TipSheet

Avoid the Pit­falls of Work­ing From Home

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sunday Source - By Michelle Hainer Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post

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.

Stay­ing Fo­cused

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

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