An estimated 5.2 percent of the employed population worked from home as of 2017, the latest year for which U.S. Census data is available.
Working remotely means flexibility and freedom. No commute, no office politics, no gum-chewing cubicle mate to get on your nerves. But be aware of potential drawbacks, which can range from minor annoyances to serious issues that can make or break an at-home career.
“You have to go into it understanding what the challenges could be, so you can face them. You have to be proactive,” says Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs, a website for remote and other flexible jobs.
Some basic awareness, Reynolds says, will help a remote worker survive and thrive. Following are some of the most commonly reported issues, and some tactics to overcome them.
Facebook friends and Slack messaging buddies are nice. But virtual connections are not the same as human interaction.
“You’re not getting access to other people’s energy on a regular basis. There’s no sense of community — you are your only team member,” says Shefali Raina, a business coach based in New York City.
That’s why remote worker Jeannine Crooks includes a “leave the house” slot in her daily work plan. Since her co-workers are “a thousand miles away, literally,” she gets her face time from walks, gym visits and the lunches that she arranges with friends at least three times a month.
Bonus: Getting away from the house sparks creativity.
“It’s fun to see how often I’ll come up with an idea or a (solution) when I do something else,” says Crooks, partner acquisition and development manager for the affiliate marketing company Awin.
A few other isolation-busting tactics:
- Work somewhere else, like a coffee shop or the library, at least part of the time.
- Consider renting a co-working space.
- Look for — or start — a group for remote workers.
2. Motivation/time management
In a traditional workplace “you get credit just for showing up,” notes Kathy Kristof, editor of SideHusl, a website that researches and rates freelance gigs. Even workers who waste hours chatting by the coffeepot or updating their social media get paid for a full day.
Entrepreneurs and freelancers can’t afford to procrastinate, however.
“If you produce nothing, you won’t get paid,” says Kristof, a former Los Angeles Times financial journalist who has worked at home for 30 years.
This allowed her to mesh parenthood with career, to the point of being able to volunteer at her children’s school. But this was possible only because she held specific work hours — in a home office with the door shut. When her children were small, she hired a nanny.
Anyone who plans to work at home also needs to create productive work routines, Kristof says.
Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson is a certified public accountant who’s been working from home for nearly 30 years. Yet he cheerfully admitted a recent goof: being a day late paying his withholding, which triggered an IRS penalty of more than $700. Fortunately, he was able to get the fee waived.
“The paperwork involved with self-employment isn’t rocket science, but it is serious. And if you’re (an entrepreneur or freelancer) busy wearing 15 hats, it’s easy to screw up,” Stacy says. “So here’s my advice: When in doubt, reach out!”
That’s not to say that all tax paperwork must be outsourced.
Remote customer service specialist Abigail Perry has her annual taxes done by a professional, but handles quarterly tax payments on her own.
“They’re really not that bad. (It) just requires filling out two forms,” says Perry.