Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Virtually Working or Working Virtually – The Pitfalls of Not Working in the Office

Posted by Rose Strong

My sister-in-law Jackie works for a major insurance company and has been what they term a Work-At-Home (WAH) employee for more than a decade. It came about when her mother had a stroke and needed someone around just to keep an eye on her in case she fell or needed help with her medication.

Today, 1 in 10 people work virtually, otherwise known as working from home.  With the technology drive in this country, it’s only natural that corporations and small businesses alike, take advantage of employees working virtually. It’s a savings on work space, increases productivity, cuts down on absenteeism and according to one study, the WAH employee works an average of one hour a day more than someone who works in the office.

For the employee, there are some great perks. Not having to commute to and from a job is the first advantage that comes to mind and I’ve always been jealous that my sister-in-law doesn’t have a dress code to follow and works in her pajamas for the first few hours of her work day. She also gets to start work and end her day earlier than most. She’s in her office at her computer at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m., but shuts that baby down at one in the afternoon. Sweet, huh?

Now for the nitty-gritty:

What is it really like to work at home, day in and day out? Although there are great benefits to working at home, there are some downsides to being able to sit at your computer and work in your bedroom slippers.

One of the biggest obstacles that Jackie had difficulty with was the lack of social systems. Although she lived with an elderly parent those first few years, that didn’t fit the bill for the regular social skills that come with working in an office. I mean, how do you hang out at the water bowl with your cat and talk about the Monday night football game? Having others around is often essential for creativity and motivation. Without that, telecommuting can be both difficult and isolating.

Communication is also a factor when you work virtually. Only using emails and instant messaging for discussing work-related issues with your colleagues, leaves out the cues one might interpret from body language and tone of voice that we pick up in a face-to-face conversation. Also, not being in the office tends to lead to that out of sight, out of mind truism and can cause a feeling of isolation.

I admire my sister-in-law in her discipline over the years as she’s quite devoted to her routine, but for some people, maintaining a routine can be a challenge. We all have a routine when we are working outside the home: stopping for a cup of java from the local coffee shop, checking email and phone messages, chatting with co-workers about current events and office news, then, suddenly that’s all gone when you work from home.  Getting into a routine at home to keep you in sync with the office is essential.

One factor I’ve seen Jackie struggle with is that she’s home during business hours, which makes her easy prey for those pesky, yet necessary home maintenance and repair items, such as furnace cleaning, A/C maintenance, tree work, electrical and plumbing repairs. She is often at odds with her husband to get him to be present when people come to the house. Considerable interruptions and demands from children, visitors and others who impose upon someone working at home may cause getting work tasks completed to be a challenge.

Of course, these aren’t the only things that can be tricky for those working virtually, but they are some of the most common pitfalls to be aware of if you’re thinking of bringing the office home with you. Oh, and that’s another one: difficulty separating work-life and home-life. That takes some discipline and practice to balance the two, but it can be done.

Many of these difficulties can be overcome and this article by Lea Green on the PGI blog runs down a list of work-at-home snags and how to overcome them. Telework Research Network at Undress for Success.com is a group that studies the trend of working from home and has excellent resources for anyone considering working virtually or those that are already working from home.


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