By Sarah Pike
Working from home can seem like a dream come true. Imagine days luxuriating in bed until noon, trading in power suits for cozy pajamas, and never having to wait to binge on your latest Netflix obsession. At least that’s the fantasy image many of my friends envisioned when I first traded in my desk job to work from home full-time.
Alas, it’s not all fluffy pillows and bonbons. And it’s harder than people realize to balance the unstructured freedom with the focus needed to make working from home a successful venture. But for those who can make it work, there are a bounty of benefits including higher productivity and lower overall stress.
Whether employees make the transition from going into the office every day to telecommuting for their current employer, or decide to completely break out on their own, working from home is becoming more common across the country. But even though more companies and cities are embracing remote workers, the average American seems to have a hard time grasping the concept and understanding how working from home is still a “real job.”
If you currently work from home, or are seriously considering it, but don’t know how to get your friends and family on board here are the top five things I’ve learned. For everyone in your life who doesn’t quite get it, share this peek at what working from home REALLY means – and why it’s tougher than it seems.
1. Working From Home Doesn’t Mean I’m at Your Beck and Call
Just because I’m not nestled away in a cubicle or corner office doesn’t mean I’m available for every text, call, or email. I’m still working, and I need my professional time at home to be respected in the same way it was when I commuted to the office every day. I may be at home, but that doesn’t mean I’m available for every random errand you’d like help with or that mid-day urge to chat.
It can be hard to establish clear boundaries when you’re the master of your workday, but it’s an important step to helping friends and family understand what you’re doing. Be kind, but firm, when it comes to establishing “closed door” times when you just can’t be disturbed because you’re under deadline or meeting with a client. Once you establish a consistent routine and provide consistent responses to interruptions, you’ll be surprised at how quickly everyone adjusts.
2. If You Build It They Might Come
Hanging out your shingle or setting up your website isn’t all there is to creating a flourishing home-based business. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. You have to build it, promote it, sell it, re-sell it, and then sell it some more. Whether you’re a freelance writer, a crafter gone pro, or a consultant, you need to find work.
I call it hustling – and it’s the key to making it or breaking it. Sometimes it really does seem like the work just comes pouring in, but for every flood there’s bound to be a long, ugly dry spell. To manage the ebb and flow of work, you need to hustle all the time. Even if you’re in a period of steady work, you still need to be courting new clients, staying in touch with old clients, and spreading the word about what you do and why people need it.
3. Balancing Work and Family Is Still Tough
Even though working from home means you’re in charge of your time and work flow, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have more time to spend with your children or spouse. In fact, until you figure out what schedule works best for you to build your business and complete work, it’s easy to find yourself all over the place and more frazzled than ever before.
When you’re at home, especially if you have small children, it’s easy to get distracted. Distraction will keep you from fully focusing on either work or your kids. Although you’re now sharing space with your kids all day, it’s still easy to feel pulled in all directions at once.
Establish a regular work routine and make family time part of your weekly schedule. One of the perks of working from home is that you can make it to those school field trips or sneak off for an afternoon at the zoo with your youngest. But you need to be disciplined in your approach. If you do your best work at night, plan afternoon or morning activities with your family. If you’re a morning person, keep mornings clear for work and make dates with the kids for later. The trickiest part is that you’re the only one holding you accountable now, so strict routines are a definite must-have.
4. Working from Home Breeds Workaholics
You may not be putting in 12 hours a day at the office anymore, but it’s easy to put in nearly 24 hours a day when you work from home. Not only are you trying to establish yourself as a brand, build a client base, and get to a place where you’re meeting your income goals, but every bit of that is up to you. If you were a workaholic before, it’s likely working from home will put those tendencies into overdrive.
Boundaries are crucial – and not just when it comes to your time. Use physical boundaries to help manage the time you spend on work. Set up an office that is dedicated to your business and let the rest of your house be a sanctuary from work. Depending on the schedule of the rest of your family, keep your evenings and weekends work-free.
Don’t let fear of losing a client or unrealistic deadlines force you into violating downtime. You need to hold downtime sacred and do what it takes to keep you from being business-only 24/7. If you need it, ask for help or outsource where you can. Working from home may not offer the exaggerated freedom many think of, but with smart management it should offer freedom from being chained to your desk.
5. Give Yourself Time to Adjust
Transitioning from working in an office with a team every day may be hard. Working from home can be isolating and, if you’re someone who used to love gossiping around the water cooler, it can feel pretty lonely sometimes. In addition to missing social interaction, it’s easy to feel stagnant without regular, creative collaboration with other professionals.
To help ease these transitional bumps in the road, learn how to take advantage of tools and resources for virtual collaboration. Whether it’s joining online forums or groups on LinkedIn, sharing documents to get others’ input, or using web-enabled apps to conduct synchronous meetings with other professionals, there are plenty of ways to stay connected, even from home.
Working from home is a dream for many, and it can provide high levels of both professional and personal satisfaction. However, because working from home isn’t standard practice it can be hard for people to understand what you’re doing. To make sure that you have all the support you need – and that those around you know how to support you – take the time to educate them about your business.
Share a standard day-in-the-life to help dispel those illusions of a non-stop pajama party. Going out on your own is brave, and with the right information it will be easy for your friends and family to stop wondering and start cheering you on.
Sarah Pike is a freelancer and college writing instructor. When she's not writing or teaching, she's probably binge-watching RomComs on Netflix or planning her next camping trip. She also enjoys following far too many celebrities than she should on Instagram. You can find Sarah on Twitter at @sarahzpike.