I had a 10-second commute to work this morning — the walk from the bedroom to my desk. When I finish this paragraph, I’ll make coffee. And I’ll stay in these comfortable sweat pants for the next several hours.
You hear a lot about the benefits of working from home, and they are real (I just stopped to put a scoop of cocoa in my coffee — yum). When you work at home, you can live almost anywhere, save money on work clothes and spend more time with family.
Of course, while family might never interrupt you at an employer’s office, when your “office” is a desk in the den, you’re fair game when a salt shaker goes missing or an argument needs mediation.
Working from home comes with a few other problems as well, so while it can be great and research shows home workers are happier, it isn’t always easy to make it work for you. But let’s try: Here are 10 problems with working from home, along with possible solutions.
You might think you’ll have fewer interruptions at home than in a busy office, but that’s not always the case. For example, since I started writing this article:
- The cat vomited, requiring immediate cleanup
- I ran to put the garbage out when I heard the truck coming
- I discovered the wind blew over the recycling bin, scattering water bottles everywhere
- My father, who is visiting for two months, wanted to tell me about the horrible weather up north, along with other news
To avoid interruptions, work in a room that’s out of the “traffic flow” of your home; my wife and I are considering using the garage as an office. Keep two signs handy to post above your desk: one that says something like “Working: Do Not Disturb,” and another that says “On Break.” Make it clear when you’re “at work” (and no, I don’t always follow my own advice). My favorite strategy is to start working early in the morning, when there are naturally fewer interruptions.
Of course, then there are the interruptions you choose, which brings us to…
2. Lack of Discipline
The self-discipline you exhibit at an employer’s office might have more to do with a nearby boss than you realize. The test will come when you set up a home office and try to work for two hours straight. I’ve stopped writing again, this time to make tea and toast. After I’m finished this post, I’ll reward myself with twenty minutes of online chess, which sometimes becomes two hours.
Not everyone has the self-discipline needed to work at home. But you can develop better habits. Rewards help, as long as you only take them when you’ve fully met your goals (hey, at least I’ll finish one article before playing chess).
In my experience, a regular schedule helps maintain discipline — another reason I like to start early every morning. Other self-discipline techniques include starting work on a project before you feel like it, setting deadlines and refusing to look for excuses.
You’ll definitely be more isolated from office politics and dramas, which can help you be more productive. But the flip side of that isolation is that you lose the benefits of mingling with coworkers and supervisors. Research shows that employees who work at home are promoted less often and get smaller raises.
The natural collaboration and exchange of ideas that happens in a workplace can be important. That’s why Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer ordered all home-based employees back to the office two years ago. Her reasoning: “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings.”
What can you do to reduce the negative effects of isolation while working at home? If you’re an employee, go to the office once in a while and be sure to meet with your supervisors. If you’re a freelancer, attend industry events. Or do what I do: Just accept the disadvantages of isolation as a fair price to pay for the benefits of working at home.
4. Longer Hours
In theory, staying home means fewer hours devoted to work. You won’t spend any time commuting, and if you get your tasks done quickly, you don’t have to keep working for the rest of the day, right? In reality, you may find that you work more at home.
To start with, it’s easy to “do just a little more work” when the desk is right there, calling to you. Second, working at home almost always means working at your computer, and those emails from friends and family that you read in the evening often give way to “just a few” business emails that seem to need your attention right now!
Stick to a set schedule to keep those work hours from expanding and eating up the whole day. Have separate email addresses for personal and business purposes.
5. Less Work/Home Life Separation
Working longer hours and in multiple “sessions” throughout the day is one way in which you might blur the line between work and home life. You could also find yourself checking work-related emails in the middle of dinner or before you go to bed. Another common problem is “business talk.” My wife and I find we rarely go an hour without talking about our work.
For some people, this may not be a problem. But if mixing work and home life negatively affects your quality of life, try these solutions:
- Have a set schedule
- Don’t check email outside of scheduled work hours
- Don’t talk business outside of scheduled work hours
- Never work in the bedroom
It can be tough to mentally drop your work and resume home life when they both take place in the same building. One man’s interesting solution is to finish his workday with a drive around the block, after which he re-enters his house to start his evening (non-work) routine, reports Entrepreneur.
6. Lack of Professionalism
It can be tough to be professional while working from home. You might have crying babies and barking dogs in the background when clients call, or forget to comb your hair for a video-conference (I’m still two hours away from that bit of personal hygiene). What can you do to be more professional?
Well, you can remain in your underwear for that video-chat, as long as you put on a nice shirt — and don’t stand up during the call. To keep background noise to a minimum, schedule calls when the kids are at school or set up the office in the quietest part of the house. If you have many work-related calls, it’s a good idea to have a devoted phone line.
7. Relationship Issues
My wife and I love working side-by-side, but we know couples who absolutely need time apart. Those couples would have a difficult time working at home together. It can also be tough to respect work-related boundaries at home, and that can cause some relationship friction.
It may be best if only one of you works at home. If either partner has trouble knowing when it’s okay to interrupt, develop a system that works for you both. For example, we try not to interrupt each other when we’re writing, but we’re more flexible about interruptions when we’re doing all the “busy work,” like checking email and invoicing clients.
8. Tax Issues
If you’re an employee, your taxes look fairly similar whether you work at home or in your employer’s office. However, if you’re a freelancer, you’ll have to handle the accounting, make quarterly tax payments and determine whether that coffee maker is an office expense (not likely).
Keep in mind that a $3,000 profit at home is not the same as a $3,000 payment from an employer. An employer pays half of your payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare), so you only contribute 7.65% directly. As a freelancer, you’ll pay the entire self-employment tax of 15.3% yourself. You get a partial deduction for the self-employment tax you pay, but if you’re in the 15% income tax bracket you keep only $2,135 of that $3,000, versus $2,320 if the income comes from an employer.
If you claim a home office deduction, use the simplified prescribed rate implemented by the IRS in 2013 ($5 per square foot up to 300 square feet), to avoid having to pay taxes on depreciation recapture when you sell your home. And if your eyes glazed over reading that last sentence, get some help with tax filing or at least setting up a solid accounting system.
9. You Need to Sell Yourself
You have to “sell yourself” at a job interview, but once you’re hired, your work speaks for you. When you freelance or run a business from home, you have to keep selling yourself to gain new clients. For those of us who are introverts, this is no fun at all, but it is necessary.
I find it easier to sell my services using a website, portfolio and emails. I rarely talk to clients on the phone. But if the phone is a more effective tool for you, use it.
Make an effort to get testimonials for your website or blog. They can make prospective clients comfortable enough to hire you without a telephone interview, which saves time and the need for a personal sales pitch. I ask for testimonials by email, so I can easily copy and paste them onto my site.
10. Unexpected Expenses
If you’re a home-based employee, your employer should pay for most work-related expenses. But as a freelancer, you’ll pay for every computer crash or printer replacement.
Some expenses may come unexpectedly. For example, work-at-home mom Jacqueline Curtis says she discovered childcare was necessary because she couldn’t do a professional job while watching the kids. To reduce childcare costs, Curtis suggests swapping babysitting duties with other stay-at-home parents.
Most unexpected expenses are only unexpected in the timing, so you can budget for them. In other words, you don’t know when your electronic devices will fail, but you know they will need repairs or replacing eventually, so set aside money every month.
Is Working From Home Right for You?
Despite the problems working at home presents (an aunt and uncle I haven’t seen in 10 years just stopped by to say hello — seriously), I definitely prefer it to leaving the house. Other people prefer the structure, discipline and creative collaboration that come with working alongside others.
You may not know which is right for you until you try it both ways, but I can tell you this; I’m going to enjoy my chess game now.
Your Turn: Do you work at home? What problems have you had, and how have you solved them?
Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. Of the more than 100 ways he has personally made money, writing is his favorite (so far).