Many office workers assume telecommuting is easier and less stressful than commuting back and forth to a commercial office space. If you work from a home office, you’ll typically have the freedom to set your own schedule and work at your own pace. Perhaps this is why over 60% of U.S workers now conduct some or all of their work at home, according to a Gallup poll. If you’re planning to work from a home office, though, you must learn to overcome several common challenges.
While you can always work from the comfort of your living room or kitchen, you’ll probably be more productive when working from a designated office space. Unfortunately, not everyone has an unused room in their home that they can use an office. As a result, they aren’t able to separate their working space from their leisure space.
If this sounds familiar, you should consider clearing out a nonessential room, such as a guest bedroom, to use an office. After removing all furniture and items from the room, you can set up your office. A dedicated office creates a sense of separation between your working space and your leisure space that drives higher productivity levels. If you have kids at home, it also creates some separation between you and your kids. Let's face it, kids can be noisy as well as a distraction to your thought process. It is much easier to work in a quiet environment if you are afforded the opportunity.
You’ll probably experience interruptions when working in a home office. Maybe your dog is barking, or maybe the mail courier is knocking on your front door. Interruptions such as these will force you to stop working. And to regain your concentration after an interruption, it takes an average of 23 minutes, according to Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Designating an unused room as your office can help to minimize interruptions, but you’ll need to implement other preventative measures as well. For starters, consider closing your office door. With the door closed, you’ll have a quieter workspace that’s free of interruptions. As long as you stay inside your home office during your preferred working hours, you’ll be able to block out distractions that could otherwise interrupt you.
Some telecommuting office workers also play music to overcome interruptions. With light music playing in the background, noise from other parts of your home – or outside your home – are less likely to interrupt you. Whether you play it through your computer’s speakers or a pair of headphones, though, you should keep the volume low enough so that it doesn’t interfere with your ability to focus.
Depending on your specific job or position, you may need to participate in meetings. Statistics show that the average middle-level corporate executive spends 35% of his or her time in meetings, whereas high-level corporate executives spend up to 50% of their time in meetings. Not all meetings are productive, but they are still essential for many workers, nonetheless.
If you work from a home office, you won’t be able to host or attend face-to-face meetings. Therefore, you’ll have to use an alternative solution, such as virtual meeting software. Available in free and paid versions, virtual meeting software lives up to its namesake by serving a platform for secure virtual meetings.
After installing the virtual meeting software on your computer, you’ll be able to connect to other workers with whom you can chat. Most virtual meeting software supports the use of live video, meaning you’ll be able to see the other workers with whom you are meeting on your computer screen. Some types of virtual meeting software also support file-sharing capabilities. If you want to send a file to another worker, you can do so through the software.
Some of the most popular types of virtual meeting software include the following:
- Google Hangouts
- Zoho Meeting
- Amazon Chime
Another challenge of working in a home office is time management. Without a fixed schedule set by your employer or manager, you may struggle to manage your time. You may spend most of your time working on a single task, for example, while ignoring all other tasks. In turn, your productivity may decrease.
To manage your time better, create a to-do list at the end of each day for the respective following day. On this list, include all the tasks that you need to complete the following day. Some telecommuting office workers prefer to rank their tasks by importance. If you need to complete three tasks on a given day, for instance, you can rank the most important task at the top of your to-do list and the least important task at the bottom. Creating a to-do list is an easy and effective way to better manage your time.
It’s also a good idea to avoid taking long breaks. Employers typically limit the length of workers’ breaks at commercial office spaces. If you work in a commercial office, your employer may require you to finish your break in 10 or 15 minutes. Working from a home office, on the other hand, means you spend as much time as you want on break. While taking a long break may sound relaxing, it only limits the amount of time and work you can spend on productivity-driven tasks.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of working in a home office is social isolation. According to an Inc.com, over one-quarter of all telecommuters say they get lonely when working from home. Among Generation Z telecommuting workers – those who succeed Millennials – the rate of loneliness is even higher at 43%.
You may assume that isolation isn’t a concern since your home is inhabited by other family members, but this isn’t always the case. Your family members might be away at school or their jobs while you work. And even if your family members are home, you’ll want to close your office door to increase your focus and productivity.
How do you avoid isolation when telecommuting? Consider taking your trips to get lunch from a nearby restaurant during your lunchbreaks. You don’t have to necessarily dine in. Rather, just picking up food from a drive-through fosters positive social interactions that wards off feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Lack of Motivation
Some people struggle to stay motivated when working from a home office. Your employer or manager won’t be there looking over your shoulder, nor will he or she be there to motivate you. Instead, you’ll have to motivate yourself.
Although it’s certainly a challenge, there are ways to overcome a lack of motivation when telecommuting. One solution is to create short-term and long-term goals. When you see firsthand that you’ve accomplished a goal, you’ll feel an innate sense of pride that motivates you to continue your hard work. At the same time, creating goals will keep you focused on tasks that matter
Getting into a routine can keep you motivated when working from a home office. Avoid working erratic hours and, instead, create a work schedule that allows you to develop a routine. Over time, you’ll become accustomed to working during these hours, which should serve as a motivation.
There’s also the challenge of purchasing, as well as setting up furniture for your home office. Most employers only procure furniture for their commercial office space. When telecommuting, you’ll have to procure your own furniture. Among other things, this means purchasing and setting up a chair, desk, and file cabinets.
You shouldn’t choose just any furniture for your home office. If it’s not ergonomically designed, it may cause discomfort that, if left unchecked, leads to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as well as lower productivity levels. A few years ago, researchers at the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries conducted a study to investigate how ergonomic furniture affects productivity levels. They found that workers were about 15% more productive when using ergonomic office furniture as opposed to non-ergonomic furniture.
Carpal tunnel syndrome and back pain are two common MSDs from which office workers suffer. The former is a type of repetitive strain injury (RSI) that occurs in the wrists, whereas the latter is a broad group of pain-related tissue or spinal injuries in the back. To lower your risk of MSDs, you need to use ergonomic furniture in your home office.
Ergonomic office furniture is designed specifically to minimize physical strain and fatigue. Therefore, it offers a higher level of comfort than its non-ergonomic counterparts. And because ergonomic furniture is more comfortable to use, it usually has a positive impact on productivity. You can set up a home office with any type of furniture, but ergonomic is ideal because of its ability to increase productivity and lower the risk of MSDs.
Slow or Unreliable Internet
You’ll typically need an internet connection to work from a home office. The amount of work that you can perform, however, is highly dependent upon the speed and reliability of your internet connection. If your internet goes offline or slows to a snail’s pace, you won’t be able to visit websites, conduct virtual meetings, download files, or perform other internet-related activities.
Keep in mind that slow or unreliable internet is often the result of a Wi-Fi problem. In other words, it might be your home’s wireless network that needs addressing rather than its landline internet service. To determine whether it’s your Wi-Fi or landline internet service, try connecting your computer directly into your modem with a cable. Once connected, check your internet speed by visiting a speed testing tool like SpeedTest from the connected computer. If your download and upload speeds are normal, it’s safe to assume your Wi-Fi is to blame for your slow or unreliable internet.
To make your Wi-Fi faster, place the router as close to your computer as possible. The farther away your router is from your computer, the slower your internet will be. You can also try switching your router to a different channel. All routers use channels to transmit data wirelessly. Some of these channels, though, are used by other electronic devices, including microwaves and smart appliances. If your router uses a congested channel, you can expect slower speeds.
All types of workspaces can suffer from cyber threats, but home offices are particularly vulnerable to them. A study conducted in the United Kingdom found that nearly one in three businesses had experienced a cyber attack as a result of allowing their workers to telecommute from home. Cybercriminals know that telecommuting workers have lax security measures, so they often target them with cyber attacks.
You may encounter phishing emails or social media messages when working from a home office. During a phishing attack, a hacker will try to convince you to divulge sensitive information, such as the login information to one of your online accounts. The hacker may send you an email asking you to log in to your online account by clicking a link. When you click the link and enter your username and password, though, you won’t be given access to your online account. The link simply redirects to a fake website that’s disguised as a legitimate website. As a result, entering your username and password supplies the hacker with your login information.
To protect your data and privacy, you should avoid interacting with suspicious emails. If an email is suspicious, don’t download any attached files or click any embedded links. Instead, mark the email as spam so that you don’t receive any further phishing messages in the future. It only takes a single file attachment or link click to disclose your login information to a hacker during a phishing attempt.
Installing antivirus software on your computer can lower your risk of suffering a cyber attack. Although there are dozens of antivirus products on the market, they all work by scanning your computer – and its internet traffic, in some cases – for potentially malicious files. If your computer is infected with a malicious file, such as ransomware or a virus, the antivirus software will either quarantine or delete it.
These are just some of many challenges that you can expect when working from a home office. While they may sound daunting, they shouldn’t prevent you from working fast and efficiently, especially if you take the appropriate precautions.
President at Office Chairs Unlimited – I have been in the furniture industry for over 20 years, and I’m an expert (just ask me) on all things furniture. I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.