Inside: Tips for working remotely and some common challenges remote workers face
Working from home is a dream for many people. There is no office politics. No boss on your shoulder. More flexibility. More control. Sounds great. It is not like this?
However, it isn’t long before many newcomers to the remote workforce experience a harsh wake-up call. The remote work lifestyle isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. There are many downsides to working from home and being self-employed that many people overlook before taking the plunge.
Whether you’re new to remote work, experiencing your first wake-up call, or still planning your exit from the cubicle, here are some things to prepare for, along with tips for working remotely.
One reason an employer might choose to hire a remote employee is for greater flexibility to cover the ebbs and flows of seasonal business. So some months you may have endless hours of work available. Some months, you may find there isn’t enough to pay the bills.
It is very important that you plan ahead. During those holiday periods, reserve money for famine periods. You’ll also find that many work-at-home professionals have a few little “eggs” in their pockets that don’t require much commitment or activity, but allow them to earn a little money when their primary remote job is tough.
Lack of limits when you work from home
The separation of work and personal life will inevitably present itself to almost all remote workers. Other people may catch your eye and expect you to be available for a chat should they drop by unannounced, much like your home office is a coffee shop. Maybe your mother-in-law thinks you should be available to run her errands since “you’re home every day anyway.” Maybe it’s her own unwillingness to set boundaries around work time and play time, or chore time.
Initially, it may be difficult to establish a work schedule if you relied on physically clocking in and out of the “work mode”. And some people will always need that rigor to stay disciplined.
No one knows your level of discipline better than yourself, but you have to be honest about it. Establish a routine for your work hours as strict as necessary (both for yourself and those around you). And don’t hesitate. Do not allow interruptions. Once leads to twice leads to regularity.
Lack of Benefits
This is a big one for many coming from traditional full-time employment. In the past, your employer may have offered you health care benefits and a 401(k). In the world of remote work, those things can be hard to come by. In most cases, you will be responsible for obtaining and paying for your own retirement plan and health care insurance.
Your best bet to overcome this hurdle is education. do your research on what’s out there. What (more affordable) alternatives are available? Talk to your health care provider if necessary. Talk to a one-time financial planner about your retirement plans.
Working too much or too little
This one could also fall under the lack of limits. But I’m referring specifically to the limits we set for ourselves, or the lack thereof. In addition to the freedom lovers who gravitate towards working from home, there is another terrain that is also flocking to remote work: workaholics.
While a person may struggle with a lack of structure in remote work (missing deadlines while wasting time on social media), a workaholic often has a hard time “shutting down.” If that’s you, you may be always checking email, finishing up just “one more thing” or starting “one last” video call of the day to the point where it starts to affect your family and personal life.
Set boundaries that reflect your personality. If you are a workaholic, you may have to force yourself to take regular breaks. It may mean telling yourself that have to take a breather after finishing a block of scheduled time. For others, this may mean telling himself that he can’t take a lunch break until he finishes a block of time or a set task. Regardless of where your natural inclinations fall, pay attention to your work-life balance!
Productivity tip: While it may be tempting at first to accept each Invitation to all video calls (the digital version of “face to face”), spending too much time in meetings can affect your ability to get things done, especially if you’re not an active participant in meetings. It can also be difficult to get back to the task at hand if your work day is peppered with remote meetings. If you need to be available for impromptu video conferences, try setting up office hours so a colleague who wants to talk knows when you’ll be available and when you’ll be in the work area.
Lack of support from friends and family
One sad trend I’ve seen time and time again in my 13 years of working from home has been a lack of support in your personal network. And I myself experienced it in my early days. People may not take your new work-from-home career seriously. They may fear that you will inevitably try to sell them something. You may even find doubts emanating from those within your own household.
My only motivation for a long time after I started working at home was to prove those people wrong. It kept me going. It challenged me to new heights. If that’s not enough for you, find an online community that does. There are many Facebook groups that offer support and resources for the work-from-home community.
Whether your chosen career path is starting a home-based business or an independent business, personal clients can be the best or worst thing that ever happened to you. Hopefully, most will make you feel like you are an integral part of their business and show endless appreciation. Some, however, may leave a bit to be desired.
A little upfront work setting expectations can go a long way. Make sure your client signs a contract that defines the terms of payment and the employment relationship. Whenever possible, work on withholding, prepayment, or payment milestones.
Clearly define in writing your working hours and when your client can expect a response to communication, delivery of completed projects, etc. It is also advisable to have a preferred method of communication. I recommend email so you always have things in writing.
Accounting and taxes when working remotely
Unless accounting is your chosen career path, keeping track of your new income and expenses may be something you try to avoid. Bad idea. Staying on top of your earnings not only ensures you’re working toward your goals, but it will also save you a headache come tax time.
As mentioned above, most of the remote roles are independent contractors rather than employees. That means you are responsible for all taxes owed. If you owe more than a certain amount, you must make quarterly tax payments or face a penalty.
It can be a lot to wrap your head around. I highly recommend speaking with a qualified CPA. I also recommend getting a good accounting system up and running as soon as possible. I personally like QuickBooks Self-Employed. It allows you to send invoices, separate your business and personal expenses, track mileage, and stay on top of quarterly tax payments.
You can avoid pitfalls with my tips for working remotely
Don’t let these little obstacles scare you. Overcoming them is pretty simple with these tips for working remotely. And remember why you’re doing this in the first place: no office politics. No boss on your shoulder. More flexibility. More control. You got it!