By Andria Kennedy
As a freelance writer, I’ll admit that a lot of my writing time is spent in pajamas – just kidding, leggings or sweat pants. When I know I’m about to spend hours sitting at the computer, I want to make sure that I’m comfortable. It’s why I have an ergonomic desk chair, keyboard, and mouse; it’s why I have proper lighting settings on my monitor and a comfortable LED bulb in the overhead light; and it’s why my office is set up in a room of the house that doesn’t get direct sunlight I have to battle all day. Why the focus on comfort? Because comfort fuels creativity and creativity is my job. While I may not leave the house for my job, I still need the proper tools to make sure that I can work effectively.
The percentage of people who telecommute, or work from home, has increased 115% since 2005, and that doesn’t include people like me who are self-employed. That number comes with a lot of misconceptions, though (like getting to live in pajamas full-time). The perks are pretty great, but they come with a lot of responsibility, and it’s important to review both sides of the coin. So before you go running to your boss to A) ask to telecommute, or B) hand in your resignation, let’s take a look at some of the facts.
Depending on how many other caffeine-addicts you share living space with, the line at the coffee pot (or Keurig or whatever other coffee-delivery device you may own) will diminish. Your commute time will also shrink, though your exercise level may increase as you will now have to use your own two legs to get to your office. I have the fortunate advantage of having my office be closer than my husband’s – his is at the opposite end of the house (I’ll save discussion of balancing two at-home workers for another article).
The fun ends there, though. You are responsible for getting yourself started on time – your boss isn’t going to call you to remind you to “clock-in.” You also have to make sure you have the correct software and hardware you need. If you are telecommuting, you need to make sure you let your office know if something is lacking or if it stops working.
If you are the kind of person who thrives on office gossip and inter-office chit-chat, then this isn’t the gig for you. Actually, most telecommuters cited the LACK of such distractions as a source of peace of mind – a whopping 82%! At the opposite end of the spectrum, though, don’t think this means you get to escape talking to people altogether. Most companies will still require formal or informal teleconferencing, either via Skype or VoIP (see why you don’t get to live in pajamas?). A lot of people will also find themselves making phone calls instead of texting or instant messaging because they find they miss human contact. While I speak with most of my clients via email, I still make occasional phone calls, and interviews are done in-person. The only way you’re getting out of social interaction is by becoming a reclusive hermit – which doesn’t pay well.
Are you the kind of person who can’t go five minutes without checking social media? Think being out from under the watchful eye of your boss is the solution to surfing the internet for cat videos all day? Think again!
Believe it or not, telecommuters are 86% more productive than when they’re in a traditional office setting. They also only tend to look at social media for one hour out of the entire day, and that’s knowing that no one is looking over their shoulder! I actually have to go on social media as a part of my job to maintain my author base, but it’s written into my schedule as a task so I don’t forget. Otherwise, I check in about twice a day for my personal enjoyment; I really don’t have time for cat videos (sad but true).
That productivity rolls over into working more, not less. It turns out that when you don’t feel like Big Brother is watching, you work harder (who knew?). This can be dangerous, though, and it’s important to make sure you set yourself definitive hours – you have to remember to clock-OUT as well as clock-in. Working eighty hours a week is going to lead to burn-out whether you’re at home or not, and it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. This also means that, even though you’re home, if you’re sick, YOU’RE SICK. There’s a fine line between aiming for Employee of the Year and killing yourself. When I physically can’t sit at the computer – or balance the laptop – then it’s time to call it quits and focus on taking care of myself.
As you will no longer be battling highways, subways, or alternate routes, you gain back the equivalent of about 11 working days a year. You will also save the money you would have spent on said transportation. Fun fact: telecommuters, on average, tend to make more than their counterparts just by staying home. This can translate to a chance for nice family vacations – a fact you will need to stress when your family members attempt to intrude on your working time and office space.
It’s probably not the greatest to label a family member a “distraction,” but that is what they are. You are on their turf, remember? Locking the door – assuming your office has one – is not going to work because they will knock – incessantly. You have to be prepared to set, and defend, boundaries.
Your working hours may not be the same as the hours your family’s school hours or even their working hours. In our house, it works – both my husband and I are morning people, and we sit down at our respective computers around the same time. However, he tends to take more breaks than I do, and I have to put up with him putting on the TV at random times (this is why they invented headphones). The other factors I have to cope with in the house are a little more difficult and come with four feet. My personal “office assistant” likes to sit in front of my face and obscure the screen, knock things off my desk, knock things off shelves, pull paper out of the printer, and run off with my pen. Let me assure you – there’s no getting used to that, and cats don’t understand the concept of boundaries.
So What is the Bright Side?
Telecommuting is on the rise, and not with Millennials, as a lot of people think; it turns out that the largest group is in the 45 and older category. As one partner retires, the other decides to enjoy the flexibility of being able to work from home without fighting traffic or the distractions of the office. Those with advanced degrees are beginning to request jobs with telecommuting options, particularly in the white collar fields (really sorry, but McDonald’s is not going to be offering a telecommuting option any time soon).
And why not? Telecommuting DOES have a lot of benefits:
- People report lower stress levels which leads to higher levels of happiness
- Happier people are more productive
- Less people commuting is better for the environment
- The companies themselves tend to save money
- Employees are more productive so more work is accomplished
- Happier employees aren’t sick as often
- Happier employees show up for work more consistently
There are pros and cons to deciding to telecommute or freelance, and it’s important to really sit down and look at each one. Involve your family in the decision, too – after all, they have to live with you 24/7 now; do they really want to?
I love writing – I always have. My office is my sanctuary, and even if I have to share it with an 8-pound feline terror at times, it’s a second home. My work doesn’t feel like work, but it still requires discipline to sit down everyday with a list of tasks to complete.
So before you step into your boss’s office, ask yourself these questions:
- Can I manage my own time efficiently?
- Can I manage any at-home distractions without losing my cool?
- Can I handle my workload without overwhelming myself?
- Can I make sure to still interact with my colleagues?
- Do I have the equipment I need to complete my work?
- Am I willing to shower and get dressed every day?
Seriously – you cannot wear pajamas all day. We have to break the stigma, people!