Working from home is awesome! But don’t kid yourself into thinking that it’s easy. You’re presented with all kinds of new challenges. The rules of the workplace are currently in flux and it’s hard to work things out - especially in the beginning.
We often talk about working online and earning an income from the comfort of your own home, but there are drawbacks to this new mode of quasi-employment that you need to address and be consistent with if you’re going to keep bringing in the bucks.
There are a number of ways to make a living online and there’s no doubt that, to almost anybody, it is tremendously appealing. 16% of companies in the United States exclusively hire remote workers and the employee turnover is cut by 25%, according to polling data. So besides the fact that people who work remotely at least once a month are 24% happier than those who don’t, it’s also highly beneficial for businesses. The number of people working from home has increased by 140% since 2005, while 18% of people work from home full time.
For people, the benefits are clear. You avoid traffic, can adjust your hours, not drink cheap instant coffee, and just permanently enjoy the comfort of your own home. You’re left at the end of the day feeling less stressed and simply get to escape the depressing workplace environment that has haunted the nature of employment ever since the Industrial Revolution. 86% of remote workers believe that it reduces stress.
And for businesses, it’s an incredible relief to overheads. No longer do they have to pay rent on office space, electricity bills, or for office supplies. It’s also a dream for human resources who don’t have to deal with employees that are uncomfortable in their environment. The financial relief also makes it a lot easier to start a business and is every entrepreneur’s dream. In fact, small companies are twice as likely to hire remote employees on a full time basis.
So what do you need to know before making the life-changing move from florescent lighting to your own personal office or work sanctuary? Well… from my experience there are a number of challenges that you need to take note of:
Understand the downsides of freelancing
If you’re lucky enough to be permanently employed as a remote worker, you’re very lucky. Sadly, most people end up operating on a freelance basis because there aren’t as many businesses out there that offer the option of working remotely. Around the world, 44% of companies don’t allow remote work at all.
For now, while the times are still a-changing, many of us opt for freelance work. This means that you don’t have a steady income, health insurance or any of the other benefits that make up the blessing of full-time employment. Obviously, you can set up a personal medical aid scheme and start a retirement fund for yourself, but you won’t get contributions from your contracts and it’s also a ton of admin. And it’s really hard to overstate the mission of paying taxes.
Keep a physical diary
Not a digital one. I cannot stress this enough. If you’re anything like me, you hate writing things by hand, but the fact is we retain information and remember what tasks we have to do if it’s written down by hand. Your laptop is going to be overloaded with random files and spreadsheets and planners, you name it… So your diary is going to be hidden like a needle in a haystack underneath the silo of files that makes up your digital workspace. But if you have an actual diary sitting right next to your laptop on your desk, it’s easily accessible and serves as a constant reminder that you have shit to do. If you insist on capitalising on the convenience and streamlining that comes with keeping digital calendars and to-do lists that can be shared on a cloud, go for it. It is very helpful in many ways. But keep a physical diary as well then, just because it creates an additional layer of organisation.
You don’t really want to hear this, but there really is no excuse for you anymore. If you were spending an hour in traffic to get to the office every day, there’s no reason why you can’t substitute that time with a good gym session. The benefits of exercise are widely reported and immense. Not only is it good for your health, your weight and your appearance in general, but it raises your energy levels and relieves stress, which is very important for the working from home lifestyle. I’m not saying workout like you’re Cristiano Ronaldo, 10 hours a day, but just keep your body alive and stave off the inevitable sense of laziness that commonly arises when you don’t have to leave the house. If you can exercise outdoors, that’s really great, because being cooped up indoors all week can negatively affect your mental health.
Create a sanctuary
It’s very tempting for you to treat your new workplace like you do on weekends – as your home – but this can be disastrous. It isn’t good for your work if you’re spending all your week’s working hours in your pyjamas. If you have the space, try to create a room that is never used for anything but working, an office or a study. Make sure there’s a comfortable chair and a functional desk. I’d recommend either using an exercise ball or a standing desk if you’d also like to work on improving your posture, but do what works for you. Try to spruce your desk up with plants or pictures, invest in noise-cancelling headphones and make sure that you create a comfortable soundscape. Buy a diffuser and make it smell nice. In short, create a space for yourself to work in that’s both comfortable and has as little distractions as possible. When working from home, you are a product of your environment. Sitting on your bed with your laptop on your lap is (ironically) a horrible idea. It’s bad for your posture and you can’t concentrate as well as you do when you’re sitting at a desk. Furthermore, have some self respect and get out of your pyjamas FFS! There’s a reason that office rules like dress codes exist. You’d do well to pick up on some of the “traditional” workplace practices like wearing proper business attire. Nothing feels as good as looking good. You are significantly more productive when you’re well dressed and when you’re doing a teleconference with potential clients, you’d create a far better impression wearing a button up shirt than you would wearing a tank top.
Consider hiring people
It can be a bit overwhelming working on your own and playing the juggling act with schedules, meetings, taxes, bills, calls and actual work. And there are some things that you just don’t know enough about. If you’re a graphic designer, it’s unlikely that you’re a specialist in filing tax returns and even if you are – time is money. It’s going to cost you a lot of time to navigate through loopholes, file receipts and apply for rebates. Contracting a bookkeeper from time to time could make life a whole lot easier. And while we’re talking about taxes, I know it sucks, but just pay them. Plus, you get rebates once a year and it can work out to be a pretty great “bonus” to reward you for being a good Samaritan – you can claim back some of your rent because you use your home as an office space, you can claim back lunches and entertainment expenses, and you can even claim back medical expenses. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many ways to manipulate the tax system in your favour and hiring somebody to help you can pay for itself several times over. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll have so much work on your hands that you can’t keep up with it. A Personal Assistant could make life a lot easier and you’d be able to make significantly more money because you get so much more work.
Focus on producing the best possible work
Remember, when you’re given a contract as a freelancer, nobody is obligated to give you work. A client today may not want to work with you tomorrow if your work isn’t of suitable quality. While, when you work full-time in an office, you can let the quality of your work slide a little without it being noticed much; when you freelance, your performance review is every day. Make sure you have all of your ducks in a row to create the work environment itself, but remember that the number one priority is what gets done when you’re behind the desk. While you may have spent two hours on this at your old job, you should be spending five on it as a freelancer! Plus, you can charge for the extra hours. Also, try your best to remain in contact with the people giving you work. Make them happy, keep them happy. Organise a lunch meeting every once in a while. Inspire them to keep coming back to you. These relationships will make the difference when it comes to how much money you have in the bank at the end of the month.
Working from home is awesome! But don’t kid yourself into thinking that it’s easy. If you’re driving through traffic for hours every day, sitting in a cubicle in a poorly lit bull pen, leaving home before sunrise and only returning after sunset, the work-from-home lifestyle seems like a walk in the park. But it isn’t… you’re presented with all kinds of new challenges. The rules of the workplace are currently in flux and it’s hard to work things out – especially in the beginning.
Although you may never have the security of full-time office employment, working from home is still awesome if you do it right. So follow our guidelines, make plans, design workspaces and organize your schedules and you’re bound to find your groove somewhere!