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Are You Cut Out to Work From Home?

Alison Green

Working from home sounds great to most people--you can work in your pajamas, with no commute, the cat on your lap and a load of laundry going in the background. What's not to like?

But working for home isn't for everyone. Some people do better at it than others--and some find teleworking makes them miserable or destroys their productivity, even jeopardizing their jobs. So it's important to take a hard look at whether you're truly cut out for it. Here are seven questions to ask yourself before you make the leap.

* How disciplined are you? Teleworking effectively means resisting all the distractions of home: TV, pets, laundry, surfing the Internet, napping or whatever most calls to you. Are you someone who can create a structure, stick to a schedule and produce at a high volume in the face of all those distractions and without anyone watching you? Or will you realize on Friday that you've done little work all week and now somehow need to make up for it?

* Can you handle the lack of in-person contact, or will you go stir-crazy? If you thrive on contact with other people and the camaraderie and collaboration of working in an office, you might find working from home feels too isolating. On the other hand, if you're someone who thrives when you have your own space and no one popping into your office to chat, you might love working from home and even find that you're more productive.

* Can you set and enforce boundaries with family and friends? You may find that your family and friends think that "working at home" means "available for calls and visits and help running errands." You'll need to be able to enforce boundaries--telling people that you're not available to socialize during work hours, and that you can't watch their kids or pick up their prescriptions while you're working. Are you willing to lay down the law with people who might push back or not take your work schedule seriously?

* Are you responsive to emails and phone calls, or do you sometimes realize you've forgotten to get back to people? You should always strive to be responsive to calls and emails, of course, but it's especially important when you're working from home and people rely on that to reach you. If co-workers, clients or your manager don't get relatively speedy responses from you, not only will you inconvenience them--you might raise questions in their minds about whether you're really working.

* Can you accept the intrusion of work into your home? When you work from an office, work usually feels at least mostly behind you once you leave for the day and go home. But when you work from home, your work is always sharing that space with you--you could always be putting in a little more time on that memo or responding to emails. So you'll need to be disciplined about turning off work at the end of the day and mentally transitioning back into "home time."

* Are you comfortable finding ways to make yourself and your work visible? As a telecommuter, you're going to be out of your employer's sight most of the time--but you shouldn't be out of mind. You'll need to make extra efforts to ensure that your manager knows what you're working on and how your projects are going and about any successes you have. If you're not comfortable speaking up and tooting your own horn about your accomplishments, you might struggle to remain on your manager's radar and reap the rewards that often accompany visible achievements.

* Do you have separate child care, or are you hoping to watch your kids while you're working at home? Working from home is not a substitute for child care, and in fact, most employers require that teleworking employees have separate arrangements for child care. You can't be as productive when your attention is split between watching kids and doing your work--and most employers aren't happy when client calls are interrupted by a crying child.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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