The five biggest challenges of working from home: and how to manage them
After four years as a self employed freelancer, I can safely say that I know a thing or two about working from home. I’m not an expert, but I have learned a lot over the past four years and I’m a heck of a lot more productive and satisfied with my work from home life than I was when I started.
It was rocky at the start. I had always had quite social jobs: working in hospitality to put myself through university and then in marketing and communications for years. I was used to working as part of a team with a boss on site, and I found working from home to be really difficult. I felt lonely and unmotivated and unproductive and I struggled to get into a routine that worked. Through lots of trial and error and seeking advice of those who forged this path before me, I started to get the hang of it. Then our daughter came along and it was almost back to square one: I had to readapt to learn how to work around a baby, and then a toddler. But I did, and you can too.
When it comes to working from home, there is definitely a learning curve involved. And while us self employed freelancers are now used to the challenges of working from home, those of you who have just been pushed into this lifestyle (thanks Corona virus!) haven’t had much time to get used to the idea.
It’s difficult to deal with such a dynamic shift in the way that you work. You’re probably used to sitting amongst coworkers who you can run ideas by and share a cup of tea with on your breaks- now you’re working alone in your kitchen. Meetings were done face to face- now they are done over the phone, or on a video call. You used to get up and leave the house to commute to work- now you can roll out of bed and me at your desk in seconds (I don’t recommend this). And if you’re a parent of young children, you used to leave your kids at home/school/nursery when you went to work- and now you are surrounded by their noise and commotion as you try to get through meetings and tasks.
In short: working from home is more than a little bit different from working in an office, and it’s a change that takes some getting used to. Being a few years ahead of you in this game, I’m going to share the way I’ve dealt with the challenges of working form home and some things you can try to make the transition a little easier. I must note here that any advice I can now share has been learned the hard way- so I am absolutely not sitting on a high horse when I share these tips!
Working from Home Challenge #1: Starting Your Work Day
It may feel very tempting to sleep in, simply roll out of bed, skip the shower and stay in your pyjamas. I did this for far longer than I should have, and I can tell you that it doesn’t make for a great start to the day.
Keeping with your normal schedule of getting up, getting a shower and getting dressed helps make you feel like you’re ready to work. You don’t have to put a full face of makeup on or work from home in a three piece suit, but the effort of getting ready will help you start your day and get into work mode a lot more easily- and productively, which brings me to point two.
Working from Home Challenge #2: Productivity (or lack thereof)
I think this was and still is my biggest challenge in getting used to working from home. It’s simply more difficult to be productive with all the distractions of home around you- and the temptations too. If you’re struggling to stay on task, try shutting out as many distractions as you can (ideally don’t lock your kids in the cupboard, but hey, needs must!) and don’t give in to the temptation to do household chores in your work hours.
Once you are focused on the task at hand, set yourself a specific time limit for that task, and reward yourself with a break at the end. For example, if I’m working on my marketing I might give myself one hour to schedule a week’s worth of posts, followed by a ten minute break to make a cup of tea and check facebook. Admittedly I am a person who gets easily distracted and I often have to leave my phone in another room and close social media apps on my laptop so I won’t be tempted to check them before my hour is up. I find these things really help me to focus on the task at hand and waste less time on the things that distract me- with little rewards in between to keep me going.
Working from Home Challenge #3: Creating a Dedicated Workspace
You may find yourself thinking about setting up camp on the couch with your laptop, feet up, with Friends on Netflix in the background. I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I can tell you it doesn’t work. While fun in principle, you’ll definitely be less productive and chances are you’ll start feeling lazy and tired if you’re too comfortable. It also won’t look good if you get an unplanned call from a client at 2 pm and they can hear Ross yelling "we were on a break!" in the background.
Instead try setting up a workspace that is simple and professional- a desk or table, a chair, and limited distractions around you. I have a desk set up in my hallway as we don’t have a spare room in my flat, and if I want to work somewhere brighter I move my computer into the kitchen and sit at the table. Bonus- I’m right beside the coffee maker for unlimited refills.
Working from Home Challenge #4: Boredom/Loss of Productivity
Sitting in front of a screen all day is tough, and I think without coworkers popping in or meeting to get up for when you work from home you might find your periods of sitting still last longer. Planning and taking breaks will make a massive difference in your outlook and will help to keep you productive all day long. A couple of short coffee breaks and a dedicated lunch hour make a big difference (and give you a chance to check in on your partner and the kids too!).
I also find it really helpful to get some exercise in on my breaks, especially if I can manage to do it outdoors. I normally take a longer break in the afternoon to take my dog for a walk in the park (he lets me know when it's time- see photo below) and I’m always extra productive when I get back. Outdoor time is obviously limited right now, but why not try an in home workout or grab a football and head out with the kids for half an hour to get a proper break?
Working from Home Challenge #5: Keeping on Task & Meeting Deadlines
In an office environment you have consistent reminders of what needs done for when, but when you’re working from home you might not. Try creating a to do list and setting yourself deadlines for each task, even if you don’t have a client or a boss breathing down your neck right now for them to get done. This will help you to stay productive throughout this time and make sure that you are making the best use of your working hours.
On Monday mornings I create my weekly to do list, with tasks broken down into each day and a wish list of tasks that aren’t urgent but that I’d like to get done if I can find the time. Highlight deadlines for time sensitive tasks and plan your week accordingly- this way even if your team aren’t right on hand to remind you, you can make sure everything is still completed as planned.
One final thought- the challenge of a work/life balance. One of the hardest things for me about learning to work from home was limiting my work hours and sticking to that schedule. In all honesty, I still struggle with this and it’s the thing I’m the worst at. When you go to an office everyday, you leave when your work day is done and your time at home is yours. When you’re working from home though, the option is always there to work more, to just keep going, to open the computer up after the kids have gone to bed. When you work from home, it’s harder to separate work time from personal time. Try to stick to your work hours. They may have changed, especially if you and your partner are working your schedules around each other and the kids, but you can still have set hours for working and set hours for personal time. Making time for your family and for yourself is key to happiness, and it’s more important than ever to make our mental health a priority.
I’d be lying if I said I manage all of these challenges effortlessly, but I’ve found these tips and ideas to make a massive difference for me when I put some effort in and try to enforce them for myself. For the most part my work days are quite productive now and I do manage to get almost all of my "behind the scenes" work done from home. I must be doing something right as I’m still happily working as a self-employed freelancer four years in- I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Good luck, and feel free to pop me a message if you need some inspiration or help with a specific challenge you’ve come across! I love a good business chat and I think it’s safe to say I’ll have a bit of free time on my hands for the foreseeable future. firstname.lastname@example.org