’t going to cut it,” says Jennifer Kalita, a Silver Spring-based entrepreneurial consultant and author of the forthcoming “The Home Office Parent: Raising Kids & Profits Under One Roof” (Wyatt-MacKenzie, 2007). “You need to have a support team in place,” she says. “A tech guru you can call or another place where you can work if your computer blows up.”
One option is to call Geek Squad (800-433-5778, www.geeksquad.com). Its gurus can provide tech support over the phone 24/7 or dispatch an agent to your home to get you up and running. Prices vary, but phone support for a networking or Internet problem will run you around $100. A home visit is about $160.
Ducking Diet Disasters
Think you feel sedentary sitting in an office chair all day? Just wait until you can work while sitting on your couch. Or in your bed. You probably don’t have a vending machine in your home, but with a refrigerator and a pantry full of snacks just a few feet away, you may be tempted to eat more than ever. There’s a chocolate cake on the counter — and nothing to stop you from having a slice. Or three.
“I’m definitely heavier now since I’ve been working from home,” says Kevin King, an account supervisor for Horn Group Inc. who telecommutes from his home in Silver Spring. “Whenever I have 10 minutes, I’m like, ‘Hmmm, let me go see what’s in the fridge.’ ” To keep the munchies in check, try taking a break every couple of hours to have a healthy snack such as nuts or fruit. And “never eat at your desk,” Kalita says. “Before you know it, you’ll have created a great marketing concept — and plowed through a bag of cheese puffs.”
Proving You’re Not Goofing Off
Since your bosses can’t see you slumped over your computer, they may question how many hours you’re actually logging. “I definitely find myself working harder,” says Nicholas Agnos of Haymarket, an account executive for Computer Aid Inc., an IT consulting firm.
Make sure you have a reporting system established with your superiors, says Christine Durst, co-author of “The 2-Second Commute” (Career Press, 2005) and chief executive of Annandale-based Staffcentrix, a training firm for home-based workers. “Keeping your supervisor up-to-date on your progress is critical,” she says.
And always, always be accessible. Since the bosses can’t speak to you in person, it helps them to know you’re reachable via phone or e-mail.
Fighting Off Loneliness
Working from home can be isolating. “There’s no water cooler in a home office,” Kalita says. “You can’t exactly brainstorm a problem with your 4-year-old.”
To keep yourself connected to the office — and your colleagues — show your face whenever possible. “If it’s doable, swing by and pick up a file, rather than relying on a courier to deliver it,” Kalita says. Also, try to attend happy hours or lunches, or even plan a gathering yourself.
And if possible, talk to your co-workers via webcam, says Julie Buckley, an account director for McLean-based SpeakerBox Communications who telecommutes from her home in Atlanta. It’s an inexpensive and easy way to amp up your face time.
When you have a home office, it can be hard to avoid being distracted by household chores. “At first, I never felt like I had enough time to get everything done,” says Isabel Maples of Haymarket, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association. “Finally, I started setting certain hours when I would work without interruption. And if I hadn’t finished the breakfast dishes by then, so be it.”
To mark the separation, designate office space in your home, preferably a place with a door, Kalita says. Also, try breaking your workday into 90-minute segments, advises telecommuter Francie Dalton, president of Dalton Alliances Inc. in Columbia. “After you’ve accomplished a task, take a 15-minute break and throw in a load of wash or sear the roast before you get back to work,” she says.
Maintaining a Healthy Balance
Your work is always waiting for you — whether it’s 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. “Your work can overtake your life because it’s right there,” Dalton says.
To create a little more work-life balance, Dalton suggests carving out periods of time — such as during the family dinner hour — when you’re not allowed to look at your BlackBerry or get on the computer. Then again, if you get sick of the kids, ducking into the office and declaring it off-limits is a pretty good escape plan.
BY JIM NAUGHTEN — GETTY IMAGES