Working from home is becoming more popular, and it certainly has its benefits. For example, multiple studies seem to confirm that working from home can boost both productivity and morale. And on the surface, most people like the idea of working from home, enabling them to avoid lengthy commutes, handle home responsibilities as they come up and experience fewer interruptions.
But these benefits aren't always clear; for example, is this productivity increase natural or due to workers overcompensating so they aren't accused of slacking on the job? Plus, there are plenty of downsides to working from home as well. Possible downsides include a reduced ability for communication, greater pressure on personal drive and motivation and, quite possibly, loneliness and depression.
Overall, your remote work experience can be very positive or very negative, so what's responsible for the difference?
The Keys to Work From Home Success
These are the most important variables in your personal results when working from home:
- Company software. If you're working from home, you'll almost certainly be relying on remote support software to correct any technical issues you face, project management software to keep tabs on your current projects, chat applications, and dozens of other apps to stay connected and productive. The quality and usability of those apps could easily make or break your experience. If you're dealing with frequent downtime, huge portions of your day could instantly become dead time, and if you have to navigate through hardware or software issues on your own, you could grow frustrated and fail to meet your personal goals for the day. Poor communication software, too, could interfere with your team's ability to stay in contact — which brings us to our next point.
- Team communication. Communication is key in remote work environments, as you won't be able to talk to each other face-to-face. You'll need to establish clear protocols for ongoing communication, including who's responsible for what types of communication and when, and be as proactive as possible. Emails, chats, phone calls, and even texts should be used, as appropriate, to convey information as concisely as possible. All it takes is one misinterpretation to wreck an entire project or get the team behind schedule; in fact, one-third of all project failures are presumed to be due to miscommunication.
- Your personal motivation. Your ability to motivate yourself will play a major role in both your productivity and your satisfaction while working from home. If you're the type who needs praise and reassurance from others to feel successful, the arrangement may be hard on you. On the other hand, if you thrive in an environment where you can set and achieve your own goals, you'll likely be even more productive and satisfied once you're on your own.
- Your workspace. Your workspace plays a bigger role than you might imagine. You're likely to feel distracted If you end up sitting on the couch in front of the TV, and you'll have a harder time separating personal time from professional time. However, if you have a dedicated workspace with limited distractions and a comfortable desk, you'll be able to perform better. Changing your work environment occasionally, such as going to a café or library, can also be a refreshing change of pace.
- The flexibility of the arrangement. The flexibility of the arrangement has an enormous bearing on its eventual success. Being able to set and/or customize your own hours can help you find the perfect schedule for your personal preferences. Deciding to come into the office occasionally can also help you balance the pros and cons of working from home. Making adjustments to things like communication best practices can help you recover from past mistakes and iteratively become more satisfied and productive over time as well. In short, the more room you have for change and improvement, the happier you'll end up being in the long term.
Of course, your personal feelings on remote work — whether you're excited about the opportunity or dreading it—will also play a significant role in your enjoyment.
Control and Execution Are Crucial
Depending on your role, you may only have a limited amount of say in your remote work environment, such as not being able to choose different software or hire all-new team members. However, you can overcome these setbacks by proactively acknowledging them as pain points, and planning alternatives that lessen the interference you'd otherwise experience. For example, if you know your team is bad at communicating, you can take on a greater burden of proactive communication, or if you don't have much personal drive, you could use an extrinsic motivator to keep you going.
In any case, working from home is an arrangement that could hypothetically work well for anyone (assuming their position allows it). All it takes is some careful attention to a handful of key variables, and a willingness to make changes until you find an arrangement that works.
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