Every time we post a help wanted listing on Craigslist, we get about a hundred applicants. And we know why. All our employees work from home.

We are immediately inundated with cover letters from people who LOVE the idea of being able to work from home and tell us why it would be so great for them to be able to do that. (Here’s a tip, by the way, tell us instead what unique qualities you’re bringing to the table.)

Yes, I totally get it. There are tons of advantages to being able to work from home, not the least of which is wearing your jammies to work everyday. But if you’re considering working at home, you want to go in with your eyes wide open. Some people love the idea in theory but then quickly learn it’s not what they thought it would be.

I first started working from home back in 1996. Since then I’ve done every possible work and non-work combination you can think of… owned my own business (at home and office with and without employees in both locales), worked for others (at home and office), and even been a stay-at-home mom for several years. So trust me when I say I know where you’re coming from. Been there and done it all.

Why work from home?

So what is it about working from home that most appeals to you?

Chances are you’re reacting to a current situation that you’re in. Maybe you have an hour-long commute each day that you find insufferable. Or maybe you hate your high heels and dry cleaning bills. Or, most commonly, you want to spend more time at home with your kids. Maybe it’s all of the above. Those are all perfectly valid reasons and definite advantages to working at home.

But make sure that a change in venue is what you really need to improve your lifestyle.

Are you a people person?

Before you take a job working from home, make sure you have the right temperament. If you are a social butterfly who needs tons of interpersonal contact, working from home may be frustrating and isolating.

In our company, even though we do lots of instant messaging and web conferencing, we still work solo a LOT. If you don’t like that, working from home simply may not be right for you.

Time management.

How are you with staying on task and being self-motivated? Do you easily get distracted by Facebook or laundry or – squirrel!

Equally as important, do you love what you do?
I’ll tell you, I am a verifiable nerd through and through. I start working on bookkeeping, and time just slips away. Because of that, it’s really easy for me to work from home because I have all the intrinsic motivation I need to get done what needs to get done.

Remember that working at home means that you actually need to *work*, and for some people, it’s difficult to find that balance, particularly if they don’t enjoy what they’re doing. Those people will tend to procrastinate their work, and once they get through all the personal stuff they have going on, they don’t have 8 hours left in the day to get their work done. They soon find themselves working all hours, stressed out, and burnt out, and that’s a loss for everyone: employee, employer, and clients.

(Note: this may also be an argument to reevaluate your career choice. What I’m saying, though, is that it’s arguably easier to hide a mismatch (from yourself) if someone’s watching you in an office vs. being left to your own devices at home.)

Do you have kids?

This is probably the biggest double-edged sword out there.
For many people, the biggest advantage to working at home is that you can be there when kids leave for school and come home again. You can be there for babies when they’re nursing. You can be there for snow days, sick days, summer vacations, and in service days. Hoorah!

But… don’t forget that there is still only ONE of you. If you are baking cookies with the kids, you’re not working. If you’re working, you’re not watching them stick a fork in the wall outlet.
I think about when my oldest child was a toddler, and despite having a big playroom all to himself, it was impossible to have 5 minutes of time to focus without him napping or watching TV. Because I didn’t want him electronically entertained for long at such a young age, I had literally two hours per day that I could be online until my husband came home from work and/or my child went to bed for the night. The rest of the time, I was mom-ing, not “working.”

And if you try to squeeze in another 6 hours after your kids are tucked in for the night (after being run ragged the whole day with not a single break for yourself, mind you), you will soon hate your life and your job top to bottom.

There is a common misconception that if you work from home, you no longer need daycare. Be very careful with that assumption. Depending on the age of your children, you may still need help (we’re in great shape now that our kids are 10 and 13).

Home Becomes Work.

This has always been my biggest challenge. When you work at an office and leave at the end of the day, there’s a clear delineation between work and home. When you work at home, work is always there.

For a long time, it was a challenge to stop working at the end of the day or to not feel guilty about reading a book instead of tackling the giant list of undone work tasks.

My biggest recommendation is to, if at all possible, make sure your office has a door. When you’re done for the day, close the door behind you and leave it until morning.

Your home should be your comfort and sanctuary, and working from home can greatly blur those lines creating stress where it shouldn’t be.

So… after all that, if you still think working from home is right for you, do what you can to set yourself up for success. Make sure you’re doing work you enjoy. Set up your office in a quiet location in the house away from distractions and make sure your kids (if you have them) are constructively entertained and safe. Maybe have a “mommy’s helper” stop by for a few hours a day to give yourself a bit more time to concentrate on your work without interruptions. Establish a set end to your day and make sure your computer is off and the office door is closed. Maybe even throw your phone into your closed office for good measure. Then relax and enjoy your home and your family.

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