Are You Cut Out to Work From Home?

Caucasian man using laptop on sofa

By Marcelle Yeager

Many of us dream about working from home. But is it as easy as it looks? There are some people who know instinctively that it won't work for them, because there are too many distractions and things they'd rather be doing – and would do while at home. If that's how you feel, or if you're uncertain about whether working from home is right for you, here are a few things to consider.

First, you need to find a job you could do from home. There are many possibilities out there, and your skills may translate to some of them. Or you could decide to launch an entirely new career. Another consideration is whether you want to do the work part time or full time. Are you doing this as a way to have more time to raise children? Do you have a long commute? There are many reasons you may want to take this path.

According to Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, a professional job service that helps people find flexible jobs, these are the most popular telecommuting fields: medical and health, sales, customer service, administrative, education and training, computer and information technology, marketing, web and software development, accounting and finance and research. As for the number of hours you'll need to put in, she says: "There is a pretty even mix between full-time and part-time roles, and freelance contract jobs for telecommuters are common as well."

As for typical work-from-home job titles, Sutton Fell names the following: at-home nurse or nurse case manager, administrative assistant, customer service representative, teacher or adjunct faculty, software developer, technical support specialist, account executive, business development specialist, writer, editor and marketing manager.

Even if none of these titles directly correspond to the one you have now, your skills just might translate to one or more of these jobs. Find out where your experience might apply by looking at some job descriptions for the titles above that sound interesting.

Second, you need to decide if working from home is right for you and create the right setup. If you have a lot of discipline, you can be successful. "Working from home does take a particular set of skills, such as the ability to self-manage, stay focused, work independently, and often, alone," Sutton Fell says. "People who work from home need to have the mindset that they are 'going to work' every day, following a routine so that they can easily settle into work mode during work hours." That means if you have young children, you need to have child care arrangements in place. If you don't, it's going to be very hard, if not impossible, for you to get anything accomplished. As Sutton Fell points out: "Trying to give attention to both at the same time is unfair to your kids and to your job."

In order to get into work mode, you need to create a workspace – one that is off limits to the kids when they're home. It could be an office nook or a completely separate office space with all the tools you need to do your job. Most importantly, you need to be reachable. Make sure you're able to respond to emails and phone messages in a timely fashion. You may even be required to have a shared calendar that your team and manager can view.

Third, you need to figure out how to eliminate or minimize distractions. It may be as simple as turning off the ringer on your landline and not putting your workspace near the television. Or you may need in- or out-of-home childcare. According to Sutton Fell, another important characteristic of people who are successful at working from home is the "ability to ignore distractions like the laundry, dishes and all the TV shows waiting on your DVR." If you feel a constant pull to these things, or if you take breaks to do them during work hours, your performance and time will suffer. You can quickly turn a job that shouldn't be stressful into one that produces loads of anxiety if you are stopping work to handle chores.

Although it sounds complicated, Sutton Fell says you can perform well and even better than in the company's office if your boss is someone who understands how to properly manage a remote team. "Managers need to realize that overseeing a remote worker is different from overseeing a traditional in-office employee," she says. "Once the proper management is in place, remote workers are able to thrive."

As far as what you can do to ensure you're performing your job well from home, stay focused. Don't allow brief or continual distractions to get in your way of completing work and doing it well. Some managers and your personal network will think that since you're home, you're available. Sutton Fell offers this advice to counteract those beliefs: "Get comfortable telling people that just because you're at home doesn't mean you're not working." If you employ these strategies and you think working from home is the right fit for you, you can make it work for you.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.