They may imagine us sitting around in our pajamas, eating ice cream and cheerfully working along without any of the hassles that life in a cubicle can bring.
People new to virtual work may be a bit surprised at how hard it is to adapt to this less structured lifestyle.
I've put together a list of some of the top things that web workers have to get used to in learning to work unattached to a physical office:
1 - Disoriented with time.
When you first start working virtually, you can easily become confused about what time it is, how long you've been working, when you should eat your next meal, etc.
In a traditional office, you have co-workers who'll say, "Where do you want to go for lunch?". The bustling office gets empty around noon and you know it's time for you to grab some nourishment.
At home though, it's all too easy to work as if in a stupor, unaware of the time that's passing.
It's also easy to end up working late and working much more than you normally would if you were working in a regular office.
That's why it's best to schedule a lunch break into your day. If you don't do that and force yourself to step away from the screen, you will likely work all day without a break.
Also, give yourself a quitting time and honor it. If you don't you can burn out pretty quickly.
2 - Distracted by house noises, activites.
It's fun to work from home--you can see the kids come home from school, the dog can sit at your feet, and you can talk to your housemates any time you like.
You probably didn't realize that the sound of voices in other parts of the house, the washing machine buzzing that it's finished, the doorbell, the telephone, and the TV would all be amplified when you decided to work from home. It can be distracting!
Here are some ways to safeguard your concentration:
- Have a dedicated office and close the door when you're working.
- If your house is especially noisy, try listening to your iPod--the headphones help block out noise!
- When you come out of your office for breaks, be sure to take a break rather than starting in on a household task that may end up derailing you from your work schedule. Save household tasks for after work and weekends (just like people in traditional jobs do).
3 - Setting boundaries for family members and roommates.
Your family may be thrilled that you're working from home because they get to see you more. They're used to having your attention when you're in the house, so you need to set some boundaries for how your work set up is going to work:
- Set some ground rules with your spouse, kids or housemates that when the office door is closed you're unavailable.
- Schedule some time for breaks so that you can leave your office and interact with others in your house. Knowing that you will emerge at regular intervals can help family and friends leave you alone when you're working.
- If you have a spouse at home, it can help to tell her/him to assume that you're not there and that he/she should try to take care of any little "emergencies" that come up during the day on his or her own. If it can wait until the end of the day, it should wait.
4 - Feeling isolated.
It can feel very lonely during the day, especially if you're living by yourself. It can help to get out of the office and go work from the library or the coffee shop for a while. Also, you can chat online with friends or schedule breaks where you call folks on the phone.
It's important not to just lock yourself up in your apartment all day--you've got to see the sun sometime!
5 - Spending too much time online doing non-work activities.
People who work online can be so plugged into Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the news sites, Cute Overload and The Daily Puppy that soon hours are being spend just goofing off and chatting online.
You're already online much of the day doing your work--it's important to take breaks away from the computer and interact with real people.
You might give yourself a certain amount of Twitter, Facebook, surfing and chatting time each day, and then call it quits when you get to the end of your time. Step away from the computer! There's more to life than what's going on online.
What about you?
What's your biggest challenge as a virtual worker?
What is the most helpful thing you've learned about how to work from home?