If you have traditionally worked in an office, the option to work at home sounds like paradise. A recent CareerBuilder.ca survey indicated that 27 percent of employees telecommute at some point throughout the year.
But this perk has its benefits as well as its pitfalls, affecting both performance and career advancement. We talked to several people who work from home to get a sense of the best and worst aspects of their work arrangements.
The comforts of home
The flexibility gained from working at home is the biggest bonus. “This is truly the best aspect, as my husband travels quite a bit,” shares Sandra Diaz, a publicist for TCI-Smith Publicity in New Jersey. “I have two children; I am here to spend time with them before school and when they get on the bus and off the bus.”
With gas prices at a record high, avoiding a commute is another big plus. Tom Stanton is an employee of Jaffe Associates, a business development agency in Chicago. He likes the 10-step commute to his office. “With gas prices and Chicago winters, that’s really valuable to me. Plus, it saves so much time that I’m able to get work done.”
Some workers who find office environments are filled with distractions enjoy working from home to bypass those interruptions. David Wegner, director of communications, marketing and public affairs for McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, is one of these people. “I realized how much time is used up in the office by conversations about what a co-worker did the night before, a retelling of a TV episode or whatever; 20 or 30 minutes could go by with idle chatter.”
The flexibility of working at home also appeals to workers in creative industries. “I find the organic movement in and out of the home space very good for creative businesses,” reports Dr. Linda Seger, an author, screenwriter and script consultant. “From a creative standpoint, it allows the mind the variety it needs to think creative thoughts.”
The downside of distance
Working at home may not be an ideal scenario for everyone. “It requires greater time-management skills and boundaries between work and family,” declares Janet Scarborough Citivelli, a career development expert with Bridgeway Career Development. “Most professionals find themselves working more when they work from home if they don’t take charge of their schedules.”
Many workers feel that perceptions about their work — and the value of that work — are inaccurate. As writer Heather Corley notes, “Working from home doesn’t seem as official to many people.”
Wellness expert Beverly Beuermann-King agrees. “Others may not value that you are working just as hard. In a time where telework is becoming more and more valued by employees, company structures and attitudes have not adjusted to value output as much as face time.”
These perceptions can have an impact on the career path of a home-based worker, who may miss out on job advancement opportunities as a result. A recent Workplace Index Survey, commissioned by office furniture manufacturer Steelcase, indicates that 64 percent of workers believe their lack of daily contact with their employers hinders their chances for a promotion.
Some employees feel that they miss out on the benefits of interacting with co-workers. Rob Graham, vice president of training at The Laredo Group, misses the feedback he gets from those interactions. “Without office mates to use as a sounding board for ideas, you have the tendency to become a focus group of one and start to believe that every idea you have is brilliant,” Graham remarks. “It’s not a bad thing to have dissenting opinions from time to time.”
Home-based employees can also run into communication issues, making it very easy to feel out of the loop. “Phone, e-mail and instant messaging do an OK job of communicating business needs, but sometimes nothing beats the value of an office hallway chat to help pull things together,” Graham says.
Avoiding the pitfalls
Employees who work from home should take some steps to avoid drawbacks and capitalize on the benefits that this arrangement provides.
– Keep the lines of communication with your managers and co-workers open, and use them frequently. Schedule a check-in time every day (or several times a day). Keeping everyone in the loop will help dispel any negative perceptions about your performance.
– Avoid isolation, which can have professional and personal repercussions. If you are feeling constrained by the four walls of your house, vary your surroundings and hit the coffeehouse, park or zoo with your laptop.
– When there are complicated projects or staffing shortages, consider heading to the office for at least part of your workweek. Striking the right work/life balance is a constant, ongoing process, and you may need to make adjustments to address demands in your professional and personal life from time to time.
Patrick Erwin is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.ca. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.