Telecommuting has become synonymous with convenience, flexible schedules and, yes, pajamas. You don’t have to commute, spend money on transportation or dress up. But despite the appeal and laid-back reputation, there are challenges.
“Not everybody is cut out for working from home,” says Jack Aiello, a psychology professor at Rutgers University.
From your work style to your work space, here’s what to consider before working from home:
Certain personalities make effective at-home employees.
“Above all else, two things are required to be a successful work-at-homer: the ability to be a self-directed, focused planner and a healthy dose of introversion,” Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor emeritus at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, said in an email.
Yarrow says extroverted workers prefer more person-to-person contact than many at-home jobs provide.
Telecommuters interact less with co-workers than their workplace counterparts. After all, you can’t chat at the water cooler on your break or stop by a colleague’s desk on the way to lunch. That solitude can be hard for those who are sociable, Aiello says.
But don’t count yourselves out, social butterflies. Yarrow says personalities aren’t black and white. The “mildly extroverted” can make telecommuting work if they have an after-work social life, for instance. Renting a co-working space can also provide a social outlet for remote employees.
If you live with other people, Aiello says, it’s essential to have a separate space where you won’t be interrupted. You need at least a door that closes you off from the rest of the house.
Be realistic about potential distractions. “Some people can’t help but go on eBay,” Aiello says. “Some people can’t help themselves from playing computer games. There are all kinds of things that get in the way when they don’t have someone over their shoulder.”
And while society may paint a picture of at-home workers on the couch binge-watching Netflix, some telecommuters have a tendency to work too much because they never leave their work environment. Many check their email at night, Aiello says.
Remedy this with boundaries, says Cassidy Solis, senior adviser for workplace flexibility with the Society for Human Resource Management, a trade association. Solis, a telecommuter herself, sets expectations; she won’t respond to emails outside regular working hours unless there’s a pressing deadline.
Finally, your employer and supervisor will have a lot to do with your success at home.
IBM made news in May when it called telecommuters back to the workplace. As companies re-evaluate telecommuting, so should employees.
Ask about whether you’ll be included in meetings and how frequently you’ll get feedback from management. Teleconferencing and regular check-ins can help alleviate feelings of isolation by fostering a team environment, Aiello says.
You’ll want to discuss your schedule, as well. You may work more efficiently in a position that allows for time at home, as well as in the office.
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report found that employees who spend at least some of their time working remotely have higher engagement than employees who never work remotely. The magic formula for engagement happens when employees spend 60 percent to 80 percent of their time working off-site, the report found.
Solis says it’s important to build in time for face-to-face contact. “I think it’s good to show your face,” she says. “It’s good to see your co-workers. It’s good to feel connected. It’s good to feel part of a community of work.”
It’ll also keep you in the eye of leadership, she adds.
Will it work?
If you fit the criteria and want to explore telecommuting, Solis recommends checking your company’s existing policies, drafting a proposal and starting with a trial period.
Even if you don’t check every box on the ideal-telecommuter checklist, working from home could still work for you.
“Most people, with the right mindset, can actually enjoy not having to put that suit on for the day or do that commute,” Aiello says.
If not, there’s always the office.
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