Mistakes to Avoid When Working From Home

mistakes to avoid when working from homeOne of the big flexible work arrangements a lot of parents push for (particularly when they have little kids) is reduced face time and the ability to work from home some of the time. So I was interested a while ago when Corporette readers started talking about things they hate when coworkers work from home as well as the WFH culture in general. As always, it was an unfiltered look at a problem and might have some good clues as to what you can do to make a work-from-home arrangement go more smoothly — as well as mistakes to avoid when working from home. (TONS of people in federal offices wrote in particularly to discuss the WFH culture at their offices.) So let’s discuss, ladies: For those of you who work from home on a regular or semi-regular basis, have you adopted any standard operating practices that you think makes the arrangement a success? If you’ve had to fight your boss on this kind of arrangement, what kind of hurdles did you need to overcome? What have you learned to avoid when working from home?

How to Make Working from Home Work For Your Boss

  • Be totally available by phone/email during the regular business hours you’ve agreed to (and communicate clearly when you won’t be available during regular working hours), including forwarding your work phone to your cell phone (or your landline to your cell phone, or whatnot). Readers on the main site seemed to have big issues with a theoretical “midday yoga class,” but it’s worth noting that we’ve talked about midday workouts and lunch workouts over there a lot.
  • Plan face time — if you’re in the office once a week, make sure you see everyone to check in.
  • Realistically gauge your own work quantity and quality — if you’re low on work or taking too long to do it, you may need to police yourself before your boss does.
  • Set up a real home office so you can be as productive as possible.

Mistakes to Avoid when Working From Home

  • Letting business relationships fall by the wayside, from your relationship with colleagues to your network to mentors to sponsors.
  • Not growing enough in your profession — I recently heard a speech about how most women “fail” in their careers at least once because they turn into one-trick ponies, and I think it’s doubly hard to push for new skills or “growth” work you’re not ready for if you’re off people’s radars.
  • This is pretty basic, but: trying to mix “working from home” with “stay at home parenting” if you have little kids.
  • Blurring the boundaries! Work-life boundaries are really hard, both for you and your coworkers — particularly since you’re not going to/leaving an office, particularly since most parents I know (whether they WFH or not) end up answering work emails in the wee hours of the morning when their kids make them get up (or before their kids are up).

How about you, readers? Do you work from home regularly? What are your best tips for being productive and having a fruitful career while working from home — and what are the mistakes to avoid when working from home? 

Psst: We’ve also talked about homing from work over on Corporette.

Picture via Stencil.

Working moms discuss mistakes to avoid when working from home, both for their business relationships as well as their own careers -- as well as the most productive ways to work from home.

Comments

  1. The last points in the linked discussion are the sticking point for me. I’m expected to answer “urgent” calls and emails when I’m on PTO or in the nights/weekends, but there’s a huge backlash against working from home with a sick kid “because it can’t replace daycare”. I get that WFH can’t be your permanent childcare solution, but I hate having to use my extremely limited PTO for that “24 hour fever free” day where the kid is fine and watching cartoons all day, when the weekend before I sat at the park and kept an eye on my kid but sat on to two conference calls and edited four urgent documents.

    I get that balance is needed, but companies can’t expect to get the best of both worlds. I can’t always be available when a company wants me to be, but never get to have uninterrupted “home time”.

    • +1. If a company doesn’t have faith that I can WFH and take care of a child at the same time during the week, then, conversely, it shouldn’t be possible to take care of a child and WFH on the weekend.

  2. I am BigLaw, full-time – 2000 hour billable requirement, senior associate, partner track. Coming back from maternity leave, I negotiated an official one day a week work from home arrangement under our agile working policy with the understanding that I would continue to have additional ad hoc “work from home” days for flexibility as needed for things like mid-day doctors appointments at the other side of town, all day delivery windows, etc. It is going well, but it is an adjustment for some of the partners I work with (and totally fine for others). Things that help – having a dedicated home office with large monitor, keyboard, good quality headset for my phone, office doors that can close. My husband is a SAHD. I have no qualms about kicking him and the baby out of the office for focus work or conference calls (for less focus-demanding tasks, the baby usually plays on the floor of the office “near mama” but with SAHD supervising her). My office line rings through directly to my laptop. Partners are slowly learning that “work from home” doesn’t mean “not working” and have (finally!) stopped apologizing for interrupting when they call. They are also slowly learning to scan and email me hand markups since they can’t walk down the hall and give them to me. I am the trailblazer on this in the office (although with our HQ, it is much more common). I also feel I have to be more responsive at home than I am at the office because of this (false) perception that I am not working. It also helped that I had 5 years of good solid reputation, work ethic, credibility, etc., so that made a significant difference in getting this arrangement approved (it was denied for someone else who did not have that and some other performance issues).

    • It also helped that I had 5 years of good solid reputation, work ethic, credibility, etc., so that made a significant difference in getting this arrangement approved. YES!

      Laughing at your paperless comments. I’m paperless because of being at home now, except for my timesheets and a legal pad I jot down some notes and reminders on from time to time. It has been almost two years, and people still don’t understand. Just today my assistant let me know that she was printing hundreds of pages of documents for me. (1) I’m going to need to work on it before I am in the office next, and (2) I. Don’t. Want. That. $%&*. In. My. House.

  3. I guess what I keep coming back to is … does working from home make that big of a difference to your quality of life? I’ve considered asking for 1 WAH day per week (kids would be at school/daycare), but being away seems like more trouble than it’s worth.

    • I love it, but my kids/child care are home. I love being able to nurse rather than pump, and I like that I “see” my kid during the day, even if I’m not the one supervising her, interacting with her, etc. It has made a huge difference in my quality of life and happiness, but I don’t know if the same would be true if the kids were gone all day (other than the fact that I work long hours, so at least the hours after they get home I would be home).

    • Depends on your current situation. I WFH and Mondays are a productive day for me at home (could be any day, that’s just my routine). I have laundry going all day while I work and at least one crock pot going most of the time. Sometimes I use my lunch to grocery shop that day. If those sound like needs you have, I think you would benefit. They’re mainly hands-off tasks. For things that are hands-on, it really isn’t going to change your life unless you have a very long commute (at least in my experience).

      • This is exactly my situation. I work from home officially one day a week, sometimes two, and it allows me to keep up with laundry, cook a little bit, grocery shop during lunch (or be home for an Instacart delivery), and I use the time that I would have spent commuting to do a workout. My kiddo still goes to daycare per usual.

    • Anonymous says:

      Completely makes my life easier. Daycare is close to our home (less than 10 mins), so I skip the commute (40 mins). I work longer days on Mondays so then I can work a little less the rest of the week. I run laundry all day (don’t fold cause that’s too time consuming), do one crock pot meal that is our dinner for Monday/Leftovers Tuesday, and usually vacuum quickly. I also get to take a walk as my lunch break and can eat my lunch while working easily. I actually recently turned down a job offer cause there was no telecommuting option.

    • Anonymous says:

      I commute over an hour each way. WFH allows me to catch up on sleep, be more relaxed in the morning, go longer between dry cleaning clothes (I wear jeans and a work blouse when I WFH because I take video calls sometimes), grocery shop at off-peak times (e.g., 8am on a weekday) so it’s quicker and there is a better selection of produce, and I’m able to focus on work better. It’s nice to run laundry but I usually don’t, because it’s a distraction. I have found my commute is actually stressful, and staying home feels luxurious, even when I’m working all day and my kid is at daycare.

  4. I have lots to say on this topic ;) I work from home mostly full time due to a move for my husband’s job about a year and a half ago. I’m an attorney about 2.5 hours from my firm and go in about once a month. My boss has always been in and out (he is very successful at business development) and doesn’t micromanage, so our relationship hasn’t changed much. Actually, we probably are better at making a point out of checking in now.
    Many of our clients aren’t local, so video- and teleconferencing is common for our group anyway. The relationship that suffers the most (by far) is with my assistant.

    The biggest thing is to prove yourself – that you’re getting your work done and well. That’s pretty easy to measure in a billable hour world.

    I definitely take advantage of the mid-day workout/quick shower/grab a coffee routine. But I do it over a typical lunch time, so it doesn’t really bother anyone.

    “This is pretty basic, but: trying to mix ‘working from home’ with ‘stay at home parenting’ if you have little kids.” It never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t get that. I can’t tell you how many people are shocked to find out that my child goes to daycare. And honestly, I’m not that patient with it.

    One of the hardest parts of working from home has actually been coming to terms with the idea that it actually hasn’t been this giant windfall of time. I still do things like shower, put on minimal make-up, and pick my child up from daycare. The biggest advantage from a domestic perspective is being able to get dinner in the crock pot or prepped if needed.

    • Anonymous says:

      So my best friend is expecting and has arranged to work from home 2 days a week. But she’s not planning on having childcare those days! I tried to gently warn her with “oh haha I can barely send an email when DD is around”…I really think she’s delusional about working and babies! I don’t know if she thinks she’ll have this magical child who naps on a perfect schedule? It doesn’t directly affect me, but the whole thing is bonkers.

      • Anonymous says:

        This is why so many places require confirmation of childcare before allowing WFH.

      • If she (or anyone else in this boat) is truly working, what does she expect kiddo to do during this time? When the baby is very young or school-age, it might work. But most toddlers (or maybe just mine) would never, ever just play all day alone. She barely plays for 5 minutes alone. Every once in a while, a totally ignorant partner at my office will comment about how kiddo can just watch tv while I work. I can’t even…

      • That would frustrate me to no end – she’s the person who ruins it for everyone else and makes people who legitimately WORK from home have to defend/prove themselves.

    • Moving says:

      Please say more! I’m about 30 days away from doing the exact same thing (except in corporate setting vs firm setting). Relocating for husband’s job and will be working full-time from home as a result but in the same role I’m in now. Side note – any recommendations on where to shop for lovely office furniture for our new house?

      • Good luck! I actually don’t have a good recommendation for anything but a chair. I use the desk we bought at a then-local furniture store when I started law school 10 years ago. It is very simple and has held up well. I have a good office chair that I very much recommend. It is a HON Nucleus. You might have to buy it from a dealer.

  5. I don’t really like working from home, because of the blurred boundaries. I generally work longer hours when at home because there’s no clear start/stop.

    I think working from home is best if 1) you have a horrendous commute or 2) you travel frequently. Husband has both so he really likes to work from home, but I can be at the office in 10 minutes so I don’t have much benefit from staying home. If I travel I do like to avoid going in to the office on my travel day if I can.

    We always have our son in day care if we are wfh. We can work while he’s napping, but I wouldn’t count on that. Plus, you pay for daycare whether you use it or not – so why not just bring him in?

    • Boston Legal Eagle says:

      Agree that the biggest benefit for me from WFH officially 1 or 2 days a week would be to cut down on a long commute. Right now, my commute is short (for Boston!) and on public transit, so there’s really not much benefit for me to WFH. I leave the house for daycare drop off anyway, so I might as well go to the office. If we move further out, I could see it being useful.

      I can see the benefit of being able to do laundry and other house tasks, but I wouldn’t want to become the default house manager either! I’d prefer it if both my husband and I traded off a home day so that I’m not stuck with all the chores, drop-off, pick-up, appts., etc. just because I’m home.

      • Sarabeth says:

        Yes, the default house manager thing is real. My husband WFH full time, and it works out well for us because it pushes against standard gendered expectations about division of labor. The other way around, it would reinforce them, which I think I’d find difficult. That said, I still do all daycare dropoffs and pickups because daycare is near my office.

    • A lot of places have part-time daycare options. I know several people who only pay for 3 or 4 days/week of daycare and cover the rest with WFH or grandma or whatever. It definitely saves them money compared to sending the kid 5 days every week.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I will admit to being with my kid on the one day a week I work from home. I do typically get some work in during naps and I monitor email closely all day and we have backup childcare we can call in the very unlikely event of something urgent I need to do, but I don’t generally put in an 8 hour workday. That said, I work really hard when I’m in the office and I handle a higher volume of work than any of my colleagues, most of whom work closer to 40 hours/week in the office. It’s one of the reasons I like my job so much – my boss knows I get my stuff done and doesn’t really care if I do it in four days or five.

    • That’s totally fair, and I hope I didn’t sound judgmental above. There are certainly parents who make arrangements like this work while doing a great job at both parenting and their jobs. I suspect they require less sleep than me :)

      • Oh I don’t think I do a particularly great job at parenting on my WFH day (she spends a decent chunk of the day in her swing or on an activity mat), but I talk to her a lot so she gets more attention than she does at daycare. (I do a lot of writing for work and I try to read everything I’m reading or writing out loud to her.) She’s still an infant – when she’s 2 or so we’ll almost certainly send her to daycare full time, both because it will be harder for me to get any work done with her at home and because I think kids that age get a lot more out of socializing with other kids than infants do.

  7. I WFH (or a coworking space) full-time, but I’m on the clock when I do, and kid goes to daycare full-day. (It would be impossible to have him at home with me – we live in a 1-bedroom apartment. He’s nearly 3, but it wouldn’t have been possible to WFH for any sort of focused work – writing, calls, or research – with him as an infant either, he was colicky.) The ‘household’ stuff I do takes no longer than a bathroom break or writing a couple of comments on this s*te: throw a load of laundry in, take it out, throw it in the dryer, then it sits the rest of the day to be folded at night. At lunchtime I might prep veggies or marinate meat for dinner while I heat up my lunch. That’s about it. I do have enough flexibility to get a lunchtime workout in and then make up the hour at night.

    We’ve actually sorted out an arrangement where neither of us is the default house manager. Because I WFH, I can start working at 7.45 or 8am sharp while husband does drop-off on his way to work, then pop over to daycare at 5ish to pick up the kiddo. Husband has more flexibility, so he does more of the ad hoc doctor appointments.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I echo a lot of the advantages brought up: saving time on the commute, ability to do laundry and other household tasks, and I generally also am just more productive when I’m not in the office.

    WFH one day a week has been a GODSEND after returning from maternity leave not just for those reasons but for a little time ALONE. Sure, I work- but I realized it’s the only time I have completely to myself. I need that little bit of time to take some breaths, get what I need to done, and set the tone for my week.

  9. Not sure anyone is reading comments on this, but I think having at least one person with the ability to work from home makes a big difference. I do not really have much flexibility to do it, but it’s kind of ok because my office is near the daycare, so either way I’m taking the baby in and out. My husband can work from home 2-3 days a week, and those days are awesome- he does laundry, cleans up, meets with contractors or workers, gets dry cleaning etc, and usually has dinner ready for right when we walk in the door. Of course, some days he is still chained to his computer and can’t get anything done, but those days are really rare and his work from home days make a huge difference in our amount of downtime on the weekend.

  10. Nice article, WFH actually will help in tough situations. But I don’t prefer regular WFH option because there will no much communication with the coworkers.

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