Inside: Tips for working remotely and some common challenges faced by remote workers
Working from home is a dream for many people. No office politics. No boss over your shoulder. More flexibility. More control. Sounds great. Doesn't it?
It doesn't take long, however, for many newcomers to the remote workforce to experience a hard wake-up call. The remote work lifestyle isn't always sunshine and rainbows. There are many downfalls of working from home and freelancing that many people overlook before taking the plunge.
Whether you are new to remote work, experiencing your first wake-up call, or still planning your exit from the cubicle, here are a few things to prepare for, along with tips for working remotely.
One reason an employer might choose to hire a remote employee is for more flexibility to cover the ebbs and flows of seasonal business. So you might find that some months, you have an endless number of working hours available. Some months, you may find there aren't enough to pay the bills.
It's so important you plan ahead. During those feasting periods, put money aside for the famine periods. You will also find many work-at-home pros have a few little “eggs” in their pocket that don't require much commitment or activity but do allow them to make a little money when their main remote job is tight.
Lack of Boundaries When You're Working From Home
The separation of work and personal life will, inevitably, present itself to almost every remote worker. It may be brought to your attention by others who expect you to be available for chit chat should they stop by unannounced, as if your home office is a coffee shop. Maybe your mother-in-law thinks you should be available to run her errands since “you're home everyday anyway.” Perhaps it's your own unwillingness to set boundaries around work time and playtime — or housework time.
It can be hard initially to establish a working schedule if you relied on that physical clocking in and clocking out of “work mode.” And some people will always need that strictness to keep themselves disciplined.
No one knows your level of discipline more than yourself — but you have to be honest about it. Establish a routine for your work hours as strict as it needs to be (both for yourself and those around you). And don't falter. Don't allow interruptions. Once leads to twice leads to regularity.
Lack of Benefits
This is a big one for many coming from traditional full-time employment. Previously, you may have had health care benefits and a 401(k) offered by your employer. In the remote work world, those things can be hard to come by. In most cases, you will be responsible for securing — and paying for — your own health care insurance and retirement plan.
Your best bet in overcoming this obstacle is education. Do your research into what's out there. What (more affordable) alternatives are available? Speak with your health care provider if necessary. Talk with a fee-only financial planner about your plans for retirement.
Working Too Much or Too Little
This one could also fall under lack of boundaries. But, I'm specifically referring to the boundaries we set for ourselves, or lack thereof. In addition to the freedom lovers who gravitate towards working from home, there is another ground that flocks to remote work as well: workaholics.
While one person might struggle with the lack of structure in remote work — missing deadlines while goofing off on social media — a workaholic often struggles to “turn off” at all. If this is you, you may find yourself always checking email, finishing just “one more thing,” or initiating “one last” video chat for the day to the point it starts affecting your family and personal lives.
Set boundaries that reflect your personality. If you're a workaholic, you might have to force yourself to take regular breaks. It may mean telling yourself you have to take a breather after finishing a scheduled time block. For others, this may mean telling yourself you can't take a lunch break until you finish a pre-established time block or task. Regardless of where your natural inclinations fall, pay attention to your work life balance!
Productivity tip: While it may be tempting at first to accept every invitation to all the video calls (the digital version of “face time”), spending too much time in meetings can affect your ability to actually get things done, especially if you're not an active participant in the meetings. It can also be tough to switch gears back to the task at hand if your work day is peppered with remote meetings. If you need to be available for spur-of-the-moment video conferencing, try setting a block of office hours so a colleague who wants to talk knows when you'll be available — and when you'll be in the work zone.
Lack of Support From Friends and Family
One sad trend I have seen over and over again in my 13 years of working from home has been lack of support in your personal network. And I experienced it myself in my early days. People may not take your new work-at-home career seriously. They may fear you are inevitably going to try to sell them something. You may even find doubt exuding from those within your own household.
My sole motivation for a long time after starting to work at home was to prove those people wrong. It kept me going. It challenged me to new heights. If that doesn't do it for you, find an online community that will. There are many Facebook Groups that offer support and resources for the work-at-home community.
If your chosen career path is starting a home business or freelancing venture, personal clients can be the best or worst thing to ever happen to you. Hopefully, most will make you feel like you are an integral part of their business and show unending appreciation. A few, however, may leave a little to be desired.
A little upfront legwork to set expectations can go a long way. Make sure you have your client sign a contract that defines payment terms and working relationship. Whenever possible, work on retainer, upfront payment or payment milestones.
Clearly define in writing your working hours and when your client can expect a response to communication, delivery of completed projects, etc. Having a preferred method of communication is advisable as well. I'd recommend email so you always have things in writing.
Accounting & Taxes When You're Working Remotely
Unless bookkeeping is your chosen career path, keeping track of your new income and expenses may be something you try to avoid. Bad idea. Not only does keeping on top of your profits ensure you are working towards your goals, it will also save you a headache come tax time.
As mentioned previously, most remote roles are independent contractors as opposed to employees. That means you are responsible for all taxes due. If you will owe more than a certain amount, you are required to make quarterly tax payments or face a penalty.
It can be a lot to wrap your head around. I highly recommend speaking with a qualified CPA. I also recommend getting a good bookkeeping system in place as soon as possible. I personally like QuickBooks Self-Employed. It allows you to send invoices, separate your business and personal expenses, track mileage and stay on top of those quarterly tax payments.
You Can Avoid Pitfalls With My Tips for Working Remotely
Don't let these small obstacles scare you away. Overcoming them is simple enough with these tips for working remotely. And remember why you're doing this in the first place: No office politics. No boss over your shoulder. More flexibility. More control. You got this!