The Challenges of Working from Home: Boundaries

According to Small Business Trends, 3.9 million Americans – including Freelancers – now work from home at least half of the week.  The advent of technology in the workplace has aided this development, where people now realize that they can work as efficiently at home via a remote computer setup as they can in the office.

There are many advantages to working from home.  Among them are no commute time, less distractions at work from colleagues, the ability to set your schedule to fit your personal needs, getting to dress as you want, and a host of other reasons that appeal to our innate desire for “freedom!”

However, with this freedom, comes a host of challenges.  The truth is that some people will struggle working from home.  In this series of blog posts, I will discuss some of the more common issues, the first of which is establishing boundaries.

No Boundaries

People often make the mistake that “freedom means no boundaries”.  Yet boundaries are extraordinarily helpful in making freedom feel wonderful instead of a burden. 

A common complaint among freelancers is that they often feel like they are working harder on their own than when they were in the office with co-workers.  Every job has the potential to be endless.  There is always one more thing that could be done.  You could make one more sales call, you could research one more issue facing your business, you could optimize your workflows by investigating new software, etc.  On and on it goes.

In addition, many freelancers say that they have a hard time “unplugging”.  Their laptop is their constant companion and it is just too easy to check email one more time to make sure an immediate response is not needed. 

Being at home provides you flexibility, but often, your physical proximity to others in your home may mean that you are “fair game” to help address issues that are going on.  This is especially true if you have small children in the home.  “Emergencies” that were handled without your assistance when you were at an office now scream for your attention since you are present.  If you constantly respond to these events, then you can help facilitate a smooth functioning home, but your productivity will suffer.

The needs of your home itself may be a major distraction as well.  A quick trip to the kitchen for a snack may result in your doing the dishes, or cleaning up the living room before the guests come over.   These distractions can pull you away from your main mission, which is to move your business forward to achieve your goals.

Useful Boundaries

The most important boundary for a successful Work-from-Home arrangement is in the physical realm.  A dedicated room for your home office would be ideal, if you have the space.  Ideally, it is a room with a door that can be closed during your “business hours”.  That will minimize the amount of disruptions from family members, kids, visitors, package deliveries, etc.  It will also help with minimizing noise while you are working.

Obviously, setting these boundaries will involve clear communication with others in your household as to interruptions during the day.  Does the closed door mean “Do not disturb!”, “Disturb only if it important and quick,” or “Feel free to drop in anytime and I will let you know if it is OK to talk at that moment”?  Or maybe a signaling system might be in order, such as placing a note on the door or a colored card that indicates that you are on a call and cannot be disturbed.

If you do not have a dedicated room for work, it would be good to at least have a designed space within a room that is conducive to your productivity, e.g. a good desk with drawers for organizing files and office supplies, good lighting, an area of the home that has excellent WiFi connection, etc. 

This work area be in a part of the house that is not commonly visited by you.  Otherwise, each time you pass your desk, you will be tempted to be drawn back into work, even outside of business hours.  At the very least, some freelancers report constant feelings of guilt each time they pass their home office instead of separately themselves completely to focus on other important areas of their lives.

If physical boundaries are not working well in your home or apartment, you should consider renting an office outside of your home.  There are many businesses that specialize in providing these rentals (often called “Executive Suites”), which can provide not just physical space, but also other conveniences, such as a phone system, copiers, shared receptionist, conference rooms, etc.  If that is not within your budget, you could consider a less formal arrangement of renting out unused space from other professionals in your area.

The truth is that freedom without boundaries is actually no freedom at all.  Defining what boundaries are needed and communicating them effectively with others will be fundamental to your success as a freelancer.

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