While most of us dream about working from home, many who have experience with telecommuting discover it's not all it's cracked up to be. And once you start the challenges can start to outweigh the benefits. Here are five issues to look out for, and ways to mitigate the damage:
1. Difficult communication. When you're not in the office, you can no longer stop by someone's desk or overhear important conversations. Instead, be brazen about instant messaging or using Skype to maintain the same communication levels. You can also try to find an advocate in the office to be your eyes and ears and let you know the latest office gossip, mood, and important announcements you may have missed. Building workplace camaraderie is more difficult through a computer screen or phone, but if you make communication a top priority, it can be done.
2. Lack of career advancement. You meet or exceed the goals and responsibilities of your position, but if your office culture doesn't embrace those who work from home, it doesn't matter. Without face time, it can be difficult to be taken seriously. You may experience a lack of challenging work and promotions as a result. To show your dedication, ensure that you have a regular in-person travel schedule, and make time to build positive work relationships face-to-face as often as you can.
3. Poor relationships. The surprising truth is that working remotely is lonely. Many telecommuters find it difficult to build relevant relationships and stay relevant in multiple cities or locations. Make sure that TV characters aren't the only ones you listen to each day by setting up or attending a co-working group, building a networking schedule and log, and actively seeking out influential people in your field. Staying social in real life will ensure you can stay productive online.
4. Overwhelming schedule. Telecommuters often get stuck in an always-on mentality, and there's a possibility you'll experience less freedom than if you were at the office, particularly if you're in a different time zone than your colleagues. Don't try to make up for working from home by imposing a never-ending schedule; it's ineffective and can quickly lead to burnout. Create a work schedule and stick to it by starting and ending at the same time every day. If that doesn't work, you may try renting a desk or an office to physically delineate your work and personal schedules.
5. Loss of culture. You'll miss a lot of the events that co-workers bond over when you're separated from the pack, so be vigilant about staying involved in the company culture. Whether it's sending a virtual happy hour drink, or celebrating success over an enterprise social network like Yammer, keep the momentum going by not only communicating for work, but for fun and no reason. Connecting with and being part of the team is just as crucial as doing phenomenal work.
When you work remotely, it's important not only to get out of your pajamas and dressed each morning, but to also be conscious and aware of the other challenges that telecommuters face. It's your responsibility to manage your career while you balance a flexible schedule.
Rebecca Thorman's weekly blog Kontrary offers tips to create the career, bank account, and life you love, and is a popular destination for young professionals. Her goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. She writes from Washington, D.C.