Work-from-home is a very new concept in India. Except for a handful of executives in large multi-national companies, the idea is quiet alien to people. In the last two years that I have been working from home, I have witnessed the strangest of reactions from people when I tell them that I work, but not in an office. From the very expected "How do you work from home?" to the strangest "Are you sure you are not staring at the laptop to ignore us?"—I have heard it all!
I have had people asking me my logging-in and logging-out time from work three times a week to ensure I am not pretending to be employed.
Here are the top 5 challenges that I feel people who work from home face:
No one believes you actually work
Trust me, this is a real challenge! People turn into spies and try to gather evidence to prove that your employment exists only in your imagination. I have had people asking me my logging-in and logging-out time from work three times a week to ensure I am not pretending to be employed. A bizarre relative, a guest at my house, even kept constantly peeping into my laptop to check whether I was watching a movie or actually working.
Everyone, from relatives to acquaintances, expects you to attend every family function or social gathering because they really think you can simply shut down your laptop at any time during the day because no one is monitoring you. I wish I could introduce a few of them to virtual time-tracking applications but I find it easier to let them imagine that I have no real work!
Interruptions become a part of your life
You might think that you can simply shut the doors and isolate yourself from the chaos in your house but that doesn't really happen. While writing a difficult 2000-word article about a new core-banking software recently, I was interrupted four times:
· My dog had an immediate urge to pee.
· My house help needed a new packet of dish cleaning solution.
· The garbage truck kept honking at my door till I stepped out and handed them over the garbage bag.
· A few ladies from an NGO came to collect some donations.
After each interruption, it took me 15 minutes to gather my thoughts again and start writing. To avoid these interruptions, I prefer to write at odd hours—especially when people around me are sleeping.
The internet controls your heart rate
The broadband connection at my home has this strange habit of acting up when I really want it to work smoothly. I was once making a presentation to around 100 people over Skype when my internet decided to not work! It took me only 30 seconds to switch to an alternate internet connection but I had lost my flow of thought by then. In fact, throughout rest of the presentation, I had this constant fear that the internet might get disconnect again.
Work-life balance is difficult to maintain
When you start working in your pyjamas and tee and are not worried about reaching your house on time, you always end up working extra hours. If you work in office for an average of seven hours, you easily stretch it up to nine hours when you are working from home. More often than not, you forget that you need to step out of your room and get some fresh air!
You miss out on important cafeteria discussions
The lighter moments at the cafeteria not just help brighten up your mood but they also give you insights into how work is going for others. You discuss work, challenges, life and so many other things which help you stay updated with the world around you. When you work from home, you slog away in perpetual isolation, with no one to share your stress with.
When you start working in your pyjamas and tee and are not worried about reaching your house on time, you always end up working extra hours.
Before I end, though, I must say working from home has big benefits too.
1. For a single parent with a toddler, a new mother nursing her child, an army wife staying with her husband in the remotest part of the country, the option to work from home is nothing less than a life-saver.
2. Even in metro cities, people who want to avoid a tiring commute to office every day and prefer working from their own spaces love to work from home.
3. With a little discipline and by sensitizing the people around you, work from home can become less challenging.
4. With large organizations around the world now offering jobs that are designed to be performed remotely from your own space, people's perceptions about work-from-home jobs will also hopefully change in the near future.