CXO

Working from home: 5 hidden downsides no one talks about

More and more Americans are trading a cubicle for a couch, but it does come with some obstacles. Here are the main challenges and how to handle them.

With innovations in mobile and remote technology and connectivity, professionals are opting to work from home (WFH) instead of coming into the office. In fact, 3.9 million U.S. employees work remotely, according to the 2017 State of Telecommunicating report by Flexjobs and Global Workplace Analytics.

Working from home is ideal for many people, especially those that have trouble focusing in a public space. "Some people perform better at work, some people better at home," said Jimmy Carroll, Partner and Director at TetraVX, a company specialized in the management and creation of collaborative technologies. The success of WFH is dependent upon the personality of the individual, whether or not the person can still be productive in a relaxed environment.

SEE: Telecommuting Policy (Tech Pro Research)

Companies need to use the WFH rule on a case-by-case basis. Some positions may require the employee to stay in the office, or some employees may just not have the work ethic to be able to handle not being in an office space. "It's very situational, depending upon what the real deliverable is from the person that's involved," agreed Dan Ryan, Founding Principal at Ryan Search and Consulting, an advising firm focused on aiding clients in talent acquisition and maneuvering work culture and leadership.

The individuals that decide to work from home clearly have many perks. You decide where you want your office to be for that day; you save money and time from commuting to the office; you don't have your boss breathing down your neck; you feel more mentally at ease in your own space. Working remotely also allows companies to choose the right candidates for the job, whether or not they are in the same city as the office.

While staying in sweatpants instead of putting on slacks is undoubtedly nice, there are some disadvantages to anyone using that work style. TechRepublic's contributing writer Moira Alexander detailed, "managing remote teams can create issues with communication, collaboration, and productivity, file sharing, document management, privacy and security, existing infrastructure."

Here are the top 5 problems of WFH and some ideas on how to solve them:

1. Lack of motivation

Being at home has its own distractions. While the office has the sound of keyboard clicking, phones ringing, and coworkers talking, your house brings in a whole new set of temptations. "Distractions like household chores, kids, and easy access to a TV can prevent at-home workers from accomplishing as much as they want or need to," TechRepublic's Olivia Krauth explained. Especially if you work in or near your bedroom, the three o'clock slump could make a nap feel just in reach.

A solid option for staying motivated is rewarding yourself. Break up your work into intervals: Do consistent work for an hour, then take 10 minutes to relax. Whether it's walking outside, treating yourself to an oreo in the pantry, turning on the news, reward your work with a small break. Then wash, rinse, repeat.

2. Work and home become synonymous

When you worked in the office, home was where you retreated to when the day was over. Now that you are working remotely, the office and your house morph into one. Not only do you lose your happy place, you also have to deal with the distractions that come with that. If you have kids, pets, or roommates, you also have a whole new array of distractions. Maybe you're trying to have a Skype conference, but your dog is barking his head off. Now Cujo just killed your professional aura.

Krauth suggested two easy fixes. First, create your own office area. Find a designated space in your home to be your workspace, preferably a separate room with a door, but a dining room table works too. If you confine yourself to that space when you work, then work won't overtake your personal life. Additionally, you can post your work schedule. Print out your schedule and put it on the office-room door or even the refrigerator, that way roommates or loved ones know when you are occupied.

3. Communication issues

Communication is essential when working from home; however, you can't go poke your head in a coworker's office to get a quick question answered anymore. While instant messaging (IM) on apps like Slack and Skype for Business is useful, Carroll explained that some organizations give too many options of communication. If your coworker has their IM app up and is on the phone, they may not see the email you sent to their inbox.

"You have to set up some policies in regards to, not just how you communicate, but what the expectation is for that response," Carroll said, "then giv[e] those individuals the proper tools in order to facilitate that communication." Set regulations for how you will communicate with coworkers and keep yourself accountable. If you want to use IM to communicate, then make that known. A good way to also keep supervisors in the loop is to send in plate checks. At the start of the day, send your boss a game plan with what you are working on. Send another one at the end of the day, explaining what you completed. This both keeps you on your boss' radar, while keeping yourself responsible.

4. Security threats

"Security is a huge, huge issue when you have remote workers," Carroll emphasized. Working off of a home network introduces all kinds of risks and vulnerabilities to your work files. Even if you've never had a cybersecurity issue on a personal device with your home network, that doesn't mean you are always safe."It's harder to maintain and control, because when people are working remotely, depending upon who their ISP is, their internet service provider, that opens up other probabilities and introduces other variables that aren't necessarily there when you're within a confined network within a workplace," Ryan confirmed.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) and multi-factor authentication are the viable solutions, Carroll said. With a VPN, a private, encrypted channel is connected between your device and a VPN server. No one but the user and the VPN sees or accesses the information, not even internet service providers! Multi-factor authentication is widely popular and helpful too. The user must provide at least two separate pieces of evidence proving their identity, which will then gain them access to the respective site.

5. No camaraderie

The final downside to WFH is isolation. Without being in the office, you miss out on day-to-day office camaraderie. Your coworkers form connections through daily office interaction, meetings, and Friday happy hours. Carroll highlighted, "Sometimes it can get cliquey. I mean, all work is still just like high school in a lot of regards, right?" Right, he is. Being at home is just you and your computer.

You can still be present without being physically present. Skype into meetings! Instead of having meetings with coworkers over the phone, suggest Skype. Meeting face-to-face creates a better connection than just hearing someone's voice. Also keep up with office events. Ask to be included in team building activities or casual happy hour outings. If working from home is best for your work ethic, then do it, but don't sacrifice friendships along the way.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/kimberrywood

About Macy Bayern

Macy Bayern is a Multiplatform Reporter for TechRepublic. A recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Macy covers tech news and trends.

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