Few demographics are as widely envied as people who work from home.
Not only do they get to avoid the indignity of wasting several hours a day on a packed subway train that stops and starts as frequently as a YouTube video that’s experiencing buffering issues, they also get to avoid the additional indignities of paying for office space, of having their concentration shattered by annoying colleagues who insist on talking about whatever was on TV the previous night, and of opening the fridge only to discover that their $7 energy drink has been stolen.
But perhaps most blissfully of all: They have the opportunity to nap at any point during the day without anyone around to judge them (thus eliminating the need for purchasing a $7 energy drink in the first place).
That’s not to say that working from home is without its problems. There are, after all, good reasons why going to an office to work has been the standard for so many centuries. Most of these problems stem from the issue of motivation: namely, it’s hard to have any when your bed and TV are just three feet away from your work desk.
Staying motivated is a subject that an endless number of blogs have already tackled and it won’t be addressed here. Instead, this article will focus on some of the more practical problems that arise from working from home.
1. Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Reliable Wi-Fi
Imagine you have a PDF that your boss insists on seeing within the next five minutes. You attach it to an email, type in your boss’ address, and hit the send button, but instead of hearing the Apple “whoosh” sound, something else happens: a box pops up asking you if you’re sure you want to send the email without filling in the subject heading. You click yes, but once again, the email refuses to send. You think it might be because your roommate is hogging all the bandwidth playing Warcraft, so you pound on his door and ask him to log off. He insists he isn’t online and harshly rebukes you for waking him up, but you aren’t 100% sure he’s telling the truth, so you restart the router just to be safe.
The router restarts, but you’re still having problems connecting. In a panic, you pack up your computer and rush over to the nearest Starbucks. Halfway there, you remember that you can just turn your iPhone into a Hotspot, so you pull out your laptop and look for a place to sit down. The nearest bench is 200 meters away and your boss wanted that PDF three minutes ago. After carefully weighing your options for a minute, you decide that the best course of action is to just sit down on the sidewalk and connect your computer to your phone and send the document.
The document has been sent, but your problems have only just begun. You still need reliable Wi-Fi for the rest of the day, so you continue on to Starbucks. You get there and order a $5 drink that you don’t particularly want but you order it anyway because the Wi-Fi at Starbucks is for paying customers only. As you’re waiting for the barista to drench your drink in foam and caramel, all of the seats fill up. You stand around for another 10 minutes waiting for someone to leave, but everyone remains sitting. Finally, you decide to throw out your $5 drink and pay $3 to ride the bus to the library. When you finally get to the library, dozens of emails slowly load up in your inbox, all with the subject heading “?????”
This scenario happens to people who work from home everyday. The only way to avoid it is to invest in the best Wi-Fi available. If you have a roommate who hogs your bandwidth, you may want to consider getting a separate router (or a new roommate).
2. Experiment With Different Collaborative Apps
No baseball team has ever won the World Series by sending their players to a variety of locations outside of the stadium where the game was scheduled to take place. Similarly, being in separate locations could cause problems with your team dynamic. Luckily, there are millions of collaborative apps to help remedy the situation. Google Calendar, for instance, allows you see your coworkers’ schedules and for them to see yours, eliminating the need for constantly sending out group emails asking who’s available at 3PM for a quick chat.
There are also many online collaboration applications that allow you to divide a project into smaller tasks that can be completed by different team members and then keep track of who’s doing what in one central location. Many of these applications also provide internal messaging systems for communication back and forth between team members. Constantly updated project information will decrease lag time waiting for replies to emails or returning phone calls. Everybody’s work is there for all to see in real-time.
Two of the most popular collaborative apps, Slack and HipChat, are currently in the midst of a high-profile war. Try out both apps and then pick a side.
3. Invest in a Proper Headset and Microphone
Showing up to an important Skype session using just your computer’s built-in microphone is considered by some to be a faux pas on par with showing up in a clown costume. The background ambient noise is too echoey, and you’ll be asked to repeat yourself over and over again. Buying a mid-priced directional mic or headset is an easy way to solve this.
Similarly, it’s important that your background is at least moderately photogenic. If your unmade bed is visible in the corner of the frame, you’re going to create a bad impression. Try to have a bookcase or painting in the background instead.
By following these steps, you should be able to avoid most of the major mistakes that rookie remote workers make. Now if you can just figure out how to resist watching TV in bed all day, you’ll be all set.