Should I Try to Work at Home or Not?
Working at home seems like the 21st century dream. Now that almost everyone has a computer that can get online, manage conference calls, create presentations, and handle an amazing array of other professional tasks, why shouldn't we all stay at home, work in our pajamas, and have the best of both worlds?
Well, because, as with most things, the dream version of this arrangement is somewhat far from the reality. Yes, it can be awfully nice when your commute consists of going downstairs; and it can be really comfortable to work in pajamas, or without make-up, not having to worry when you are sick that you will sneeze all over your co-workers. But working at home also requires discipline, a certain contentment in staying in one physical location all day and all night (for the most part), and the ability to keep a work focus even when the typical trappings of work are not present.
There are two main kinds of telecommuting positions: those that have regular hours, and those that do not, or more project-oriented jobs. The first kind of position does not require as much personal discipline as the second; if your boss needs you to be online at 8 AM, then you have to be there, and the discipline to do your work doesn't only come from inside, but also from the knowledge that your boss will know if you aren't there. This kind of job also usually means that you don't have to finish everything that comes your way in a particular block of time -- much like a secretary in an office, when 5 PM comes, you leave whatever hasn't been filed and plan to deal with it the next day (or roll it over to the evening shift).
The second kind of job requires a much greater sense of personal discipline, even when deadlines are in play. It is always very easy to say oh, I will work on that tomorrow -- oh, I can knock off early today, I want to go out to dinner -- there isn't much left, I can finish everything later tonight. So often when people lack strong personal discipline, the deadline is looming before they know it and life is a mad rush to get everything done. This can be quite stressful, to say the least, especially when it happens over and over -- it can also be risky, because when things are rushed, it is often quite obvious because the quality suffers, and so your employment might be a bit jeopardized as a result.
Beyond issues of discipline in these two kinds of telecommuting jobs are the other realities of working at home. Perhaps the first and foremost is that no one seems to believe you are actually working! Friends, spouses, children -- they see you at home and assume you are available to them. Well, of course this isn't true, but they have a hard time seeing this, even after years sometimes. You have to be strong and continue to insist upon your work time in a way that you wouldn't have to do if you were going into an office every day. Another issue is the fact that you yourself can easily be called to do all the things that need to be done at home. That ceiling needs to be painted, it's time to do laundry, perhaps I will cook a really special dinner tonight -- jumping up from the desk can certainly be a fine thing, and is actually good to do periodically, but if you aren't disciplined about getting back to that desk, it might not be good.
Then there is the fact that having co-workers leads to a certain kind of companionship, even friendship, that isn't possible in a face to face fashion when you work online. In some cases, it is true that you will meet friends even working at home; but it's safer to assume that you will feel more alone that you would if you went somewhere to work each day. So, if you are a very sociable person, working at home might not be for you.
As with any other job, knowing yourself is the first place to start.